Former Penn State All-American reveals why she came forward with allegations of abuse

BRET PALLOTTO
Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Zara Moss

Zara Moss is a Pittsburgh-area native who dreamed as early as childhood of graduating from Penn State. The university was one of her first loves.

She knew "Fight On, State" before she knew her ABCs. Her grandmother went to Penn State. Her mother went to Penn State. One of her roommates was a cousin.

It was a family tradition to attend the university's flagship campus and Moss said she bled blue and white. Not only did Moss graduate from Penn State, she did so as an All-American fencer.

But that paints an incomplete picture of Moss.

Her experience in Happy Valley led her to file a federal lawsuit Monday against the university and renowned coach Wes Glon. She alleged years of verbal, physical and psychological abuse. She also accused the school of doing little to stop him.

More:Former Penn State All-American sues coach, university, alleges years of abuse

That's part of the reason she paused for a few seconds to gather her thoughts before answering whether she's proud to be a Penn State alumna.

"The four years of them telling us, 'Oh, we care about you. You're students before you're athletes. We're trying to prepare you for life; we're trying put you in the best position possible. We care about you.' It just all came crashing down," Moss said Tuesday. "If you knew that this was a problem, you know that this man is abusing people and you're doing nothing — you're letting it continue — then you don't really care about your athletes at all. You care about winning and your reputation. That was very upsetting to me."

She added: "They really failed me in the way that they treated my case. It felt like I was betrayed by a family member or a best friend, somebody that I've known and cared about for my whole life."

A university spokesperson declined comment Tuesday. A spokesperson for the university's fencing team did not immediately respond.

Wes Glon

A one-of-a-kind introduction to fencing: Moss first learned about fencing through a demonstration during a first grade gym class. It was an easy sell, Moss said, to a kid who always wanted to do things differently.

She grew up about 20 miles north of Pittsburgh but is a fan of the Tennessee Titans because "nobody else's favorite football team was the Tennessee Titans," she said with a laugh.

"When I found out about fencing at this demonstration, I was like, 'This is really cool.' I didn't know anybody else who did it," Moss said. "And of course my parents were then like, 'Seriously? There's like one fencing club in Pittsburgh. Why do you have to do something so different?' But I loved it right away."

At 15, Moss said her fencing coach in Pittsburgh told her they taught her everything they knew. Next came training with professional coaches at a fencing club in New Jersey, as well as annual Penn State fencing camps.

She met Glon there, as well as national tournaments. The coach who leads one of the winningest teams in NCAA history — the Nittany Lions won 13 championships since 1990 and finished second 11 times — offered her a full scholarship during summer 2016.

It was a dream come true, attorney Chelsea Weaver wrote in the lawsuit, but went south from there.

"This was not coaching. This was abuse:" The Nittany Lions' fencing team was a "hotbed for sexual assault and gender discrimination" during Moss' time under Glon, Weaver wrote in the 22-page lawsuit.

The alleged abuse began her freshman year and continued through her senior season. Moss feared her scholarship would be revoked, was on the receiving end of disparaging comments about her weight and was forced to compete while injured, the lawsuit alleged.

At that time, Moss said her relationship with Glon was viewed as hard coaching or a clash of personalities. She was scared to come forward with her allegations, in part because she still has friends on the team.

She wanted to avoid making life difficult on them, but said staying silent would just enable it to continue. It took a meeting with her therapist to use the word abuse. That was a "hard pill to swallow at first," Moss said.

"Maybe it'll be difficult now, but things need to change," Moss said. "I don't want what happened to me to happen to anybody else and the way to do that and to make sure that happens is to tell my story."

Moss reported the allegations to the university's athletics compliance and Title IX in March 2021. Administrators and investigators weren't surprised, Weaver wrote.

An investigator told Moss the university received "numerous reports of sexism and abuse on the fencing team," Weaver wrote. Moss met with a group weeks later but hasn't heard back since.

Weaver acknowledged Tuesday she thought about what the public response would be to Moss' allegations. Would people say athletes are becoming too sensitive, especially after the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics?

The answer, in Weaver's eyes, should be a resounding no.

"The complaint lays out detail by detail the horrific abuse that Zara endured," Weaver said. "... This was not coaching. This was abuse. And Zara — by filing this federal lawsuit — is really hoping that Penn State and Wes will be held accountable for what she endured."

Moss' recovery is ongoing: She's being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and visits a counselor and psychiatrist regularly. The former Olympic hopeful has been unable to pick up a saber and hasn't fenced for more than a year.

But she's worked hard to ensure her experiences at Penn State don't define her as she moves into the next chapter of her life. That's the last thing she wants.

"In my personal life, I've come a long way, gotten a lot better. With this whole process, (I'm trying to) take my story back, which has been very empowering and helps me grow a lot and feel a lot more confident," Moss said. "... It definitely has impacted my professional confidence, but I'm working with the therapist and everything to slowly overcome that and fill my head with my own narrative instead of what Wes tried to get me to believe about myself."