A newly released record provides more detail about the 2015 sexual assaults that resulted in the discipline of three Youngstown State University athletes, one of whom YSU later hired as an assistant coach of its women's tennis team.
The Ohio university released the unredacted campus police incident report on Nov. 27, three weeks after the USA TODAY Network published its investigation into the case and four months after it first requested it. YSU concealed the information until lawyers hired by the news organization persuaded the school that it was violating Ohio public records laws.
The report states that tennis player Bassem El Mekawi, football player Sidney Sandidge and basketball player Sidney Umude locked a female student in an apartment bedroom, exposed their genitals and coerced her to touch them. Two of the athletes also tried to force her head down in an apparent attempt to have her perform oral sex, the report shows.
El Mekawi and Sandidge were suspended over the incident, and Umude, whom the female student also said pushed her onto a bed and forcibly raped her in a separate incident two weeks before, was expelled.
El Mekawi successfully reapplied for admission after completing his suspension and an online Title IX training module called “Think About It” about consent, healthy relationships and alcohol use, officials confirmed. He played his final season of tennis after being reinstated to the team.
During his final year at the school in 2018-19, El Mekawi was hired as an unpaid assistant coach of the men’s tennis team, and a semester after that, the women’s tennis team. YSU also employed him as a paid intern in the athletic department, university spokesman Ron Cole said.
The report offers, for the first time, a sense of the conduct that YSU deemed acceptable enough to place El Mekawi in a position of power over women athletes just two years after punishing him for his role in the sexual assault.
The female student reported that on Sept. 19, 2015, she was with one of the athletes in his bedroom at University Courtyard Apartments, according to the report, which includes a summary of the incident written by then-Associate Director for Student Conduct Kelly Beers that the university initially withheld from the media.
It’s unclear from the document whose bedroom it was, though other records show the apartment belonged to El Mekawi.
The other two athletes then walked into the bedroom and locked the door behind them, the report shows. The female student told them, “you don’t want to do this,” according to the report, noting that she was highly intoxicated and not interested in sex of any kind.
One of the athletes, which other records identify as Umude, took off her shirt and tried to take off her pants, the report states. Then all three athletes dropped their pants to their ankles, exposing themselves and making her touch their genitals with her hands.
Two of the athletes tried to force her head down to penetrate her orally, she said, according to the report. Then all three left the room. The report does not say what prompted them to leave.
The female student also reported that, two weeks earlier, she was with one of the athletes — which other records identify as Umude — in his apartment when he pushed her onto the bed and began to take off her pants. She told him she did not want to have sex, she said, and attempted to escape. But the athlete told her to “stop wiggling,” held her down and raped her, the document states.
“I’m quite honestly disgusted,” said Mykaela Wagner, a YSU graduate student and teaching assistant, after reading the report, which the USA TODAY Network shared with her.
In November, Wagner started an online petition urging the school to adopt a policy taking away athletics privileges from students who commit serious misconduct. It since has garnered more than 540 signatures.
“The acts these men committed are horrible,” Wagner said. “I wholeheartedly believe in second chances and that everyone deserves an education, but offenders of this sort should not be able to participate in sports or any other extracurricular activities on campus.”
The female student did not report the assaults until a year later, a university attorney confirmed. Two days after learning of the allegations, YSU placed all three athletes on interim suspension, which in effect pulled El Mekawi and Sandidge out of competition in men’s tennis and football mid-season.
Less than three weeks later, campus administrators found the athletes responsible for sexual assault and suspended Umude 10 months, El Mekawi seven months and Sandidge two months, previously released records show. YSU also found Umude responsible for theft.
The victim appealed Umude’s sanction, and the university increased it to expulsion. He then transferred to Southern University in Louisiana and played two more years of college basketball. Sandidge did not return to school.
YSU has ignored repeated requests for interviews with President Jim Tressel, athletics director Ron Strollo and women’s tennis coach Mickael Sopel — who also served as El Mekawi’s coach on the men’s tennis team. YSU has been silent about why they decided to hire him as a coach and intern.
YSU officials did not respond to requests for comment on this story but previously said in a statement that they “are concerned by the issues raised, and we recognize we must do better … . YSU has begun a comprehensive and strategic review of our current policies, procedures and practices regarding student conduct and Title IX, including discussions among top administrators.”
El Mekawi and Sandidge did not respond to requests for comment. Umude said he would pass along the request to his attorney, who he did not name and has not been in touch.
Brenda Tracy, a victim advocate and survivor of rape by college football players, said some YSU officials deserve to lose their jobs over the hiring of El Mekawi.
“This report is horrifying,” Tracy said. “The fact that YSU would continue its support of him, even hiring him, shows an intentional and reckless disregard for the safety of YSU students.”