CSU athletics department investigated over ethical concerns

Scott Nies

The Collegian initially reported on the findings of the Husch Blackwell investigation on Oct. 7, regarding the alleged violations of proper COVID-19 protocol by the Colorado State University football program and an overarching culture of racial insensitivity within the athletic department as a whole.

The Husch Blackwell investigation ultimately came to two somewhat similar conclusions regarding the allegations first reported in the Coloradoan stories that outlined COVID-19 protocol violation and racial insensitivity concerns

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In regard to compliance with COVID-19 protocols, Husch Blackwell found in their Compliance with COVID-19 Protocols Report, “Those concerns were predominantly related to communication, consistency or testing policies rather than intentional non-compliance with the protocols.”

Furthermore, the investigation stated the main concerns of those worried about protocol compliance was “generally identified issues within the areas of communication, testing protocols, contact tracing, … quarantine procedures and consistency between teams.”

One theme was an apparent lack of transparency between the athletic department and various staff members and teams. The report cited a staff member who reportedly encouraged the athletic department to better communicate this issue.

“At this point, they need to overcommunicate,” the staff member said. “During these times, you can never be too careful or communicate too much.”

The Collegian attempted to reach out to the athletic department to get comments regarding the initial allegations of COVID-19 procedure violations and racial insensitivity but were denied all attempts to contact staff and student-athletes. 

“A former staff member asserted Athletic Director (Joe) Parker ‘would sweep things under the rug’ when faced with complaints.”-Husch Blackwell Independent Investigation Report: Racial Climate Review

The football team’s issues regarding COVID-19 protocols stretch all the way back to late July, when the team voluntarily stopped all football-related activities after receiving eight positive tests since athletes returned to campus in June.

COVID-19-related issues are still present, as the Rams had their first game of the season against the University of New Mexico canceled due to COVID-19 precautions.

Even as CSU was cleared to play its first game against California State University, Fresno, the team was without star sophomore wide receiver Dante Wright due to contact tracing implications that ruled him out for the game, according to Eddie Herz of the Loveland Reporter-Herald.

July also saw the CSU football team reeling from an act of prejudice against one of its players. Barry Wesley, a CSU offensive lineman, was working as a door-to-door roofing salesman when he was held down at gunpoint by Loveland resident Scott Gudmundsen on unfounded accusations that Wesley was a part of antifa. 

Alongside claims regarding the football program’s possible violations of COVID-19 protocols, The Coloradoan reported on allegations centered around the perception of a culture of racial insensitivity within the athletic department. This resulted in CSU President Joyce McConnell requesting Husch Blackwell to investigate racial discrimination as well. 

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In the conclusion of their Racial Climate Review, Husch Blackwell indicated the issues were not a systemic department issue.

“We 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,” the report reads.

The report shows that these claims stem from previous coaching tenures rather than from head coach Steve Addazio’s current occupation with the team and states, “The specific allegations reported in the local media against head coach Addazio were not substantiated during the investigation.”

Many current players immediately refuted these allegations against Addazio and his current staff. Star tight end Trey McBride and sophomore wide receiver Ty McCullouch were outspoken on social media, and many players reshared their posts, indicating widespread support for Addazio.

This culminated in an open letter to the CSU community under the tag #CSUUnited, which claimed that all allegations against the new head coach and the current staff are “leveled by individuals who are not associated with our current football team.” The letter then proceeded to call out former, but anonymous, members of the program.

“The unfounded allegations from a disgruntled former coach and/or unnamed source is unfair, unjust and creates the exact demeaning and painful wounds that can be caused by racism,” the letter read.

In regard to the findings of the investigation, Addazio stated in a virtual press conference, “In the conclusions, there was no justification for the slanderous comments, for the inaccurate accusations on either front, COVID-19 or racial insensitivity.”

The report outlines specific instances of racial insensitivity, but notes that the claims were not asked to be substantiated.

“We were not asked to determine the veracity of any specific allegation or incident,” the report stated. “Therefore, inclusion of a given allegation in this report does not reflect a determination that it occurred as reported.”

“Some witnesses expressed skepticism regarding the athletic director’s commitment to addressing racial bias incidents and the broader culture within the athletic department.” -Husch Blackwell Independent Investigation Report: Racial Climate Review

Mike Hooker, the director of media relations and Denver outreach for CSU, said that the investigation focused on the experiences more than the evidence of witnesses.

“The investigators focused on the perceptions of the individual witnesses,” Hooker stated in an email to The Collegian. “In other words, the investigation report included a compilation of all of the information gathered and not just statements corroborated by other witnesses or determined to be accurate.”

“This allowed the University community and the public to understand both similar and divergent opinions gathered about the allegations, as well as common themes,” Hooker said. 

Numerous claims within the investigation date back to former head coach Mike Bobo’s time with the team. According to the report, one former player alleged that Bobo told the team on several occasions, “I know a lot of you guys don’t have fathers, but when you are here, I can be your daddy.”

Although the report stated Bobo’s comments were reported by a former player to Athletic Director Joe Parker, Parker denied this.

Various unnamed staff members came out in support of Bobo and disputed these racial abuse allegations. According to the report, a Black female staff member stated, “Bobo has been nothing but great to her and was the most supportive coach she has ever worked for.”

The Post and Courier, a newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina, reported on the racial abuse allegations directed toward Bobo, quoting the University of South Carolina athletic director, Ray Tanner, who indicated USC’s awareness of these allegations and that USC is “in the process of doing our due diligence and (has) already been in contact with the administration at Colorado State and with coach Bobo to gain more information and to determine the facts.”

This was the only comment USC has made in regard to the allegations against Bobo, and there have been no public comments since about the report’s findings.

The report further indicated that, amid all the allegations, there was a continuous theme of concern surrounding Parker’s handling of racial and personnel issues within the athletic department.

“A former staff member asserted Athletic Director Parker ‘would sweep things under the rug’ when faced with a complaint,” the report said.

This report cites concerns around Parker’s handling of the issues surrounding former men’s basketball coach Larry Eustachy.

Justin Michael, a former sports editor for The Collegian, reported on the problematic perception surrounding Parker during this investigation back in February 2018.

Michael wrote, “Sources say the players cited multiple frustrations with the CSU athletic department, including a lack of transparency from Athletic Director Joe Parker.”

This sentiment of frustration and an inability to address a problematic culture was routinely echoed throughout the Husch Blackwell report. The report stated, “A third staff member stated that he reported concerns to Athletic Director Parker through the ‘chain of command’ but that nothing has been done to address them.”

The report’s conclusion cites witnesses whose viewpoints suggest discontent with Parker’s history of handling these types of issues. It is stated, “Some witnesses expressed skepticism regarding the athletic director’s commitment to addressing racial bias incidents and the broader culture within the athletic department.”

The Collegian reached out to the athletic department for a comment on these concerns, but the athletic department repeatedly stressed, “The letter from President McConnell is our statement on this matter, and we have nothing more to add.”

In McConnell’s letter, she outlined numerous resources that were recommended in the investigation’s conclusion to better establishes a climate of racial sensitivity. She also stated, “Going forward and effective immediately, CSU Athletics will engage even more actively with those resources, make our student-athletes and Athletics staff aware of these resources and respond quickly and with compassion to any expressed concerns.”

Scott Nies can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @scott_nies98.