With football activities suspended indefinitely, Colorado State will broaden an investigation into whether coronavirus protocols were ignored to include allegations of “racial insensitivity and emotional and verbal abuse among coaches and athletic administrators.”
More than 20 current and former Rams players and athletic department staff members told the Coloradoan that the incidents spanned the programs of former football coach Mike Bobo and Steve Addazio, the current coach, and accused Athletic Director Joe Parker and administrators of ignoring the problems.
Sources, some of whom were granted anonymity by the Coloradoan because they feared retaliation, included a member of the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame, a former coach, a current CSU mental health counselor and a number of players and staff members that the outlet said had firsthand knowledge of a culture that some said was “toxic.”
Last week, the Coloradoan reported concerns surrounding the program’s novel coronavirus protocols and the latest allegations caused Parker to announce Friday that football activities were being halted.
“Today, we learned of some extremely troubling allegations of racism and verbal abuse from CSU’s athletic administration generally and in the football program specifically,” Parker said in a statement posted to the university’s athletics website. “Colorado State University is committed to being an anti-racist university, and we will not tolerate any behavior or climate that goes against that core value.”
The school announced an independent investigation into the program’s handling of coronavirus protocols after the Coloradoan reported players and staff felt uncomfortable with the current procedures. That report noted players had been told not to report symptoms and were threatened with a reduction in playing time if they were to quarantine, among other issues.
The school hired an outside law firm to carry out the investigation. On Friday, Parker and school president Joyce McConnell said the investigation would include the other allegations.
“I am profoundly disturbed to hear of these new allegations, and I have already expanded the scope of the investigation,” McConnell said in a statement to the Coloradoan. “Colorado State University is an avowedly anti-racist university and an avowedly anti-racist community. We will not tolerate a climate that makes any member of this university community feel unwelcome or not valued. On the contrary, we will expose it and put an end to it immediately.”
Addazio, the former Boston College coach, replaced Bobo in December and ESPN reported Friday that former Rams player and assistant coach Anthoney Hill said he was terminated as director of player development in December after expressing concerns about the hiring of Addazio. In a letter to Parker, Hill said Colorado State athletics had been corrupted by racial insensitivity and toxic masculinity.
“Also, bringing in a new head football coach who tells the graduate assistants within days of knowing them that he ‘doesn’t give a f--- about their feelings’ is contradictory to being ‘committed to the holistic development of student-athletes ... and of crafting a culture where students thrive,’ “ Hill wrote, per ESPN.
Jimmy Stewart, a CSU mental health counselor and licensed professional counselor alleged that racial insensitivity, harassment and verbal abuse had been prevalent during Parker’s five-year tenure and included his handling of former men’s basketball coach Larry Eustachy’s documented abuse.
“In these types of closed systems where abuse is taking place, it’s hidden in plain sight; everybody knows the truth but they are afraid to address it because of the fear of losing their jobs or scholarships or being blackballed,’’ Stewart said, admitting to the Coloradoan that he now fears for his job. “Because the people you are reporting the truth to are the very people whose job it is to polish the brand. They are trying to manage the abuse, not stop it.’’
Stewart was hired at the school six years ago and added that some members of the football staff described Addazio as bullying, erratic and prone to emotional outbursts.
A member of the football staff accused Addazio of downplaying the coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“He’s smart enough not to come right out in public and say it, but he thinks BLM is a crock of s---, and that has come out in meetings,’’ the staff member said, requesting anonymity. “When we had the incident with the player (a Black CSU football player was held at gunpoint by a white man while working), the players wanted to march with shirts that had BLM on it, make posters and say chants. He told them if you are going to do that we aren’t marching.”
A current football player told the Coloradoan that he believes “Joe knows about this stuff but Coach Addazio bosses Joe around, so Joe ignores it.”
A group of Colorado State players tweeted a statement in support of Addazio on Saturday, saying any allegations of racial abuse by the current staff were “patently untrue.”
“To the contrary, our experience since Coach Addazio’s first day has been positive, welcoming and focused on our development as student athletes,” it reads. “To be absolutely clear, we have not experienced any racially insensitive comments to our teammates from the athletic department or coaching staff.”
The statement focuses on changes brought about by Addazio and his staff, saying the coach has established a strong culture and has the support of his seniors.
“It is clear to us the false allegations have been leveled by individuals who are not associated with our current football team,” the statement says. “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. Again, we do not practice, sweat, work, or study in a harmful culture.”
Rams assistant Brian White tweeted a statement in support of Addazio on Saturday, saying the longtime coach “would never compromise the welfare of his players under any circumstances.”
“To even hint that he or the football team he leads is racist is shameful,” White said. “I have worked with and for Coach Addazio for 8 years and have lived his commitment to player welfare. This is the truth!”
White also rejected claims that Addazio or the program were lax in its coronavirus procedures. Some players also publicly rebuked Tuesday’s report on the team’s handling of the health matter.
“This is completely inaccurate,” Rams tight end Trey McBride tweeted. “The coaches have done a tremendous job at keeping the health of players and staff a top priority. The plan they have is to keep the player’s safety in the center. Very inaccurate.”
The team had already been idle after voluntarily pausing practices July 29 because 11 players had tested positive for the coronavirus.