Missouri Football's Rape Culture 'And So On And So Forth'
The University of Missouri Athletic Department continues to trivialize sexual assault in favor of winning games.
Photo by Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports
Following the second major report this year about the failure of the Missouri football team and the athletic department to properly respond to a series of sexual assault allegations, perhaps someone should ask: Why does Mike Alden, athletic director at Missouri since 1998, still have a job?
The success of the sports program under Alden's tenure is indisputable and thusly lauded on his Missouri bio page: "Since beginning his 17-year stint in Columbia however, Alden has seen several programs rise to the level of national championship contenders, highlighted by conference championships in football, men's basketball, volleyball, soccer, softball, baseball and wrestling, including three league titles last season alone." He has raised a substantial amount of money to renovate the football stadium, which the site assures us "will make the home of Tiger Football one of the finest in America."
What Alden's bio fails to mention is he has also overseen a series of failures when it comes to how his department has handled off-field issues with players, specifically from the basketball and football teams when it involves violence against women.
This year, ESPN's Outside The Lines had two major reports about two different sexual assault allegations. The first, published in January, was about a possible gang rape in February 2010 by football players of a fellow student athlete, Sasha Menu Courey, who later ended up committing suicide. The report alleges that in May 2011, a few months before she died, Menu Courey told an athletic staffer about the assault, but, despite a federal legal obligation under Title IX for that staffer to alert the university, an investigation was never conducted. Chad Moller, the athletic department spokesman, told ESPN, "the university, in declining to launch an investigation, is honoring what it believes were the wishes of Menu Courey, who never reported the incident to police."
Then, late last month, the second Outside The Lines report drew more scrutiny on the team and the athletic department. Running back Derrick Washington, who left the school in 2010 after he was arrested and charged with sexual assault, had at least two other violent incidents with women before that assault and another before he left the team (he disputes the allegations unearthed by Outside The Lines). In October 2008, a fellow student alleged that Washington assaulted her in her dorm room. She went to campus police, who after an investigation, found probable cause to issue a warrant for his arrest on the charges of forcible rape. The County DA refused that warrant, stating "there are too many inconsistencies in the victim's story to ensure a reasonable probability that a jury would convict on a charge of forcible rape." Instead, the DA "contacted the defense attorney and entered into an agreement whereby the defendant [Washington] agrees to have no contact with the victim and complete rape awareness classes within a year."
In May 2010, a month before he committed the sexual assault for which he was convicted, Washington supposedly punched a female Missouri soccer player in the face while she was fighting with Washington's girlfriend at a bar. The player reported it to the police "and a warrant was issued for third-degree assault. But later that day, she came to the police department and said she had changed her mind." Her backtrack, she said, was because "she believed her scholarship was in danger, because of her arrest. Her coach pointed out that if Mr. Washington was arrested the incident would make the news and the situation with her scholarship might change." ESPN reported that "she did lose her scholarship but, with the help of an attorney, was able to have it reinstated." The Chancellor of Missouri says the claim to revoke the player's scholarship based on her pressing charges is "unsubstantiated". Instead, the school officially says that they "did send her a letter dated June 29, 2010, informing her that she was going to lose her scholarship. [The university spokesman] said that letter was sent inadvertently." It's worth nothing that Menu Courey, two weeks after she supposedly told the athletic staffer that she had been raped by a football player, received a letter saying she was no longer eligible for financial aid. According to ESPN, "Missouri officials say this was an automated letter sent to 1,472 students, and it did not refer to her athletic scholarship."
In June, Washington sexually assaulted another woman in her apartment. He was charged with felony deviant sexual assault in late August. Within two weeks of being charged, he was arrested again, this time for domestic assault in the third degree against his girlfriend. He would be convicted a year later for the sexual assault. According to ESPN, "a judge sentenced him to five years in prison. He served four months as part of a first-time offenders program and had to register as a sex offender." Then, in February 2012, he pled guilty to the domestic assault charge, and served 90 days for it concurrently with the sexual assault sentence.
