AP

Rower’s family says abusive coach pushed athlete to suicide

Dec 7, 2022, 9:49 AM | Updated: 10:26 am

Brenda and Brian Lilly look at photos of their son Brian Lilly Jr. in their Easton, Conn. home, Thu...

Brenda and Brian Lilly look at photos of their son Brian Lilly Jr. in their Easton, Conn. home, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. Brian Lilly Jr., 19, who committed suicide on Jan. 4, 2021, was a rower at University of California San Diego. The Lillys have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university and the rowing coach, Geoff Bond, who is no longer with the school. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

(AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — On New Year’s Day nearly two years ago, Parker Kinney spent the day with Brian Lilly Jr. at picturesque Scripps Beach in the San Diego area and realized his friend had become a shadow of his former self.

Kinney and Lilly walked on the sand for hours and went to dinner. At the end of the night before saying goodbye, they opened up about their shared struggles while rowing for the coach at the time at University of California-San Diego and how it had affected their well-being.

Yet Kinney couldn’t possibly fully grasp the depths of Lilly’s despair that afternoon: The 19-year-old college rower took his own life just three days later.

Kinney is convinced his friend had been pushed to the edge by verbal abuse from coach Geoff Bond. Lilly’s parents feel the same way.

“This guy basically squashed Brian’s self-esteem, his threat to push Brian off the team. And I don’t need to have a sports psychologist in here to tell me how damaging that was,” father Brian Lilly Sr. said.

Brenda and Brian Lilly Sr. have filed a wrongful-death suit against Bond and the school, alleging the coach mistreated their son largely because he challenged Bond’s decision to allow a rower to remain on the team despite allegations of sexual misconduct against the athlete. They are adamant their son was verbally abused by Bond, leading to his suicide in January 2021.

Kinney said he saw the abuse.

“I felt like they were trying to sweep the whole sexual assault allegations under the rug and a decent amount of kids had legitimate concerns about this, being like, ‘This is pretty messed up,'” Kinney said. “A lot of kids didn’t speak out about it. Brian did speak out about it, so Geoff retaliated against him. Brian’s main concern was that this would harm the integrity of the team, which I agreed with.”

The defense team for Bond, who coached at UC San Diego until last January, filed a motion to dismiss the Lillys’ case. The defense said Bond hadn’t seen Brian Lilly Jr. for the nine months prior to his death and that the coach reached out during the pandemic lockdown period to inquire whether Lilly would return to school in San Diego from the East Coast where he had been living.

Several of Bond’s former collegiate rowers from Cal, Penn and UCSD also reached out to The Associated Press in support of the coach.

“I absolutely loved his style of coaching and feel it is a great fit for young college kids,” Gary Champagne, who rowed for Bond at Cal as a freshman in 2002-03, said via email.

Lilly family attorney Nicholas Lewis said Brian Lilly Jr. remained involved with the rowing program from home by attending the regular team video calls.

UC San Diego declined to comment through a spokesman, citing pending litigation. The school offered no details when Bond departed as coach on Jan. 13.

The Lillys said they are determined to save others from the kind of treatment they say their son endured.

“My whole thing right now is to give my son a voice,” his father said. “He was the ultimate underdog. He was a hero.”

Lilly’s parents said their son never had a history of mental illness prior to rowing at UCSD.

Lewis said the teen briefly underwent in-patient treatment in July 2020 after experiencing what the attorney called psychotic and schizophrenic symptoms such as paranoia and disorganized thoughts before Lilly stabilized in a matter of days then continued outpatient therapy the rest of that year. Bond’s defense has argued the coach was never aware of Lilly’s emotional state.

The Lillys said their son overcame a great deal to even emerge as a collegiate rower. Formerly, their son had been “a chubby little fellow,” his father said, because of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis that he eventually outgrew through hard work and the right diet. He ran the New York City Marathon and completed an Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid.

Brian Lilly Sr. recalled how his son pushed himself so hard during a rowing-machine session in February 2020 that he vomited multiple times and that Bond referred to throwing up as being a response of “sissies.”

Some rowers who competed for Bond at UC San Diego have shared similar experiences, describing a culture in which Bond used crass and offensive language among other put-downs regularly uttered in front of athletes.

Kinney said that in March 2020, Bond yelled at him on the water using inflammatory language because of Kinney’s friendship and support of Lilly.

“I was paralyzed with fear. I was 18,” Kinney said. “I called my dad. I was losing respect for the program.”

Kinney eventually quit the team and others also departed, with at least some of them sharing with each other that rowing for Bond had taken a toll on their mental health.

Now, Kinney dearly misses his friend and a sport he used to love: “I’m pretty numb to it myself at this point.”

___

More AP Sports at: https://apnews.com/hub/sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally Saturday, March 9, 2024, at Pullman Yards in Atlanta...

Associated Press

US shoots down ‘nearly all’ Iran-launched attack drones as Biden vows support for Israel’s defense

Joe Biden cut short a weekend stay at his beach house to meet with his national security team as Iran launched an attack against Israel.

1 day ago

Protesters in Phoenix shout as they join thousands marching around the Arizona state Capitol after ...

Associated Press

Abortion ruling supercharges Arizona to be an especially important swing state

A ruling this week instituting a near-total abortion ban supercharged Arizona's role, turning it into the most critical battleground.

2 days ago

Former President Donald Trump, center, appears in court for his arraignment, Tuesday, April 4, 2023...

Associated Press

Manhattan court searching for jurors to hear first-ever criminal case against a former president

Jury selection is set to start Monday in former President Donald Trump's hush money case — the first trial of the presumptive nominee.

2 days ago

Emergency personnel arrive on the scene after a  an 18-wheeler crashed into the Texas Department of...

Associated Press

1 dead and 13 injured in semitrailer crash at a Texas public safety office, with the driver jailed

A driver rammed an 18-wheeler though the front of a building where his renewal for a commercial driver’s license had been rejected.

2 days ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a Get Out The Vote rally ...

Associated Press

Trump pushes Arizona lawmakers to ‘remedy’ state abortion ruling that he says ‘went too far’

Donald Trump urged Arizona lawmakers on Friday to swiftly “remedy” the state court ruling allowing prosecutors to enforce an abortion ban.

2 days ago

Biden to require more gun dealers to run background checks....

Associated Press

Biden administration will require thousands more gun dealers to run background checks on buyers

New Biden rule to require thousands more firearms dealers across the United States will have to run background checks on buyers.

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Valley residents should be mindful of plumbing ahead of holidays

With Halloween in the rear-view and more holidays coming up, Day & Night recommends that Valley residents prepare accordingly.

Rower’s family says abusive coach pushed athlete to suicide