Coaches should not shield abusive athletes

Allegations of sexual assault should be taken very seriously, and allegations that victims have been further abused by the system should be taken just as seriously. University President Mark Yudof’s reaction to these claims has been admirable, thus far, but he must continue with his policy of open investigation.
The accusations are disturbing. One report suggests that head football coach Jim Wacker convinced a woman, who was sexually assaulted by a player twice, not to press charges in exchange for the player committing to violence counseling. The player never went, and Wacker claims to still support his decision.
Another incident involves a football player who was repeatedly accused of sexual harassment by several women and was not cut from the team until he allegedly erupted in violence — slapping, punching and kicking a former girlfriend. Other team members, alleged to have witnessed the assault, refused to cooperate with the investigation. After speaking with an assistant coach, the woman dropped her complaint. At this point, the student was finally cut from the team.
These allegations, along with five others like them, indicate a systemic problem in the men’s athletics programs. Women who came forward with complaints against athletes were not only subjected to the normal interrogations by police, but also to the questions of coaches who were personally involved in the outcome of the claims.
There is no reason coaches should be questioning victims. They have a personal interest in charges not being filed, and are highly unlikely to be able to engage in the process fairly. In addition, victims of abuse from nonathletes do not have to deal with nonpolice investigators. It is not fair to subject victims of athletes to further interrogations.
Despite the distressing nature of these allegations, Yudof’s reaction has been encouraging. He has invited other victims to speak out and has invited those who feel mistreated by the system to seek new solutions. He has ordered a report on the allegations to be finished by July 1, and in one of his most heartening actions, has asked the University Program on Sexual Violence to be an active participant in the investigation, along with the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.
Victims of sexual assault and harassment should be treated with respect and dignity. If the allegations are true, victims of student-athletes were mistreated twice: first by the players and then by coaches who refused to acknowledge that their players might have committed a crime.
The University should continue to investigate the allegations in as open a process as possible. Coaches who are proven to have participated in a process that twice harassed victims should be punished severely. These allegations should be a call to action. Student-athletes should not get special treatment, be it in academics or in accusations of crimes. The University should seriously consider expelling athletes who are convicted of serious crimes.