Hnida’s brutal path to history

EPA | Photo Courtesy
Katie Hnida played football for University of Colorado.

Assault and negligence in Boulder

Sarah Fuller gained much notoriety this past college football season for her job playing kicker for the Vanderbilt Commodores football team. Fuller was celebrated for her status as a female athlete in a male-dominated college sport.

Two decades before Fuller someone else blazed a trail for her. Her name is Katie Hnida. The Colorado native stayed local and walked on for the University of Colorado Buffaloes football team back in 1999.

With a love for football and a hope of inspiring young girls everywhere, Hnida set off for Boulder.

Only Boulder was not so welcoming.

“She endured more abuse than one person should have to bear,” said Justin Bates, Hnida’s former teammate.

Besides the constant vulgar remarks that began on Hnida’s first practices with the team, Hnida says her teammates repeatedly exposed themselves to her throughout the season.

Surely someone on the team would step in and do something to help Hnida out, right? Nope. The cavalry was not coming. Not even from her own head coach.

“He didn’t want me around in the first place,” said Hnida of her former head coach Gary Barnett. She thought if she came forward Barnett would use the allegations as a reason to kick her off the team.

So, Hnida kept her head down and suffered in silence as the world and football team that surrounded her marched on as if nothing was out of the ordinary.

During the offseason, Hnida was watching television at the house of one of her teammates. The next thing she knows, despite frequently telling him no, her teammate was on top of her. Soon her teammate penetrated her against her will. She was only able to escape the traumatizing situation when he reached to answer a phone call and she bolted.

Hnida had now suffered a full season’s worth of sexual assault before eventually being raped in summer, still did not choose to go to the police.

“I was so scared of what he might do to me,” Hnida said

Hnida did finally tell her dad about the constant abuse she had suffered (but she did not tell her father about the incident in the summer).

If her teammates and coaches were not there for her, surely her dad would be.

He was. But the university didn’t seem to want to hear it.

 “I don’t believe our players would do that,” claimed coach Barnett.

Hnida’s father compared talking to Barnett like talking to a brick wall.

After her sophomore year, Hnida dropped out. However, her dreams of scoring in a Division 1 football game were still there, and she decided to give kicking a shot at the University of New Mexico.

Then in August of 2003, Hnida kicked two extra points in a blowout win over Texas State. It was the first time in history a woman had ever scored points at the highest level of college football.

Three years after she made history, Hnida decided to put her experiences in her book,  Still Kicking: My Journey as the First Woman to Play Division One College Football. Hnida also went on to play professional football for the Fort Wayne FireHawks.

Barnett and Colorado had some answering to do. Hnida’s comments over her experiences at the University came after four women had already claimed to have been raped by members of the football team over the previous three years.

Then in January of 2004, Colorado was accused of using items like sex and alcohol as recruiting tools.

Within two years Barnett was out as coach and athletic director Dick Tharp was forced to resign.

Despite living in an environment of mental an physical abuse, Katie Hnida had the strength to endure and find a way to make history, paving the way for the likes of Sarah Fuller, and all those to come.

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