Washington's 2008 sexual assault was also grossly mishandled. In fact, head football coach Gary Pinkel knew of the incident, but never disciplined Washington. Athletic Director Mike Alden never called for an investigation. Last month Pinkel and Alden held a joint press conference immediately following the release of the second Outside The Lines report in which they tried to justify these actions. Pinkel said, "if [the police] don't charge him, how am I supposed to, unless there's other circumstances or things I know, that's happened before." Alden, for his part, said he was simply ignorant of Title IX regulations: "But back in 2008, I was not aware of those types of procedures and how they took place on campus."
Pinkel also told the press that when the 2010 allegations came to light, he spoke to Washington and, "I just told Mike, there's no way in the world, knowing that he very likely is gonna get arrested in the middle of September, can we play the first game with him. We can't do it. I had enough information that we would make that decision. And that's what we did. We suspended him prior to (the season)." Yet, last year, Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian, in their book The System: The Glory And Scandal Of Big-Time College Football, say that Washington's mother told them, "Coach Pinkel called and told us he was permanently suspended. He said he fought for Derrick for over an hour. But he said the curators, essentially the school's trustees, called him in and told him what they were going to do. He said he wanted to redshirt Derrick until after the trial. And if the trial went well, he'd reinstate him and play him the following year. But the curators wouldn't go for that." (The Board of Curators is the governing body of the University of Missouri.) It's clear when reading The System, that Benedict and Keteyian wrote about the 2010 sexual assault case against Washington without knowing about the 2008 one.
Yet, there's more to this than just what is in the Outside The Lines reports. In 2010, when the campus detective arrived at the victim's apartment to look into the second Washington allegation, he already knew the victim's roommate. In January of that year, she had called the campus police when, she said, she had been sexually assaulted by a Missouri basketball player. This was a month before Sasha Menu Courey would allegedly be assaulted by multiple Missouri football players. According to The System, the roommate "underwent a rape kit at the hospital, and [the detective] conducted the criminal investigation. In his report, he noted that 'she was afraid of what might happen' if she pressed charges. Ultimately, [she] declined to cooperate with prosecutors, choosing instead to meet with the head basketball coach, which led to [the player] issuing her an apology. She dropped her complaint at that point." That basketball player? He left Missouri in November 2012 after a second rape allegation (it also did not lead to charges).
Earlier this year, seven Missouri athletes were arrested within a three-month period. According to a Kansas City Star report, which was released in June of this year, those arrests included multiple football and basketball players being arrested for drug possession, as well as Zach Price, a basketball player, and Dorian Green-Beckham, a football player, each being arrested within days of one another in early April for domestic assault. The latter two were dismissed from their teams. Green-Beckham was never charged. At the press conference Pinkel and Alden held about the most recent Outside The Lines report, Pinkel said that he dismissed Green-Beckham without charges because "I had other information, quite honestly, that I knew that would help me make a decision, and the decision was that I had to remove him. It's confidential where I got that and how I got that. I could have thrown it out, but I didn't, because I have to do what's right." This then raises questions about the 2008 allegation against Washington: Did Coach Pinkel know that Washington had to take rape awareness classes mandated by the county DA? Did Washington take them? Did the Coach know he took them? Why were charges the threshold for determining when to discipline and not a player having to take rape awareness classes mandated by the County DA?
I asked Chad Moller, the spokesman for the Missouri athletic department, these exact questions. I also asked him if Washington's mother's account given to Benedict and Keteyian about Pinkel advocating for Washington to remain on the team in 2010 even if charged with sexual assault was true. I also inquired about the current protocol for determining at what point the team suspends a player once sexual allegations have been made. Moller told me, "We've addressed these issues, which happened more than six years ago, and we're focused on learning from the experience and improving our procedures and moving forward. Along those lines, I've attached a statement from Chancellor Dr. R. Bowen Loftin that you're welcome to use. Hope this is helpful." When I wrote him back and asked, "So, fair to say you are no longer answering specific questions about 2008 or 2010 then?" I never received a response.
