Harvard has commissioned an independent review of the school’s women’s hockey program, after the Boston Globe in January reported wide-ranging abuse allegations, including hazing, under longtime coach Katey Stone.
The review will be conducted by Katya Jestin, a former federal prosecutor who is co-managing partner of the law firm Jenner & Block and specializes in sensitive investigations involving institutional cultures. Some current and former members of the Crimson received email Monday from Jestin’s investigative group.
Harvard administration declined to comment to the Globe, whose report cited 16 former players, including team captains, who alleged they were emotionally damaged by Stone’s coaching practices. Attempts to reach Stone and Harvard athletic director Erin McDermott were unsuccessful.
Stone, 56, took over the Harvard program in 1994 and turned it into a national power, while establishing herself as one of the most renowned coaches in the history of women’s ice hockey. She won a national title in 1999 and reached four NCAA championship games, most recently in 2015, although her program has since struggled, posting a record of 116-117-21.
Scores of Stone’s former players have pushed back against the abuse complaints, while those who allege they were damaged by her “toxic environment” have called for a change in leadership. The allegations span more than two decades.
Earlier this month, McDermott emailed all of the university’s student-athletes about the allegations involving the program.
“The most important job I have as Director of Athletics is protecting student-athlete health and safety,” McDermott stated. “It is also paramount to our culture and community for all to be treated with dignity, and respected as individuals. The conduct alleged does not represent who we are as a Harvard Athletics community. There is no place for behavior that creates peer pressure, humiliation, or physical and emotional harm.”
The Globe reported that Stone in 2022 uttered a racially insensitive comment in front of Indigenous members of the team, saying the team was playing as if there were “too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”
Two Indigenous players, Maryna MacDonald and Taze Thompson, later left the team, as did Sydney Daniels, an assistant coach with Indigenous roots. Daniels, a former Crimson captain who scouts for the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets, filed a complaint against Harvard and its athletic department with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations called for Stone’s resignation.
The other allegations involving Stone fall into wide-ranging categories, including denigrating players in ways that made them demoralized, anxious, or seeking mental health support; insensitivity to mental health issues; pressuring players to return from concussions and other injuries; body shaming; adversely influencing academics; and hazing.
“It’s a culture of complete fear when it comes to [Stone],” said Ali Peper, a captain of the 2019-20 Harvard team, in January. “There is clearly a way to coach without making people hate their lives.”
Stone has yet to publicly comment on the allegations. Some of her backers have asserted that the complaints were brought by players who couldn’t handle Stone’s tough coaching or had unspecified personal agendas.
“I hope I’m clear that I really do question the motivation and what the impetus for these kids is,” said Lauren McAuliffe, a former captain who graduated in 2004, in January. “It feels petty and vengeful to me.”
Dr. A. Holly Johnson, a former captain who graduated in 1996, said Stone was being held to an unfair standard as a woman working in a male-dominated field.
The Athletic earlier this month followed the Globe report with its own account of “the dark side of Harvard women’s ice hockey.”
Based on more than 30 interviews with individuals who played for Harvard or were associated with the program over more than 20 years, The Athletic reported that what emerged was “a portrait of a program that, for most of Stone’s tenure, pushed and crossed the boundaries of acceptable treatment of athletes.”
One disturbing ritual was known as “Naked Skate,” which players from 2005 to 2023 said they witnessed or participated in.
“In some of those years, freshmen were told to do a ‘superman’ slide on the ice that left some with ice burns and bleeding nipples,” The Athletic reported. “The most recent ‘Naked Skate’ occurred the day following the publication of the Globe story.”
The Athletic reported that it did not find evidence that Stone was present for the naked skating sessions. However, “after one player became upset about the event, Stone and her staff later met with the team and told them it was an unsanctioned activity,” the publication stated.
Jestin, the former federal prosecutor, “represents clients in high-stakes criminal, regulatory, and congressional investigations,” her company profile states. “In addition, Katya helps companies, executives and boards conduct sensitive internal investigations on matters ranging from global compliance to culture risk.”
As a supervisor in the criminal division of the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, Jestin prosecuted leaders of three of the city’s five Mafia families and served as co-counsel in the prosecution of Gambino boss Peter Gotti and 16 co-defendants, according to her firm’s website.
She has represented clients before the US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the New York State Attorney General’s Office, and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, according to her profile.
Jestin could not be immediately reached for comment. In 2021, Jenner & Block produced an investigative report on sexual assault allegations in the Chicago Blackhawks organization. The NHL fined the Blackhawks $2 million as a result of the findings.
Bob Hohler can be reached at email@example.com.