FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Colorado State University has officially released the results of the independent investigation conducted by the Kansas City-based firm Husch Blackwell.
Here’s everything you need to know.
In response to allegations of violations of improper COVID-19 procedures, as well as racism, verbal abuse, and player mistreatment, the law firm interviewed 115 individuals, including 49 current and former student-athletes, 63 current and former employees, and three other community members.
Fair warning — for those of you that are hoping for some type of consensus — you will be sorely disappointed. As has been the case throughout this entire process, the information is all over the place — ranging from people that had nothing but positive things to say, all the way to people that clearly believe CSU has some deeply troubling issues.
While this investigation did help clear up some of the questions we had about CSU Athletics and the school as a whole, it also raised quite a few more. So, with that in mind, let’s jump right into things.
COVID-19 Key Points (CSU Athletics as a whole)
According to the report, which was created by Husch Blackwell and published by CSU, a substantial majority of student-athletes and staff reported no concerns with the established COVID-19 protocols. However, several student-athletes stated that the protocols have been improved and adjusted since the initial implementation — which, to be fair, makes sense. We’ve learned a lot since the beginning of summer.
When it comes to wearing masks, the report references multiple student-athletes from different teams that claimed that masks were consistently worn and coaches strictly enforced the protocols. It also references coaches that matched the player’s sentiments.
In regards to COVID-19 protocols, the biggest points of contention throughout the athletic department as a whole seemed to come down to a general lack of communication, consistency, contact tracing, and not enough testing in the early stages of the return to competition. The report points out numerous witnesses raised concerns about what they perceived to be a lack of transparency and communication about the protocols and return to campus.
One staff member explained that the communications were team-and-unit-led rather than issued from the Athletic Department, which created some discontent. Other staff members expressed frustration that there was not consistent communication with all teams, resulting in situations where some teams felt they were operating with an information deficit as compared to other teams.
Additionally, there were concerns raised about the opt-in/opt-out process, and whether or not the student-athletes had enough time to process everything before the deadline.
“One current player said that despite a town-hall meeting with student-athletes, information was not provided with enough lead time before the decision deadline and unanswered questions remained.”
Joe Parker (AD), however, stated that there were several town-hall meetings throughout the summer to go over the opt-out process. And as a response to feedback indicating that some students were apprehensive about the possible repercussions of opting out of a season, the department cleared all rosters so that student-athletes could choose whether or not to opt-in.
It is important to note that the report states that the athletic department made it clear that not choosing to participate in athletic competition would not impact the financial aid of student-athletes.
- Aug. 28 —The Athletic Department provided student-athletes and their parents the University’s Opt-out/Opt- in form and other information, including prohibitions on retaliation.
- Aug. 31 — The Athletic Department required student-athletes wanting to opt-in for Fall 2020 to opt-in by Monday, August 31, 2020.
- Final Figures —363 student-athletes opted-in, and 11 student-athletes opted out.
Finally, the report states that multiple student-athletes, as well as staff members, expressed concern over the university’s decision to resume athletic activities during a global pandemic in the first place — although it does not make it clear how many or which programs that they were associated with. So it is possible that those individuals were part of the 11 that chose to opt-out.
Although they were not the only team that the investigation looked into, football was obviously the centerpiece of the whole ordeal. The investigation started because of the allegations against Steve Addazio and his staff, and the team has had the most positive tests of any athletic program on campus by far.
According to the report, most witnesses with direct knowledge of the situation expressed that they were satisfied with the level of compliance within the football program. And most members of the team stated that they felt safe and believed that the staff had implemented protocols to the best of their ability.
That said, multiple student-athletes and staff members acknowledged that it is difficult to wear the masks during intense drills and practices — and because of that, enforcement was not always perfect.
Five different players stated that although masks were encouraged and required, players often removed them due to the heat and difficulty breathing during drills while masked. One administrator reported hearing from student-athletes that some players removed their masks during full-contact practices, yet the coaching staff did not intervene. According to this administrator, that led to the perception that the protocols were not being taken seriously.
