Colorado State athletics investigation results draw mix of reactions
The investigation that largely exonerated Colorado State University's athletic department, and football program in particular, of substantial wrongdoing but detailed damaging experiences from student-athletes and staff was met with a variety of reactions after its release Wednesday.
The report, based on interviews with 115 people in and around the department and conducted by an external law firm, stated a "substantial majority of student-athletes and staff reported no concerns with the established COVID-19 protocols.''
It also stated "most student-athletes who participated in the investigation disputed allegations of pervasive racial inequities or harassment within their athletic team or the athletic department more broadly.''
Both issues came to light after various sources, both named and speaking on the condition of anonymity, brought forward their concerns to the Coloradoan earlier this year.
CSU President Joyce McConnell addressed the COVID-19 concerns and racial insensitivity aspects of the investigation in an email to the CSU community Wednesday evening that accompanied the released report.
"Let me be clear,'' McConnell wrote in the email. "A climate of racial insensitivity is unacceptable even if it started with staff no longer employed at CSU. We all know that it takes time to change culture and we are committed to creating one that is anti-racist, equitable and just.
"While this finding documents a painful experience for members of our Athletics community, it also speaks powerfully to their commitment to the values that CSU upholds and to their sense of urgency around seeing us all live those values.''
CSU declined to make McConnell, Athletic Director Joe Parker or head football coach Steve Addazio available for interviews with the Coloradoan.
Joshua Gordon, a lawyer who teaches at the University of Oregon and who has conducted investigations and assessments of college athletic departments, read the report and McConnell's email sent to the CSU community. He questioned the effectiveness of her message.
"The summary that came out announcing the report contained cherry-picked highlights,'' Gordon said. "You can do that if you are hoping people are only going to read your statement and not the entire report, but the report had much more information in it than the announcement indicated.''
Gordon said the report read to him as more of an assessment rather than an investigation. He said universities can choose to do either, but there is a major difference in that an assessment takes a broader look at the issues and then policy and procedural changes are made if systemic issues are discovered.
He said in an investigation, you use interviews to determine those issues in order to then determine if the entity has issues, along with who is culpable for them.
CSU alumnus and football season ticket holder Tyler Shannon didn't see it that way.
"I was happy CSU was serious about the investigation and took the time to do a thorough investigation and with a reputable group,'' he said. "I don't think there was anything damning that would make me really concerned. I think there are teaching moments to be learned for the athletic department and student-athletes with this. Now its time to move on to playing sports.''
Gordon said his other takeaways from the report were that Addazio's behavior "is very concerning and seems to signal an ambivalence, at best, towards following the COVID-19 protocols.'' He added the investigation integrity section highlighted a number of behaviors that are concerning and speak to a glaring lack of oversight of the football program by the department's senior administrators.
"I was also a bit surprised that some of the concerns about interfering with the investigation weren't repeated in this report,'' he said. "And that athletic department oversight remains a question as to why there isn't more visibility and transparency about the student-athlete experience.''
He said he would recommend the university have a specific action plan to address a diverse set of student-athletes and ensure it becomes actionable.
The report did not include a personnel report about any individuals but did include three action steps. At a minimum, investigators said CSU should:
- Develop a system for student-athletes to report concerns to an employee outside of the Athletic Department (e.g., ombudsperson or Office of Equity, Equal Opportunity and Title IX), and actively encourage reporting.
- Continue or supplement diversity and inclusion training University-wide, with a special focus on the Athletics Department, to advance empathy-building, racial sensitivity and cultural understanding.
- Amplify the University’s policy statement against retaliation within the Athletic Department.
'Hidden in plain sight':CSU football staff accused of racial insensitivity, abuse
In her email announcement, McConnell included the variety of resources available to CSU students, staff and faculty to report concerns about their university experience.
Brooke Hudson said, as a Black female volleyball player at CSU, she took exception to much of the report.
"For the president of the university to blame the racial insensitivity in the athletic department on the 'current climate of our country' and completely dismiss many student athletes' stories by saying well, 'most student athletes reported feeling safe' is a complete whitewash of the system,'' she wrote in an email to the Coloradoan. "The email from the president completely made me feel unseen. This is what systemic racism is and this athletic department is immensely complacent in that.''
Jimmy Stewart, a CSU mental health counselor who works with student-athletes and who has become the face of those who brought forward concerns about the athletic department, said the report findings were disappointing but not surprising.
"Institutions like CSU are very resistant to change and accountability,'' he said. "Rest assured this institution will have another opportunity to deal with these issues because they will continue to engage in the same patterns of denial and impression management instead of addressing substantive systemic changes.
"This is just one of several investigations that have occurred since my tenure at CSU and which resulted in similar responses by Joe Parker’s administration.''
Reporter Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.