Across Country, Men’s Athletics Teams Investigated for Explicit Remarks

UPDATED: December 21, 2016 at 11:53 p.m.

In the same semester that reports in The Crimson prompted administrative action against two Harvard athletic teams, allegations of similar practices on men's athletics teams at four other colleges and universities have led administrators at the schools to suspend seasons and discipline athletes.

Reports of men’s teams producing vulgar documents that target women and other groups have spurred administrators at Columbia, Princeton, Amherst, and Washington University in St. Louis to discipline the teams. Hudson Taylor, a former Columbia wrestling coach and founder of Athlete Ally, an advocacy organization for BGLTQ athletes, said these subsequent reports constitute a “domino effect” kicked off by events at Harvard.

Most recently, administrators at Washington University suspended the men’s soccer team Friday as the school investigates allegations that members of the men’s team in 2015 wrote sexually explicit comments about members of the women’s soccer team in an online document.

Friday’s announcement from Washington University comes less than two months after The Crimson reported that a member of the Harvard 2012 men’s soccer team created a sexually explicit document with evaluations of incoming recruits from the women’s soccer team based on their perceived physical attractiveness.

The document, which teammates called a “scouting report,” circulated over the team’s email list in 2012 before the beginning of the fall semester. After news of the document surfaced on Oct. 25, Harvard’s Office of General Counsel launched an investigation into the team’s conduct, finding that the behavior continued beyond 2012 and during the men’s soccer team’s most recent 2016 season. On Nov. 4, Harvard administrators canceled the remainder of the season.

Two days later, The Crimson reported on the men’s cross country team’s creation of yearly spreadsheets about members of the women’s team, some of which included “sexually explicit” comments. Members of the team had shared information about the documents with coaching staff ahead of administrative review.

While Harvard’s Office of General Counsel reviewed the cross country team’s behavior and the spreadsheets, an online student publication at Columbia, Bwog, received screenshots of group messages exchanged between members of the Columbia men's wrestling team. Bwog wrote that the messages included “homophobic and racist slurs,” jokes about sexual assault, and “show[ed] a lack of respect for women.”

After Bwog published the screenshots of the messages on Nov. 10, the Columbia Spectator reported that the university had launched an investigation into the team and had canceled the team’s upcoming opening meet. On Nov. 18, the Spectator reported that the team would resume its season after the suspension of eight members—seven seniors and one junior.

“In terms of it appearing at other campuses it’s definitely shocking,” said Amara Banks, Columbia sophomore and editor-in-chief of Bwog, in an interview. “I am honestly shocked that it’s happening within all of these different athletic teams.”

However, Taylor, Columbia’s former wrestling coach, said in an interview Tuesday that he believes the behavior of these teams do not represent isolated incidents, but rather stem from a larger problem of narrowly defined masculinity within sports culture.

“Any time you are isolating men and women into specific, isolated groups, I think it teaches masculinity and femininity in narrowly defined ways,” Taylor said. “I think that this behavior that is happening at institutions like Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, etcetera, it’s happening at every athletic department in the country.”

In December alone, four college athletic teams have faced administrative action after reports of sexually explicit or otherwise offensive behavior and documents. The Harvard Athletic Department put the cross country team on “athletic probation” on Dec. 2. At the time, Brandon E. Price ’17 said the team will go through training seminars and work with a consultant on team culture.

A week later, the Amherst Indicator reported that the college’s men’s cross country team maintained an email chain from 2013 to 2015 in which certain women were referred to as “meatslabs” and “walking STD[s].” A number of emails also contained racially charged remarks.

“Until recently, we had no reason to believe that the Amherst administration might be prepared to act on team-wide messages of the kind exchanged by the Harvard men’s soccer and cross country teams and Columbia men’s wrestling team,” reads an editorial from the authors of the Indicator’s story. “Our peer institutions’ decision to publicly condemn and discipline their athletes… suggest to us that the Amherst administration might be able to craft an appropriate response.”

Amherst suspended the team on Dec. 12.

Three days later, Princeton suspended its men’s swim and dive team after a complaint led to an investigation of material, including content circulated over the team’s email list, that was “vulgar and offensive, as well as misogynistic and racist,” according Princeton’s statement released Dec. 15.

The Washington University announcement came a day later. Taylor said initial reports of sexually explicit practices among male sports teams had a role to play in subsequent events.

“The reporting of one is leading every athletic department in the country to look into what are the practices of their teams and their athletes,” said Taylor.

Moving forward, Taylor said systemic changes are needed, including “cultural competency” trainings for all coaches and more consistent policies across colleges and universities, in order to address the cultural problems he sees within collegiate teams.

“When something terrible happens at an athletic department, it’s not enough to just do the bare minimum to get back to a place where people are no longer hurt or angry or afraid,” Taylor said. “We have to be figuring out solutions that ensure that this never ever happens again.”

—Staff writer Brittany N. Ellis can be reached at brittany.ellis@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @britt_ellis10.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: December 21, 2016

A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that Harvard's Athletics Department had placed the men's cross country team on academic probation. In fact, the Athletics Department placed the team on "athletic probation."

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