A Sad State Of Affairs …

There are two items in the sports landscape today that I find a bit disquieting.  Sports ought to be about entertainment, competition, achievement and things like that.  There are plenty of outlets in life for drudgery, frustration, and failure in life; sports need not take on that sort of aura.  And then I read about what has come to be known as “Wakey-leaks”.  Here is the Cliff’s Notes version:

  • A former Wake Forest QB and assistant coach was let go when a new coaching staff was assembled.  The ousted assistant coach became part of the school’s radio broadcast team.
  • He had extensive access to the team, the coaches, the practices and – evidently – the game planning.
  • He then took game plans and material of that sort and provided it occasionally to assistant coaches on Wake Forest’s upcoming opponents.

This degree of treachery does not rank with that of Judas Iscariot, Benedict Arnold or the Rosenbergs because “leaking a game plan” just is not a big deal compared to the betrayals of those other folks.  However, in sports, that is pretty far down on the scale of “acceptable behavior”.  We can take some solace in the fact that the leaker is going to find it very difficult to get a job in or around football down the line; he had better have paid attention in class while an undergrad at Wake Forest.  But there is another side to this coin…

As many as three assistant coaches on opposing teams allegedly got these pilfered/leaked game plans over the past couple of years and none of them blew the whistle.  I understand the importance of winning in sports.  Bill Parcels famously said you are what your record says you are and if your record is something like 3-9, that means you are a loser and you are likely to be out of a job.  Nevertheless, what will put an end to “Wakey-leaks” is the fact that it came to light and it could have come to light a year ago or maybe two years ago had just one opposing assistant coach stood up on his hind legs and said something akin to:

Sorry; this is wrong; I will not be a party to anything like this.

The “Wakey-leaks” leaker is someone you should never trust again; I think that pretty much goes without saying.  For me, the folks who were the recipients of the leaker’s largesse and who also kept silent about it are hugely untrustworthy now and down the line.

There is a second “situation” in the sports world – sadly it too relates to college football – that I find disheartening.  The University of Minnesota football team threatened to boycott all football activities – meaning they would not play in whatever bowl game they were supposed to play in – because the school authorities suspended 10 players on the team over an incident of sexual assault.  It seems that there is exactly no doubt that sexual activities happened here because one of the geniuses took a video of the activities on his phone.  Once again, here is the Cliff’s Notes version:

  • A woman – allegedly inebriated – was assaulted by multiple men on the football team.  She said the first activity was consensual but the ones that followed were not.
  • Police investigated and found insufficient evidence to press charges where the evidentiary standard is “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
  • The school conducted its own investigation as mandated by Title IX and found a “preponderance of evidence” showed culpability for ten players and it suspended them from school activities and recommended expulsion for some of the ten.
  • The remaining teammates allege that there was no due process in the school’s investigation and decided that a boycott of football activities was the way to stand with their teammates.

There are loads of elements to this story that can engender debate and confrontation.  In this case, the fact of the assault seems not to be in question so this is not something equivalent to the Duke lacrosse case or the fraternity rape at the University of Virginia that did not happen.  However, the names of the players who the school found to be culpable are out there – it is pretty easy to see who is not on the team anymore – while the identity of the victim remains protected.  If even one of those ten players is – in reality – innocent of wrongdoing, that situation is genuinely unfair.  If the players wish to protest that element of this story, that is their right.  I would not support them in their cause, but I could understand their displeasure.

Not knowing the full details of the school’s investigation, I do not know to what degree there was or was not “due process”.  I cannot pretend to be a legal scholar but it seems to me that the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the US Constitution describe what “due process” is and they also specify that “due process” in all its forms apply to “criminal prosecutions” and/or “capital or otherwise infamous crime”.  What that says to me is that whatever the University of Minnesota does in its investigation is not constrained to accommodate “due process”.  Moreover, the explicitly different standard for judgement in a so-called Title IX investigation stands those procedures apart from the judicial handling of criminal cases.  Did the university’s investigation run rough-shod over what might pass for “due process’ in a Title IX investigation?  That is impossible to know since the school shields itself from public scrutiny here based on federal privacy laws.

