Off-court actions tarnish fine season

The University community joyously celebrated the success of the Gophers men’s basketball team this school year, and rightfully so. It was the best season in history: The Gophers won more than 30 games and appeared in the NCAA Final Four. Coach Clem Haskins and his players achieved recognition and accolades from the state and nation. During the past two weeks, however, one player, starting forward Courtney James, was charged with assaulting his girlfriend. To make matters worse, the Star Tribune revealed that Haskins was aware of previous abuse allegations against James.
These events, especially if the charges against James are true, tarnish the Gophers’ great season and the basketball program. According to Minneapolis police reports, James was arrested early in the morning on Saturday, April 12. He is accused of hitting his girlfriend in the face with a phone book, throwing her to the floor and restricting her breathing by covering her mouth and nose. He has pleaded not guilty of the 5th-degree assault charges filed against him. The courts must decide the legal outcome for James, but in the wake of the arrest, the revelation that Haskins knew about previous abuse allegations has disturbing implications for the athletics department and men’s basketball.
James’ former girlfriend accused him last summer of assaulting her, and she and her parents met with Haskins and his staff at that time to discuss the allegation. When this story first surfaced following James’ arrest, Haskins seemed to deny knowledge of the incident to men’s athletics director Mark Dienhart. Although Dienhart said that Haskins wasn’t obligated to tell him about the meeting and that Haskins probably withheld information because he believed James’ denials, the whole incident smacks of a cover-up — a coach concealing relevant information to protect his team’s reputation.
Haskins has had a no-nonsense reputation since coming to the University. His policy forbidding players from wearing earrings or getting tattoos received national attention during the NCAA tournament. The University and press have lauded him for the clean, disciplined program he runs. “I think today we’ve let coaches be disrespectful of the game if you let people do things,” Haskins said during the tournament. Based on his own words, the coach’s failure to mention prior abuse allegations against James to Dienhart was a serious error in judgement.
The basketball players are adults, and their coach cannot be held responsible for their actions. Haskins did have an obligation, however, to be honest and open with the athletics department and the University community. He is responsible for the basketball team’s reputation and for enforcing its rules. Dienhart has said that in the future, he wants to be informed of any accusations against University athletes. He has also launched an internal investigation into the accusations against James. The player has been suspended and will receive counseling. But Haskins should re-evaluate his recent actions, as well. Future attempts to hush up anti-social behavior will further erode the credibility of a basketball program he has worked hard to rebuild.