Two Huntington University coaches were placed on administrative leave Thursday after two former runners accused them and the school in a federal lawsuit of enabling a culture in which athletes were sexually assaulted, emotionally abused and pressured to use unidentified performance-enhancing substances.

The small northern Indiana private school has placed cross country head coach Lauren Johnson and assistant coach Curtis Hines on administrative leave “until further notice pending investigation.” In a statement to The Washington Post, the university said it “has engaged in communication with key stakeholders to begin the work necessary to ensure the continued care of our students.”

“The University has and continues to provide a variety of opportunities and directed pathways for students who have been impacted to be heard, obtain counseling services, and make Title IX inquiries. We remain committed to providing a work and education environment, as well as other benefits, programs and activities, free from discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

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The plaintiffs, two women who competed for the Huntington cross country and track teams, named Johnson’s husband, Nicholas, the school’s former cross country coach, in the lawsuit.

They said he conducted a “study” or “experiment” on some of the team’s athletes in which he injected them with an unknown substance. He also massaged unknown substances into the two women’s bodies, they said in the lawsuit, describing the “treatments” as “Larry Nassaresque massages,” in reference to the former USA Gymnastics doctor who sexually abused his patients.

It is alleged in the lawsuit that Nicholas Johnson repeatedly raped one of the plaintiffs throughout 2020 and “had sexual contact” with several of his teammates. It is also alleged that Johnson took individual female runners to secluded locations and sexually assaulted those women under the pretense of “hugging” them for good performances.

The plaintiffs claim that Lauren Johnson, Hines and the university knew about Johnson’s abuse and did nothing. Nicholas Johnson’s alleged behavior occurred from 2018 until his arrest in December 2020 for child seduction, kidnapping and impersonation related to a separate incident. He was later fired, pleaded guilty to impersonation in 2021 and served 30 days of a two-year sentence. Lauren Johnson replaced her husband as head of the cross-country program after his arrest.

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Both plaintiffs were National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics cross-country champions in Huntington. One told the Indianapolis Star that her results should be invalidated and that the 2020 women’s team will be stripped of their NAIA indoor track and field championship due to possible drug-related doping Johnson allegedly used on their body.

The NAIA told the newspaper that it “is aware of the allegations regarding the women’s athletics program at Huntington University. We will continue to monitor the situation but have no further comment at this time.

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