There is plenty of meat for discussion and debate – and possibly reform – here.  Alas, it seems as if none will happen.  After a meeting with school administrators, the team called off the boycott without the suspended players being reinstated after getting assurances from school administrators that the ten players would get a fair hearing next month.  That is pretty thin gruel after the original statements of “solidarity with teammates” and appeals to a foundation piece of US jurisprudence – even if due process may not apply here.  My willingness to side with the players here was significantly diminished when I read reports along this line.

However, here is where I got off the train completely.  In this morning’s Washington Post, in a short article summarizing the current state of play in this matter, here is the concluding paragraph:

“Many of the players who initially backed the boycott Thursday had not read the university’s 82-page report detailing the woman’s specific allegations.”

It seems to me that one needs to know at least some of the particulars prior to any sort of claim that due process was violated or not afforded by the university in its investigation.  Without reading that report, I am left to imagine what level of analysis and critical thinking went into the original fervor that led to the announcement of a boycott – prior to folding one’s cards and moving on to play in the bowl game without the ten suspended teammates.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………


7 thoughts on “A Sad State Of Affairs …”

  1. …I realize I’m painting with a very broad brush here, but I cannot conceive of many D-I football players reading 82 pages of anything that does not feature lots of pictures and a very large typeface.

    1. This is the Applied Calculus textbook at Ga Tech this semester. This is the “easy” calculus for non-engineering majors and students who did not have calculus in high school. Every Tech student, including football players, has to take calculus. You can look inside on Amazon and decide for yourself if an 82-page document would be challenge.

      Applied Calculus for the Managerial, Life, and Social Sciences, 10th ed. by Soo Tan.

    2. Peter:

      Recognizing that you are painting with a broad brush, I would suggest that in a situation where one is going to protest some activity or some decision or some policy with the threat of a boycott, one should have basic knowledge of the issue(s) at hand. In such situations, the potential for negotiation and compromise to resolve the dispute exists; absent such basic knowledge, it is difficult to generate movement on the issue. It is to my mind one of the fundamental differences between a protest and a riot.

  2. Duke and Notre Dame annually graduate almost every senior on their teams. Ga Tech just held Fall graduation and three starters on the current roster graduated early. One is their star linebacker. Another star player, Justin Thomas, graduated last Spring and is enrolled in grad school. Tech should not be confused with Slipshod A&M. These are smart kids.

    1. Doug:

      In no way did I intend to say that all college football players are dumb jocks who cannot tell the difference between egg plants and egg salad. I do believe that college students – so-called student athletes – would be well informed about something that they find so important that they are willing to conduct a boycott. I think that the lack of attention to the details here detracts somewhat from the vigor of their protest.

  3. IANAL, but due process for the Title IX is similar to the one for a civil case. The event in question took place in September, so why should the players dig in now, if not for maximizing leverage? I find it very hard to believe that the details were not already in circulation with varying levels of accuracy, and that the coaching staff had not been in contact with the administration regarding the progress even though one of the players’ complaints was that the administration kept them in the dark.

    Some other notes are worth mentioning here. These students were smart enough to have the criminal investigation done first, since it permits more examination of the evidence by the defense than a Title IX one does, so the cards are on the table. Second, FERPA generally requires secrecy regarding student records which limits just how much the administration would be able to say. Third, I do not see what additional information / concessions were released by the administration in the last couple of days from the reports on this topic, so was this really grandstanding?

    Stanford has been getting hammered about their Title IX investigations, in that they appear to be, ahem, inadequate if the party involved is an athlete (Brock Turner is not alone). Berkeley cashiered an assistant hoops coach and disciplined a professor after outcry on other inadequate investigations of misconduct, so perhaps what UM was overreacting to the shift in attitudes because as shown by these cases even the perception of cover-up created its own firestorm of bad press. Bottom line, sexual assault is a crime and should be investigated as such with strict objectivity. As the Romans said: “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall”.

    1. rugger9:

      Colleges have been far too willing to ignore lots of bad behaviors by athletes – including sexual assaults and domestic violence – and we are going through a period of significant social adjustment on those specific issues. In this case, I think your suggestion of “grandstanding” may be very accurate.

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