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Colorado State race relations concerns

This evening the University made public results of investigations by outside counsel into two matters.

The primary investigation was a result of claims of athletics' staff members not following, or suggestions athletes should not follow, Covid procedures.

The summary from that investigation is revealing; but it is fairly clear no meaningful change will come from that investigation.

The second investigation, the "Racial Climate Report", could be a different story.

This report goes in pretty hard both on current head coach Steve Addazio (and his staff) and former head coach Mike Bobo (and his staff). Bobo and countless people who have worked with him at CSU and elsewhere have denied all racial allegations. However, the report lays it on fairly thick.

Below are a few excerpts from the report: 

Football and Head Coach Addazio

Witnesses overwhelmingly reported having no concerns about the racial climate within the current football program, though a few raised concerns about the commitment of some members of the coaching staff to broader racial equality. Many current players stated that they have not heard racial comments or experienced racial inequities. One coach stated that he has not observed players being treated differently based on race. A second coach stated that Head Coach Addazio would “not tolerate one word of racial intolerance.” Several coaches and staff members noted that they have not received any player complaints regarding race.

Numerous witnesses commented that the team and coaching staff discussed racial injustice issues at multiple team and staff meetings.8 Other witnesses noted that Head Coach Addazio has asked diversity and inclusion professionals to meet with the team on several occasions. This was confirmed by the Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs/Student-Athlete Support Services who stated that the football coaches are committed to speaking about racial issues. One coach observed the team has done more to discuss racial issues in the seven months since he’s been there than any other program with which he has been affiliated.

Notwithstanding the largely positive commentary gathered during interviews, several witnesses raised concerns regarding incidents involving Head Coach Addazio and the current coaching staff.

Several staff members made allegations that imply Head Coach Addazio has fostered an environment that perpetuates racial stereotypes or is unsympathetic to the national dialogue regarding racial justice and equity. One staff member reported hearing him make racially insensitive comments. For example, during a staff meeting discussion after the murder of George Floyd, he recalled Head Coach Addazio stating, “It wasn't that big of a deal because people treated Italians like this in the 60's and 70's.” A second staff member reported feeling offended during a staff meeting when the need for a team rule prohibiting weapons was discussed. In her view, the coaching staff was making stereotyped assumptions that the players, the majority of whom are Black, possessed weapons.

Head Coach Addazio denied equating the murder of George Floyd or the treatment of African Americans to the experience of Italian Americans. He recalled sharing a personal story about the experiences of his family as Italian immigrants. During this story, Head Coach Addazio shared with staff members that, based on his family’s experience as immigrants, he does not tolerate any form of racial harassment or discrimination.

Player Abuse Allegation

Local media reported allegations from a staff member that Head Coach Addazio humiliated, denigrated, and intimidated a Black student-athlete over academic issues.11 The article quotes a staff member as saying, “[T]he incident felt eerily similar to Minneapolis police officers’ treatment of George Floyd before a white officer knelt on the back of Floyd’s neck until he died.” The staff member is also quoted as saying, “In that encounter with the Black student-athlete, Coach Addazio had this attitude that he’s bigger and more powerful than the student-athlete. The student was enslaved.”

The staff member reiterated his allegations to us, alleging that Head Coach Addazio interrogated and verbally overpowered the student-athlete, swearing and berating the student-athlete up against a fence until he broke down sobbing.12 The staff member reported feeling afraid of Head Coach Addazio’s anger and demeanor, which he characterized as intimidating, threatening, and “in your face.” When asked how close Head Coach Addazio stood to the student-athlete, the staff member alleged that Head Coach Addazio walked back and forth, with the staff member positioning himself between Head Coach Addazio and the student-athlete. The staff member did not allege that Head Coach Addazio ever stood near or touched the student-athlete. The staff member concluded that the student-athlete was humiliated by the experience, which the staff member explained was inextricably linked to the student-athlete’s race. In the staff member’s view, the student-athlete had no ability to stop the situation or ask Head Coach Addazio to “back off.” Because the student-athlete had no ability to set a boundary or have any kind of power, the conversation, according to the staff member, was “an enslavement” situation.

A different staff member stated that the reporting staff member called him after the meeting and noted that Head Coach Addazio seemed very angry with the student-athlete, which he worried would have a negative effect on the student. One coach stated that Head Coach Addazio declared in a staff meeting that he was going to berate the student-athlete and then bragged about doing so afterwards.

