CSU athletes, staff say athletic administration covering up COVID-19 health threat
The investigation into CSU’s athletic department provided mostly positive feedback that the university was not complicit in allegations of broken COVID-19 protocols, racial insensitivity toward Black players and overall verbal harassment.
However, remarks about current football coach Steve Addazio and former football coach Mike Bobo and the leadership of Athletic Director Joe Parker over the past five years were not as warm.
The report released Wednesday evening stated a “substantial majority of student-athletes and staff reported no concerns with the established COVID-19 protocols.”
In regard to allegations of pervasive racial inequities or harassment, investigators found “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.”
“We agreed that the findings of the investigation are positive and reassuring overall,” CSU President Joyce McConnell stated in a release. “They also provide extremely helpful context and recommendations. We are confident that our current CSU Athletics staff will work with us to move forward as our football program resumes.”
Overall, there were three recommendations for the athletics department included in the investigation intended to increase racial sensitivity, but no mention of any disciplinary action for CSU staff or personnel.
A substantial portion of the report on the university’s handling of COVID-19 protocols centered around Addazio’s response to the pandemic.
One of multiple interviews in the report stated: “One witness alleged that Head Coach Addazio attempted to interfere with the investigation and influence their testimony. According to the witness, Addazio told staff that they are employed in the football program ‘because of his good graces’ and ‘during this investigation, I expect absolute loyalty.’”
The witness also alleged that assistant coach Brian White was complicit, posting the Ram logo and phrase “absolute loyalty” on social media to send the message “we expect you to protect us” to staff and players.
According to the witness, White also commented, “We’re fighting for our lives” during a staff meeting, which the witness interpreted to mean the coaches knew they were guilty of wrongdoing. The witness also alleged that “Addazio explicitly instructed the team videographer to delete practice videos from the server in order to destroy evidence of the team’s violation of the COVID-19 protocols.”
Addazio denied that accusation in the report.
Most of the witness statements garnered from investigators were of the “he said, she said” variety with some student-athletes and athletic staff agreeing with accusations and others disagreeing.
The two-month investigation resulted in a report that includes 18 pages on racial inequities and 16 pages on COVID-19 implementation. In early August, investigators interviewed 115 individuals, including 49 student-athletes, 63 employees and three other community members.
While “most” members of the football program believed Addazio and his coaching staff took COVID-19 protocols seriously, with one calling Addazio a “germaphobe” who did not threaten or pressure players to hide symptoms or participate while feeling unwell, other student-athletes and staff painted a much different picture of the first-year coach.
According to the report, athletic staff remarked at a meeting that Addazio said “all the experts are wrong, and it is all political,” regarding COVID-19. Another staff member said Addazio seemed more concerned with “getting on the field” than worrying about the virus. A third staff member expressed his belief that Addazio did not understand the meaning of “stopping the spread” and had not “totally bought in” to the protocols. Numerous staff members reported observing or hearing rumors that Addazio described COVID-19 as “just the flu.”
In its conclusion on racial mistreatment, the report cited student-athletes, coaches and other staff who participated in the investigation describing a “range of personal experiences, both good and bad, within their athletic teams and the Athletic Department.’’
The report added: “most of the specific incidents described alleging racist comments or racial inequities involved former coaches and continue to “resonate with students and staff that are currently at the University.’’
It also read: “Importantly, the specific allegations reported in the local media against Head Coach Addazio were not substantiated during the investigation.”
The report said numerous individuals recounted racist incidents involving former coaches and expressed concern that their behavior went unaddressed by Parker at the time. Although those coaches are no longer associated with the university, the report said “some witnesses expressed skepticism regarding the Athletic Director’s commitment to addressing racial bias incidents and the broader culture within the Athletic Department.’’
The report said investigators “believe that perceptions of the racial climate on individual teams and within the Athletic Department have been shaped by recent national events and the resulting discourse around racial justice and equity.’’
A staff member reported hearing Addazio make racially insensitive comments, including at a staff meeting discussion after the murder of George Floyd that Addazio stated, “It wasn’t that big of a deal because people treated Italians like this in the 60s and 70s.”
Addazio denied equating the murder of George Floyd or the treatment of African Americans to the experience of Italian Americans.
Several football players interview also said Addazio interfered with a team march in support of a Black player who was held at gunpoint by a white male in June while working off campus.
The report said several witnesses alleged that the football program did not “do enough” to support the student-athlete and were dissatisfied with the march that occurred. One current player asserted the march was too controlled by the coaches. According to the player, the coaches told them not to carry signs and disagreed initially with wearing all black. One staff member asserted that Addazio was “callous” in his response to the student-athlete.
Addazio denied that he interfered with the march or suggested that Black lives don’t matter.
Also, the report read that “many witnesses disputed the allegations of a racially insensitive culture (under former football coach Mike Bobo), (but) many current and former players and staff who participated in the investigation alleged that a racially insensitive climate existed in the football program under Coach Bobo’s leadership.
Bobo, now the offensive coordinator at the University of South Carolina, disputes the allegations.
The full report can be found here and in the documents embedded below.
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 protected] or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
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