Baylor University athletic official charged with assaulting reporter

Heath Nielsen, associate athletic director for communications at Baylor University is pictured in this handout photo

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – A Baylor University athletic official has been arrested in Texas on suspicion of assaulting a reporter after a football game this month.

Heath Nielsen, associate athletic director for communications, was arrested on Nov. 8 on an assault charge and released on a $1,000 bond, the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, in the central Texas city of Waco, said on Tuesday.

Nielsen is responsible for management of the public image of the football program at Baylor, the world’s largest Baptist University. The program has been hit by a sexual abuse scandal that led to the arrest of former football players and sparked a federal investigation.

Nielsen is suspected of grabbing a reporter from a local newspaper by the throat as the journalist was posing for a photograph with a player after a Nov. 5 football game with Texas Christian University.

A lawyer for Nielsen denied any wrongdoing and said Nielsen was trying to stop an unauthorized interview.

“Mr. Nielsen maintains that he intervened to stop the interview, but he did not grab the complainant’s throat,” lawyer Michelle Tuegel said in a statement.

Baylor said in a statement it is handling the matter internally.

“Baylor Athletics was made aware of the post-game incident involving Heath Nielsen shortly after the game and took immediate action to address it with him through the University’s human resources process,” it said in a statement.

Baylor has been rocked by a scandal over whether it failed to do enough to prevent and investigate sexual assaults against women by football players and others that led to the ouster of the school’s president and its football coach.

The U.S. Department of Education last month launched an investigation into Baylor University’s response to sexual violence on campus.

Baylor in May ousted Kenneth Starr as university president and Art Briles as its football coach after an independent report found that administrators mishandled sexual abuse cases involving football players.

Starr, the former independent counsel who investigated Bill Clinton during his presidency, has said he was unaware of what was happening at the school but still accepted responsibility.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Andrew Hay)