Former Football Coaching Staff

Numerous witnesses raised allegations of racial insensitivity and mistreatment by former Head Football Coach Bobo, and nine members of his football coaching staff. The allegations predominantly related to racially insensitive comments and jokes. Although many witnesses disputed the allegations of a racially insensitive culture, many current and former players and staff who participated in the investigation alleged that a racially insensitive climate existed in the football program under Coach Bobo’s leadership.

Coach Bobo disputes the allegations of racial insensitivity or harassment. He identified that he treats everyone with respect and dignity, and he stated that he does not accept racial intolerance within his football program. Coach Bobo expressed that he felt hurt when he learned of these allegations. Coach Bobo denied that he made any comments or statements in a racially derogatory manner.

Coach Bobo: Racial Incidents

Multiple allegations were raised, separate and apart from use of the term “boy,” regarding Coach Bobo and his propensity for making racially insensitive comments. A current player stated Coach Bobo was a “funny guy” who was prone to tell inappropriate jokes.

One staff member alleged that Coach Bobo referred to a Black player as a “thug” when discussing his drug use. According to this staff member, Coach Bobo told him “you don’t have to be a thug all your life, you know – maybe it’s time to stop being a thug.” No other witnesses corroborated this allegation. Coach Bobo denied referring to any player as a “thug” and stated he does not use the word “thug” to describe any of his players. Coach Bobo could not recall this alleged conversation.

One former player alleged that Coach Bobo told the team on several occasions “I know a lot of you guys don't have fathers but when you are here, I can be your daddy.” This statement was confirmed by multiple players and staff members. One former player stated that he informed Athletic Director Parker about the comment. Athletic Director Parker denied receiving such a report.

Coach Bobo stated that he informs players and their families that they will become part of the football program’s family. In conversations with parents, Coach Bobo informs parents that he will treat their sons like his own children. Coach Bobo denied informing players that he was going to replace their parents, and he denied ever using the term “daddy.” Coach Bobo stated he works with the players’ families to provide support to his players.

One staff member alleged that Coach Bobo told a Black player to “smile for us so we can have some light” when the lights unexpectedly went out during a team meeting. He stated that people laughed uncomfortably, yet nothing was done about it. One current player and coach did not recall Coach Bobo making the comment. However, three players and two staff members stated they were present when the comment was made. Athletic Director Parker denied knowing about this incident. Coach Bobo denied making this comment.

Several staff members alleged that Coach Bobo once commented about a Black female staff member’s hair, asking her “is that a weave, or is that yours?” Two current students confirmed witnessing the statement, whereas one coach could not recall the comment.

Coach Bobo denied making this specific comment....

One staff member alleged that Coach Bobo told one of his coaches “the next time I hire a black assistant, I need to get one with a black wife.” One coach stated he did not recall the comment. A staff member stated that she witnessed the comment, which everyone took as a joke. A third staff member witnessed the comment but explained that Coach Bobo was simply trying to increase diversity. Athletic Director Parker stated that he did not hear the comment but recalled that Coach Bobo may have said something to him about the comment after it was made.

Coach Bobo recalled making this specific comment. According to Coach Bobo, the football program was hosting a group of recruits and he wanted to make sure that the program displayed diversity at its events. However, several of the minority women that usually attend the events were unavailable that weekend. For this reason, Coach Bobo told his staff members that he planned to hire a staff member with a Black wife.

Several current and former players disputed the allegations and said Coach Bobo is not a racist, never treated them poorly, and loved all players as equals. A staff member stated that he never observed any of the incidents attributed to Coach Bobo or other coaches in media articles. A second staff member said Coach Bobo was “ahead of the time in showing actions against racism” and supported his players’ desire to kneel during the national anthem.

Coach Bobo admitted to using the term “atta boy” with players of all races. He stated that he even uses the term with his own children. Coach Bobo said that after the issue was brought to his attention, he has attempted to curtail the use of the term.

Athletic Department Culture

Several witnesses described negative personal experiences within the Athletic Department that reflect racial insensitivity or microaggressions. One staff member, who is a Black woman, said that she was called “aggressive” and “angry” during her performance review. She perceived this to be based on the stereotype of an “angry Black woman.” This same staff member stated that a colleague did not take the September 2019 blackface incident seriously. A different staff member, who is Black, expressed her opinion that she is included in marketing materials solely because of her race, but is excluded from important meetings and engagements.

One member of the football coaching staff stated that the staff should receive more training around working with athletes of color. He observed that a “white savior” mentality exists among some members of the Athletic Department.

