Ex-NMSU players: Teammates ‘pantsed’ coaches

The two former New Mexico State basketball players who say they were sexually assaulted by teammates told ESPN that their alleged attackers targeted others on the team, including some assistant coaches, and manipulated players into not talking.

“There were most definitely other players that got attacked the way that we got attacked,” Shakiru Odunewu said in an interview this week. “But … these other guys, I feel like they manipulated them to believe that if they came out, that they were snitching.”

Odunewu and Deuce Benjamin told ESPN the players who harassed them also pulled down assistant coaches’ pants in public.

“After the [game] at UTEP, when we lost, they pantsed one of the assistants,” Benjamin said. One assistant coach had his pants pulled down while he slept on the bus, he said, and another was targeted but yelled enough to dissuade the attackers. “[Other coaches acted] like they didn’t see it,” Benjamin said.

The coaches who the players said were targeted didn’t return voicemails or emails from ESPN seeking comment.

Benjamin and Odunewu told ESPN about the behavior after they spoke publicly Wednesday for the first time since suing New Mexico State in April. In their lawsuit, they allege that the activity went beyond harassment to sexual assault and that three of their teammates would pull down their pants, slap their buttocks and touch their scrotums. Odunewu reported the abuse to then-head coach Greg Heiar, who told Odunewu he would look into it and issue suspensions but didn’t, according to the lawsuit. Benjamin reported the alleged abuse to campus police in February, leading New Mexico State to cancel the rest of the team’s season and fire Heiar. The police investigation is ongoing, and no one has been charged yet.

Odunewu told ESPN that the players named in the lawsuit — Kim Aiken Jr., Doctor Bradley and Deshawndre Washington — targeted “just about everyone” at least once. The more frequent or severe punishments were reserved for those who fought back, Odunewu said.

Heiar and a spokesperson for New Mexico State didn’t respond to messages seeking comment. Aiken, Bradley and Washington couldn’t be reached for comment and haven’t spoken publicly about the lawsuit.

The act of pulling down a player’s pants was sometimes treated as a pregame ritual, Benjamin said. In one incident, Washington ordered another player to pull down his uniform shorts for good luck as players readied to run onto the court for a game, Benjamin said.

The frequency of the alleged harassment and seemingly casual attitude of his teammates — even some of the most frequently targeted players — led then-freshman Benjamin to assume the alleged abuse was part of normal college basketball life, so he kept quiet, he told ESPN. But he said he began smoking marijuana heavily to cope with the stress.

It wasn’t until his father, Aggies Hall of Fame basketball player William Benjamin, caught him with marijuana and asked what was wrong that he opened up.

“At first I just asked him, like, if he was experiencing the same things I was when he was in college,” Deuce Benjamin said. “And he wasn’t.”

At a news conference this week, William Benjamin said his son and his family have been failed. “And as a father, I feel like I failed my son for putting him in this situation,” he said.

Odunewu told ESPN he recognized his experiences as abuse from the beginning. Still, he kept quiet for months — largely, he said, because he didn’t want to harm his teammates’ reputations.

“Being Muslim, you approach situations and look at situations differently,” Odunewu said. “I was scared that if I did come out … I was going to mess with these people’s careers. But it just got to a point where I just couldn’t bear it anymore.”

Benjamin and Odunewu have entered the transfer portal but have yet to find another program. They both plan to petition the NCAA for another year of eligibility.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to press the reset button and lump the victims in with everyone they’re trying to get rid of,” William Benjamin said.

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