Ex-Kentucky swimmer: I was ‘vigorously discouraged’ from coming forward about coach’s sexual abuse

Former Kentucky women’s swim team captain Briggs Alexander said she was “vigorously discouraged” from coming forward about former coach Lars Jorgensen’s alleged sexual abuse during her time as a swimmer and later an assistant coach with the team.

“I thought I could trust them,” Alexander said of Kentucky’s Title IX office. “I went to them and disclosed my abuse and thought it was going to be taken care of. … I was repeatedly discouraged and vigorously discouraged to not come forward.”

Alexander is one of two former team members who filed a lawsuit against Jorgensen, Kentucky, UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart and former UK swim coach Gary Conelly. According to the complaint, Kentucky’s “complicity and deliberate indifference” enabled Jorgensen “to foster a toxic, sexually hostile environment within the swim program and to prey on, sexually harass and commit horrific sexual assaults and violent rapes against young female coaches and collegiate athletes who were reliant on him.”

During Jorgensen’s time as an associate head coach and eventually the head coach, Kentucky received reports of Jorgensen being in a relationship with a swimmer he previously coached at the University of Toledo. Kentucky was contacted by Mark Howard, a former Toledo assistant swimming coach, in 2012.

“This is no joke at all and I cannot stomach the fact that (Jorgensen) will be coaching women again,” Howard wrote in an e-mail to Gary Conelly, then Kentucky’s head swim coach. Conelly had recently added Jorgensen as an associate head coach. Howard informed Conelly that a swimmer had told him that she had been in a sexual relationship with Jorgensen while he coached her at Toledo.

In October 2014, a former Toledo softball coach repeated the allegation that Jorgensen had been in a “long-term romantic relationship” with a student-athlete in a wrongful termination lawsuit she filed against that school.

In 2019, a San Jose State official alerted Kentucky about hearing allegations that Jorgensen had been in a relationship with one of his swimmers at an earlier coaching stop and that he had sexually assaulted a woman on the swim staff at Kentucky. When the UK office that handles Title IX complaints compiled an initial report, it was marked “not urgent.” After Jorgensen denied wrongdoing and a swim staffer he allegedly sexually assaulted declined to speak to a school official, the matter was deemed “closed” after a week.

Last June, Kentucky announced Jorgensen’s resignation in a news release without providing a reason for his exit.

Alexander is also among a group of former swimmers and team staffers who spoke to The Athletic about their experiences with Jorgensen. (Alexander swam on the women’s team at Kentucky but later transitioned while serving as an assistant coach. At Alexander’s request, The Athletic is using gender pronouns that correspond with his transition timeline because he wants the reader to understand “who I was in the moment when I was being abused.”)


Kentucky accused of ‘complicity’ as former swim coach allegedly committed sexual violence

Alexander said Jorgensen would make sexual comments to her and send her sexually explicit videos and photos during her swim career. Alexander detailed Jorgensen raping her at his home after a team Christmas party in 2019 and groping her at a staff dinner and raping her on one occasion during the 2021-22 season.

Alexander first met Jorgensen as a 17-year-old with Olympic aspirations. Once she moved to UK’s campus after graduating high school, Jorgensen began grooming her, Alexander said.

“Lars abused me in a lot of different ways. Emotionally, spiritually, physically, sexually. And he did so under the guise of he was doing what was best for me,” Alexander said Wednesday. “And he, you know, basically put himself in this position where if I said anything, no one was going to believe me. My career was going to be over.”

After reporting Jorgensen’s abuse to the Title IX office, Alexander said Wednesday that he didn’t hear back after many months and eventually decided to come forward publicly.

“I’m really sad. I’m really angry. I feel very betrayed by the school,” Alexander said. “I did nothing but lead in the best way I knew how when I was on the team … I wore blue and white through the hardest days of my life. To know all this happened and there’s still no real support. It hurts a lot.”

Kentucky has not released an institutional response to The Athletic’s story, which was published last week. When contacted by The Athletic, Jorgensen said none of the allegations against him were true.

Jorgensen’s name now appears in the SafeSport disciplinary database for “allegations of misconduct” with temporary restrictions that include no unsupervised coaching, training and contact with athletes.

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(Photo: Mitchell Layton / Getty Images)

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