The statement from Chancellor Loftin that Moller sent to me is the go-to document at Missouri right now. I tried to look into what measures had been in place to prevent sexual assault on campus before the January Outside The Lines report. When I requested an interview from a staff member at Missouri's Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) Center, I was directed to the Missouri News Bureau. In response to my questions about organized efforts on campus to prevent sexual assault over the last few years (either university driven or student led), Mary Jo Banken, the Executive Director of the News Bureau, gave a long answer that mainly outlined the work the university has done since January. It included a list of resources available to members of the Missouri community that include the Counseling Center, the Employee Assistance Program, the MU Police Department, and the Student Conduct Office. Banken also went over "other actions taken recently to strengthen our existing resources," which were taken verbatim from Loftin's statement.
Banken did eventually send me an email in which someone from the RSVP Center told me that the Green Dot Mizzou program was launched in 2009 and conducts training in areas like bystander intervention. Peer educators have been presenting to student organizations by request, and there have been "collaborative partnerships with Navy and Army ROTC and Intercollegiate athletics" forged over the past few years.
Chancellor Loftin, who was hired less than a year ago in December 2013, released his statement immediately following Outside The Lines' second report and in direct response to it. In it, there is a bullet-point list of initiatives that Missouri has put in place since January to "to make our campuses safer and to protect the rights and care of victims of assault." These include an executive order in April issued by the President of the University Missouri system that "mandates the responsibility of all university employees to report allegations of sexual harassment and assault perpetrated on students."
The university has also turned a part-time Title IX coordinator position into a full-time Title IX coordinator and investigator position, which is currently filled on an interim basis. (The letter implies that these are separate jobs, but according to Banken, that is not the case). A "nationally known consulting firm" is advising the university on "the restructuring of our student conduct processes and give us an independent analysis of all current resources." And Alden is in charge of "a sub-task force solely to examine how our Department of Intercollegiate Athletics handles student incidents and concerns." Most of the statement concerns actions being taken right now that will, possibly sometime in the future, result in changes in how the issue of sexual assault is handled at Missouri. There is little there, other than a series of committees that will eventually offer suggestions.
As for what the football team is specifically doing to help prevent sexual assault by players in the future, Pinkel told reporters that Cornell Ford, the cornerbacks coach, "handles that every year in August with our team, he's very specific about rape and no is no, and so on and so forth." In a follow up to these comments, The Missourian interviewed players about what Ford does to address sexual assault: " [Mitch] Morse [a team captain and senior offensive tackle] remembered Ford talking with the team about respecting women and sexual assault for five minutes at one point during two-a-day practices. Darius White, a senior wide receiver, remembered a 10 to 12-minute conversation after practice." There is nothing specific in Ford's background that explains why he is the coach on staff who handles these discussions and it is not clear what exactly he covers.
This matters because part of what Outside The Lines uncovered in the 2008 case against Washington was a video of the detective interviewing Washington about what had happened that night. We see Washington sitting across a small table from the detective in a room. "What exactly does she say," the detective asks Washington. "Just that she doesn't want to have sex," he replies. The detective then asks if he can remember how many times she said that she didn't want to have sex. Washington: "Maybe three." The detective then asks him, "How long was your penis inside of her before she said stop?" Washington says, "About 30 seconds maybe and then she said stop, and then I stopped. Then she started crying." The detective then asks if the victim physically fought back by pushing on Washington's chest. "Fuck no," Washington quickly answers. Finally, the detective flat out asks, "Do you acknowledge that what happened, shouldn't have happened?" Washington immediately says, "Yeah. It shouldn't have happened. It shouldn't have happened." The detective follows up with, "Do you acknowledge that what happened could be possibly considered to be an assault of some sort?" Washington: "No."
While Morse told The Missourian that "treating women with respect" is one of the "core values" of the Missouri football team, that does not mean that they are teaching them exactly what constitutes sexual assault and, more importantly, what consent looks like. After everything we now know about how little Alden and Pinkel both knew and did in the face of serious allegations against a player (and the resulting effect of that same player going on to harm multiple other women), why we should be satisfied with a coach teaching the team "so on and so forth" about sexual assault is puzzling.