Along with concerns about the lack of enforcement over masks, four members of the team also expressed concern over the staff’s decision to not immediately halt practices after the team’s first positive test. “In their view, both the players and coaches underestimated the potential spread of the virus.”
For Steve Addazio specifically, the report references conflicting views on how seriously the coach takes COVID-19. Addazio denies them, but some staffers stated that Addazio made comments internally that implied he believed the virus was not that serious, being politicized, or no more dangerous than the flu. Another staff member speculated that Addazio’s biggest concern was getting on the field and not the potential consequences of the virus.
There were mixed responses on whether or not Addazio made any comments minimizing the virus to the players. The report does state that many of the staff members that raised concern over Addazio’s alleged private comments to them also made a point to clarify that Addazio didn’t express those views in front of the team, though.
One player alleged that Head Coach Addazio told the players, “if you get a cough or have the sniffles, not everything is COVID-19; grow up and get over it.” A second player stated that Head Coach Addazio, ‘acted like COVID-19 didn’t exist on the football field; once you were in the white lines, COVID-19 didn’t exist.’ A third player asserted that Head Coach Addazio told players, “if you are only doing a single play, it is not a big deal.” A fourth player asserted that Head Coach Addazio told players, “if you wear your mask and you get the virus, you don’t get the whole virus you only get a part of it.” A fifth relayed hearing Head Coach Addazio suggest that the virus was not as dangerous as reported.
On the flip side, there were also numerous people that applauded Addazio’s commitment to upholding the protocols. One staff member recalled that Addazio once told him that although they were ridiculous, “he did not make the decisions” and “they must follow them.”
The report states that some witnesses described Addazio as a germaphobe who took the virus seriously and went “above and beyond” to ensure his players were taking the proper precautions.
Addazio himself agreed that he is a “germaphobe” and stated that he was very conscious about the risks to himself and family members. Those sentiments were matched by Joe Parker.
Additionally, numerous players and staff confirmed that he repeatedly discouraged players from patronizing bars or attending parties. Multiple players stated that Addazio was the “chief enforcer” of masks and social distancing during practice. And several players recalled a time during practice when Addazio stopped everything to spread people out that were standing too close together.
The most concerning section of the COVID-19 report comes about 11 pages in. According to the findings by Husch Blackwell, several staff members reported hearing rumors or receiving information from players that members of the coaching staff instructed players not to report their symptoms and forego testing after being exposed to the virus — this, of course, was reported by the Coloradoan back in August.
One staff member said two different players told him that players were afraid to report their symptoms. This same staff member alleged that coaches were unhappy with a player for providing too many names to contact tracers after a positive test result. A different staff member asserted that a coach told two student-athletes who had tested positive not to tell anyone else about the results. A third staff member alleged that players were encouraged to continue practicing even when exhibiting symptoms.
However, it should also be noted that all but one player disputed the allegations against the staff.
“One player recalled coaches instructing them, ‘when you are in doubt, call the trainer and don’t come to practice.’ A second player stated that coaches told everyone to be honest on the daily health screening questionnaire and to leave workouts if feeling unwell.”
The one player that did not dispute the allegations told investigators that a position coach told him he should not report that he was exposed to someone that tested positive for COVID-19 until he started to exhibit symptoms. It does not state which position group or who the coach was — but the report does claim that both the position coach as well as other members of the staff denied this. One staff member also claimed that when he followed up with this particular player, he then denied his previous statement that he was discouraged not to report being exposed.
Players provided conflicting information on whether or not threats over playing time were made either implicitly or explicitly.
One player stated that Head Coach Addazio told the team, “if you get sick during camp, you will not be playing.” A different player reported that Head Coach Addazio told players if they had to quarantine and lose two weeks of practice, they would “forfeit their spot.” A different player said he had not heard that himself, but he did hear rumors that some players were told they could not afford to miss two weeks.
