Lack of oversight threatens legacy

Hennepin County prosecutors have declined to file charges against 14 University of Minnesota wrestlers involved in the alleged sale and use of Xanax — a prescription sedative. 

The wrestling team’s drug activity is the latest in a slew of less-than-savory incidents that have befallen the University’s athletics department. 

Over the years, the program has been accused of academic fraud, questionable commitment to gender equity, sexual harassment by coaches and administrators, and $200,000 worth of reckless overspending.

Ethics have gone rogue. 

Dishonesty runs rife. 

On University training grounds, luminaries — like Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen and the late Football Hall of Fame inductee Bronko Nagurski — all found their first athletic successes. Yet the program’s history of athletic achievement has been blighted by the unscrupulous actions of a select group of coaches and administrators.

When will the tide change?

While insufficient evidence may prevent officials from indicting University wrestlers, the actions of head coach J Robinson — once accused of violating NCAA regulations by furtively selling real estate to student-athletes — point to a culture of unaccountability.

In court documents released last Wednesday, Robinson, 69, acknowledged his player’s drug activity. Worried the issue would result in “carnage” for his team, he worked to resolve the issue internally — granting “amnesty” to those who confessed involvement, hoarding the team’s stash of pills and continually rebuffing police investigator’s inquiries into player involvement. While he remains on paid administrative leave at the behest of athletics director Mark Coyle, Robinson will not be charged.

As a part of his self-policing effort, Robinson required players — who were complicit in the sale or use of Xanax — to write essays describing their feelings. In one such essay released by the University of Minnesota Police Department, a wrestler writes, “As a team we are/were very lucky to not get in trouble with the police and get thrown in jail […].”

Clearly those involved recognized the illegality of their actions.

On June 30, Ryan Kaess — J Robinson’s attorney — told the Minnesota Daily, “These kids’ lives would be ruined […] over ticky-tack … drug issues like this … Why are the police investigating this damn thing in the first place?”

Many are rightfully concerned by the cavalier attitude of high-tier leadership in the athletics department, some of whom continuously disregard laws and regulations — as if given carte blanche. To make matters worse, many of those at fault are exonerated by a system that favors them.

In a statement, President Eric Kaler said the allegations, if true, would “not be tolerated.” And, in recent months, the University’s Board of Regents has actively pursued measures to increase oversight in the athletics department. These, while important gestures, have not yet changed the department’s culture of endemic misconduct.

While many in the department surely follow protocol, a select few seriously threaten to sour the department’s legacy.

In May, following a unanimous vote, Regents appointed Mark Coyle as the University’s next athletics director. Upon assuming the role, Coyle verbalized his hope for creating a “culture of accountability” at the school. We hope, for him, those words are law.