The problem of sexual assault in college football is certainly not just a Missouri problem. We know that other programs have had problems with basketball players being accused of assault. Perhaps the answer for how to start fixing what ails college athletic departments is to turn to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. They recently released a statement much like the one Chancellor Loftin did, one that gives a bullet-pointed list of what universities could be doing to prevent sexual assault. The Executive Committee suggests that they comply with campus authorities, follow protocol for reporting incidents, educate athletes and coaches about prevention, comply with federal law, and cooperate with university investigations. They've also released a new handbook "that outlines the role an athletic department should play in dealing with sexual assaults."
When I questioned the NCAA on how they would enforce their new Executive Committee suggestions, Gail Dent, Associate Director of Public and Media Relations, explained that "One of the guidelines specifically references Title IX, which is federal law. We expect our schools to be compliant and to adhere to those federal laws." When I pushed her on what would happen if these expectations are not met, she reiterated, "we expect our schools to adhere to federal law which is referenced with Title IX in the resolution."
This is not a surprising non-committal stance from the NCAA on what they could or would actually do to help force schools to do better prevention in regards to violence against women. Following horrific reports of sexual assault at Colorado in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the NCAA released a statement saying that sex was now prohibited as something schools could use to recruit players. When I looked into whether that statement ever made it into the Division I Manual or a bylaw, I found that it had not. It, too, remained a suggestion.
Kate Fagan, in her response piece at ESPN to the latest Outside The Lines report about Missouri, stated how hard it is to find anything out about how athletic departments deal with these issues: "Most athletic departments should have written protocols, including chains of command on how to report, but finding an administrator who was willing to walk me through a real-life example proved impossible." Fagan goes on to talk about the sometimes troubling "culture within athletic departments" and the "blind loyalty" that is fostered in everyone who participates in them. During an interview on Outside The Lines, when asked by Bob Ley what would be needed to change this, Fagan said that beyond a total overhaul, not much.
Let me suggest an idea in the case of Missouri: firing Mike Alden. They should fire him and make it clear that they are doing so because of how poorly he has handled this exact same issue over many years, and how his poor handling of it has led to a culture where women are harmed, but many don't want to say anything.
Green-Beckham's victim didn't want to pursue a case this year because "she was afraid of the media and community backlash since Green-Beckham is a football player for the University of Missouri and is possibly going to be in the NFL Draft soon. She was afraid of being harassed and having her property damaged just because she was the victim," and that she "did not want to deal with the mental stress of the whole ordeal it was already making her physically sick to think about it." The woman who pressed charges against Washington in 2008 is still so fearful of people knowing who she is her face was shown only in silhouette on Outside The Lines. Her boss told the detective during the 2008 investigation that she had said "she was reluctant to tell anyone [about the assault] because she did not want to be known as the girl that brought down the football team." The roommate of Washington's 2010 sexual assault victim, the one who alleged that the basketball player had raped her, never pressed charges "because she was afraid of retribution." The victim herself initially told police "that she did not wish to press charges because she felt the same" as her roommate.
For his role in Missouri's on-the-field success and off-the-field embarrassment, Alden has a contract through 2019 that can make him over $750,000 in a year. Pinkel, meanwhile, is paid $3.1 million a year and his contract has been extended through 2020.
Three years ago, when Pinkel pled guilty to driving while intoxicated in 2011, Missouri suspended him for one game, froze his salary for a year, and took away his bonus for the bowl game. It was estimated to be about $300,000 in penalties. When he wrote his apology letter to the campus, Pinkel said, "Social responsibility and discipline are two things I constantly emphasize to our team. My lack of both in this instance will hopefully prove to be a teachable moment and serve as an example to others of what not to do. I've stressed to my players that there are consequences to your actions and I face stiff consequences for what I've done." What schools choose to punish coaches, players, and ADs for is telling (DWI, but not ignoring the violent actions of a player who then went on to assault three more women).
The rhetoric Pinkel used in his letter is almost laughable in the face of what we know about what happened in 2008. "I've stressed to my players that there are consequences to your actions."
Indeed. That there were, maybe then, something would change.
And so on and so forth.