Keeping up with the theme of conflicting information, though, there were also multiple players that denied playing time was threatened. According to these individuals, people were afraid to miss practice — but it had more to do with the fact that they did not want to fall behind in install — not because they were being threatened.
One player stated that the only mention of getting sick and playing time was when Head Coach Addazio told the team, “Camp is four-weeks; if you are out sick for two-weeks, you are going to miss all of the installation of the playbook.” A different player recalled Head Coach Addazio cautioning players that if they were sick and quarantined during camp, it would be hard to play because they would fall behind.
Addazio denied all allegations of threatening reduced playing time and called them “absurd.” This was backed up by multiple other members of the staff, who said that all he did was tell them that they could not afford to miss 14 days of camp — echoing what the players that defended their head coach told investigators.
While everyone is free to come to their own conclusions on this portion, it does seem like messages from the staff were misconstrued and/or misinterpreted. Telling players they cannot afford to miss time is an accurate statement — but it’s easy to see how that could be interpreted as a threat if relayed incorrectly. Context is extremely important.
What Does the Film Say?
The tapes were not released in conjunction with the report, but according to Husch Blackwell, after reviewing walkthroughs from July 27-29, there were examples of players and coaches occasionally not wearing masks while outside.
However, the EHS and the LCDHE did not require student-athletes to wear face coverings during outdoor workout activity, meaning they were in compliance with the protocols. Coaches, on the other hand, need to be wearing masks at all times — even though it can certainly be tricky or annoying while trying to communicate with players. In order to help prevent further violations, Addazio has ordered electric whistles for his staff.
Putting all things together, there is enough evidence to suggest that Addazio may not exactly take the virus as seriously as people would hope. But there is certainly a lot of evidence that supports that he was telling the players to do the right things and that he was generally enforcing the COVID-19 protocols.
If he truly did tell a player that not all coughs are COVID-19 and to grow up during a global pandemic, that is extremely alarming. Regardless of opinion, which everyone is entitled to, when you are in a position of power and the health of student-athletes, staff members, and coaches is in your hands, you cannot afford to be cavalier with your words and/or actions.
Playing devil’s advocate, though, the report only addresses one individual that claims Addazio made this statement. While we will never know for sure because this would have happened during a closed practice, it seems that skeptics would have a fair point in saying that if there are multiple corroborators for the other accusations, why were there not for this particular one? Again, this is not to say that it did not happen — but it’s just odd.
In regards to the position coach allegedly telling a player to keep it quiet that he was exposed to COVID-19, if the school believes that this happened, then the employee must be terminated immediately. Back when this investigation started in early August, Joyce McConnell, CSU’s school president, talked a big game about taking this situation seriously and acting with action when necessary. This would certainly be one of those situations.
Altogether it seems unlikely that anything major would result from this portion of the investigation — particularly with the conclusion graph released by Husch Blackwell. But with how serious the accusations were, it’s encouraging that the investigation was so thorough — even if it was overwhelming to consume.
The conclusion from Husch Blackwell can be read below:
“Most student-athletes who participated in the investigation reported feeling safe during team activities and believed that coaching and training staff made their best efforts to implement and enforce the University’s return-to-sport protocols. While numerous witnesses expressed some degree of dissatisfaction or concern about aspects of the protocols, those concerns were predominantly related to communication, consistency, or testing policies rather than intentional non-compliance with the protocols.
There is no dispute that the football team initially incurred the highest number of positive test results among student-athletes, and some members of the team did not always strictly adhere to the protocols, especially outside of team activities. However, most witnesses with direct knowledge of the team’s day-to-day activities observed the coaching staff providing consistent encouragement to comply with the protocols. Most members of the football program believed Head Coach Addazio and his coaching staff took the protocols seriously and did not threaten or pressure players to hide symptoms or participate while feeling unwell.”