One current staff member described intercollegiate athletics as “systemically racist,” noting she is unsure whether it is different or worse at other institutions. A different staff member said she has had numerous conversations with staff who make negative and biased assumptions about the potential academic success of athletes of color. A third coach said diversity is a difficult concept in Fort Collins, making it challenging for her to recruit diverse players because she knows it is a difficult place for persons of color to live.

A different staff member reported that he was very upset with the Athletic Department’s response to racial inequity issues. The staff member explained that, although his office cohort is fairly diverse, they did not talk about national events or racial justice until he raised the issues. This staff member also stated that he does not support the Together Initiative because he disagreed with how it was rolled out. He noted that the Athletic Department as a whole is not very diverse.

A senior member of the diversity staff stated that he has created a space for students and staff to feel comfortable talking broadly and intentionally around issues of race. As a result, he is aware of reports of students being treated differently due to their race. He also stated that most students or staff have not reported specific personal experiences to him, but that he has rather overheard comments that were “unsettling.”

Other witnesses stated that they have not received concerns from student-athletes about being treated differently based on race. One staff member, who is a woman of color, said that the racebased allegations reported in the media surprised her because she thinks the Athletic Department has a good culture. One staff member, whose child competes on a University intercollegiate athletic team and is Black, stated his child has not relayed experiencing anything that was racially insensitive on the team; but that racial issues at the University more broadly, however, are a different issue. Several student-athletes agreed, commenting on racial issues within the University student body as a whole. One current student-athlete expressed his opinion that the University has not addressed racial issues on campus effectively. He expressed concern that implicit racial bias has become normalized on campus and students have few avenues to engage in open dialogue about racial issues. In his experience, he has only been able to speak out about racial issues when there is a meeting for student-athletes. Moreover, he felt like the topic was only discussed “as a therapy session” and not to effectuate change.

Several witnesses raised concern about Athletic Director Parker’s handling of racial issues within the Athletic Department, especially allegations involving former coaches. One former and one current football player both reported telling Athletic Director Parker about specific racial incidents involving former members of the coaching staff, yet they reported that nothing was done to address their concerns. Numerous witnesses also questioned Athletic Director Parker’s handling of personnel issues associated with the former men’s basketball head coach. A former staff member asserted Athletic Director Parker “would sweep things under the rug” when faced with complaints. One staff member observed that, even though Athletic Director Parker has addressed specific allegations of racial bias, he has not addressed the culture. That same staff member said the Athletic Department has not taken full advantage of the John Mosely leadership program for studentathletes of color. A third staff member stated that he reported concerns to Athletic Director Parker through the “chain of command,” but that nothing has been done to address them. In this staff member’s view, this chronic inaction fosters a culture of nonreporting.

Athletic Director Parker denied that he has not appropriately responded to allegations of racial bias. He stated that he addressed each of the complaints brought to his attention regarding former members of the football coaching staff.

Conclusion

Student-athletes, coaches, and other staff who participated in the investigation described a range of personal experiences, both good and bad, within their athletic teams and the Athletic Department. Most of the specific incidents described to us alleging racist comments or racial inequities involved former coaches. These incidents, although in the past, are still resonating with students and staff that are currently at the University.

Witnesses generally did not assert that such conduct was widespread or tolerated by current coaching staff. Importantly, the specific allegations reported in the local media against Head Coach Addazio were not substantiated during the investigation.

Numerous individuals recounted racist incidents involving former coaches and expressed concern that their behavior went unaddressed by Athletic Department leadership at the time. Although those coaches are no longer associated with the University, some witnesses expressed skepticism regarding the Athletic Director’s commitment to addressing racial bias incidents and the broader culture within the Athletic Department.

In conclusion, we believe that perceptions of the racial climate on individual teams and within the Athletic Department have been shaped by recent national events and the resulting discourse around racial justice and equity. Student-athletes and staff expressed their collective expectation that the Athletic Department will take meaningful steps to address and eliminate any conduct based on racial bias and stereotypes, or any systemic inequities, which may have been ignored or tolerated in the past.

We recommend that the University work with Athletic Director Parker to create action steps aimed at improving the culture of the Athletic Department. These actions steps should include, at a minimum, the following:

  • Develop a system for student-athletes to report concerns to an employee outside of the Athletic Department (e.g., ombudsperson or Office of Equity, Equal Opportunity and Title IX), and actively encourage reporting;
  • Continue or supplement diversity and inclusion training University-wide, with a special focus on the Athletics Department, to advance empathy-building, racial sensitivity and cultural understanding; and
  • Amplify the University’s policy statement against retaliation within the Athletic Department.