CSU athletes, staff say athletic administration covering up COVID-19 health threat


Despite an ongoing investigation into the Colorado State football program, the team donned full pads for the first time this week in preparation for its first game Oct. 24.

It was announced Thursday that the Rams will open the season at home against New Mexico.

CSU Athletic Director Joe Parker had indefinitely suspended the program in early August following allegations that athletic department leadership covered up COVID-19 reporting, and allowed mistreatment of Black student-athletes and verbal abuse and harassment by coaches. 

Those allegations were brought to light through Coloradoan investigations into the program, and they prompted CSU President Joyce McConnell to order an external investigation into the program in early August. The athletic department also has since been named in a sexual assault civil lawsuit by a former server at Canvas Stadium.

The external investigation is ongoing, and CSU spokesperson Mike Hooker said it’s unknown when it will end or when the results will be made public. The football team’s return to practice was approved by Parker, with McConnell also signing off on it. 

“The university remains 100% committed to addressing all findings of the investigation after it is completed,” Hooker wrote in an email Wednesday. “We will make the full report available to the public as soon as possible and, after we have the opportunity to review the report, we will determine what remedial actions we will pursue in response.”

Jimmy Stewart, a CSU mental health counselor who works with student-athletes, has been one of the more vocal staff members to criticize the athletic administration.

Stewart, like many of those who have talked publicly and anonymously about those issues in other stories, pins blame on Parker; Deputy Director of Athletics Steve Cottingham; Shalini Shanker, senior associate athletic director for compliance; and head athletic trainer Terry DeZeeuw. 

“This investigation and mess we are in at its core is not about protocols or racial insensitivity, those are just words,” Stewart said. “It’s about a lack of dedication to truth, honesty, transparency, accountability and responsibility. Ultimately, this athletic administration has created a culture of mistrust in everything they say or do.”

McConnell launched the external investigation shortly after an Aug. 4 story in the Coloradoan in which football players and athletic department staff asserted the athletic administration was covering up the COVID-19 health threat.

COVID-19 count: Latest positive CSU athlete numbers

The search widened Aug. 7 to include specifically “pausing all football-related activities indefinitely.” That included practices, workouts and team meetings at the request of Parker.  

The widened search came in response to the Coloradoan reaching out to CSU leadership seeking interviews regarding its investigation into allegations from CSU players and athletics staff who say they witnessed racial insensitivity and emotional and verbal abuse among coaches and athletic administrators.

Hooker said in an email Wednesday that, based on the decision by the Mountain West to resume football on Oct. 24 and also understanding that CSU would receive an investigation report soon, Parker made the decision in consultation with university leadership and the university’s Pandemic Preparedness Team to resume football practices to prepare for the first game.

“Athletics staff … were informed of university resources to address any concerns about the return to team activity and opportunities to make alternative work arrangements,” Hooker wrote.


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CSU declined to make McConnell or Parker available for interviews for this story, citing the ongoing investigation.

However, Parker was quoted in an Aug. 31 news release about the university’s athletes being allowed to opt in to athletic activities. “After consultation with President McConnell, we believe the best place for our student-athletes to continue their development is in our facilities and on our campus,” Parker said.

CSU football coach Steve Addazio addresses his players during the team’s first practice in full pads Sept. 29, 2020. (Photo: Brandon Randall/CSU Athletics)

The release noted football players would be able to do strength and conditioning activities on a voluntary basis, but it did not specifically address Parker’s previous instructions to halt all football-related activities. It did state that “all athletic department staff and students have been instructed to not discuss the on-going investigation initiated by the President’s Office, directly or indirectly.”

The Aug. 31 announcement came out about a week after some CSU athletic staff took exception to McConnell’s statements at the athletic staff’s annual meeting praising Parker and other athletic administrators despite those same people being the leaders of a department under investigation.

Stewart said similar investigations, most recently at Iowa, have not led to substantive systemic change. The same firm that led the investigation of the Iowa program, Husch Blackwell, was hired by CSU for its investigation.

Stewart questioned why Parker was allowed to make the decision to lift the suspension of activities when he is the leader of the department being investigated. He also questioned why McConnell signed off on it.

“If Joyce McConnell really wanted to find out the truth, she wouldn’t have to have an investigation,” Stewart said. “That’s just performative and appearance driven. If she wanted truth, all she had to do is ask some questions of people who aren’t at the top. Her actions clearly show she is not interested in truth telling. Investigations are not about being interested in the truth; they are a show that gives the appearance of doing something.”

MW football is back: What you need to know 

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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