FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Shortly after allegations of violating proper COVID-19 protocols, reports of racism and verbal abuse came out about Colorado State football in early August.
As a result, Joyce McConnell and Joe Parker suspended all athletic activities back on Aug. 8, and added a racial climate review to what was already an ongoing investigation into the program by Husch Blackwell.
Here’s what we now know.
The three sports that this portion of the investigation focused on were track and field, football and women’s basketball. According to the findings, most student-athletes that participated disputed that there is, “pervasive racial inequities” or harassment within their teams or athletic department as a whole. The individuals that did express concerns, however, pointed to specific incidents of racial insensitivity — which will be addressed below.
While there were only a few individuals that claimed these types of incidents are common or regularly tolerated by current CSU coaches, what’s extremely concerning is that there were numerous people that brought up instances involving former coaches. What’s even worse is that these alleged actions went unaddressed by Parker or any of the people in leadership positions within the athletic department.
None of the current players interviewed stated that the program has a culture of racism. However, several players did report incidents that “reflect the presence of racial insensitivities or reinforcing racial stereotypes.”
One former player, who is Black, alleged that head coach Ryun Williams made inappropriate comments about her hair.
According to this former player, he characterized her hairstyle as ‘funny’ and questioned its cleanliness. When she confronted him, Head Coach Williams issued a ‘forced apology’ and requested she alert him if he said offensive things in the future.
Another former player stated that she witnessed Williams grab the ponytail of a Black player and ask “is this your hair?”
Neither of these accusations were corroborated by current players. However, one current coach, who is Black, said that Williams has asked about her hair from a place of inquisitiveness in the past — primarily because she goes out of state to have it styled. According to the report, this coach stated that she did not find the questions offensive.
Williams himself acknowledged that he has made comments about a current player’s hair. But according to him, he was trying to educate himself because the player, who is Black, requested to take off Sundays so that she could maintain her hair style. Williams also stated that he would not purposefully try to hurt someone’s feelings.
Along with the aforementioned hair incidents, the report references a Zoom meeting, which was held with a diversity coordinator to discuss recent national events and issues involving racial injustice.
According to the report, a staff member who is only identified as “Employee #1”, made comments to the diversity coordinator, which were perceived as both “racially insensitive and dismissive” by student-athletes. According to an unidentified player, the accused implied that being Black is political.
Since the incident, the team has held multiple zoom meetings to discuss how they felt impacted by the comments made by their superior, and “Employee #1” has reportedly apologized to the team. However, one player stated that while the situation is more or less resolved within the locker room, her teammates are still frustrated that the employee was not held accountable for their actions. Another player also said that the apology came off as completely forced/ingenuine.
The unnamed employee is referenced in one other incident to boot. After a photo of a CSU student in Blackface began to circulate around campus in December, 2019, several women’s basketball players were discussing the photo during their warm-up, when “Employee #1” allegedly directed them to stop talking and focus on the workout. According to the report, one player took this response as dismissive and disrespectful.
According to one staff member, the exchange made the player feel like Employee #1 did not care about how the Blackface incident impacted her. Employee #1 disagreed with the characterization of his comments as dismissive, explaining that he and the players discussed the incident at length, and he needed them to return to their workout.
Finally, a former player alleges that an assistant coach, only identified as “Employee #2,” made an offensive comment about an opposing team of predominantly Black players. According to the report, this employee allegedly told the team that “Black girls are not smart, they are just athletic.”
The unnamed employee denied these comments, and Williams stated that he did not recall the comment being made. Additionally, Williams defended the employee, telling investigators that he does not believe he would ever say something like that.
While Williams did not recall the aforementioned accusation against his employee, he did reference a different time that “Employee #2” allegedly used the term “thugs” while speaking to a student-athlete about recruiting people from a particular state.
According to Williams, said student-athlete was offended by the employee’s language — which resulted in Williams as well as the assistant vice president of student affairs/student-athlete support services meeting with “Employee #2” to make it clear that the comment was insensitive and would not be tolerated in the program.
Track & Field
None of the current members that participated in the investigation voiced concerns about the racial climate within the program.
That said, one former employee alleged that the reason he left the team was because head coach Brian Bedard never recognized students of color, which caused many of them to transfer out. The same staff member accused Bedard of telling inappropriate jokes in the workplace.
One former student-athlete also alleged that Bedard used the threat of scholarship termination as leverage over minority members of the team. According to this individual, Bedard assumed that they would not otherwise be able to afford school.
In defense of Bedard, athletic director Joe Parker said that he is one of the most transparent coaches — particularly when it comes to allocation of scholarships. According to the report, Parker believes that Bedard would only dictate scholarships based on an athlete’s performance.
To make things less confusing, we are breaking up the football portion into two different sections like the report did. Most of the accusations are against former coaches so we will start with Steve Addazio and his staff.
According to the report, most witnesses stated that they did not have concerns about the racial climate within the football program — although some reported that they were skeptical the staff members were genuine with their commitment to “broaden racial equality.”
Additionally several staff members alleged that Addazio has created an environment that perpetuates racial stereotypes and that he is unsympathetic to the current national dialogue around racial inequality. One staff member referenced a time in which Addazio allegedly said the murder of George Floyd wasn’t that big of a deal because that’s how people treated Italians in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Another staff member was offended by a team rule prohibiting weapons being discussed because she felt that the coaches were making racially-based stereotypes.
Addazio denied these accusations, though he did recall sharing a personal story about his family’s experiences as Italian immigrants. According to Addazio, the purpose of the story was to illustrate that he is intolerant of all forms of racism and discrimination.
In regards to a weapons policy, Addazio conceded that it was discussed — but in his opinion, the discussion made no assumptions on race — and in the end, it was decided that they didn’t need the policy.
The last thing addressed under the Addazio sections are the march in Old Town and alleged incidents of verbal abuse.
On Aug. 8, The Coloradoan reported that Addazio verbally berated and intimidated a Black student-athlete over their performance in the classroom. The article quotes a staff member who compared the power dynamic to the killing of George Floyd — or in other words, a situation where someone was abusing their power. This same story was shared with investigators by the CSU employee.
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.
Another coach told investigators that Addazio said in a staff meeting that he was going to berate the student-athlete and then bragged about doing so afterwards. According to Addazio, he never bragged about yelling at his player. The student-athlete in question also denied that Addazio “laid into him.”
Multiple accusations were made about Mike Bobo and nine members of his coaching staff. According to the report, responses were mixed but, “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.”
The report states that Bobo disputes the claims against him and his staffers, and that he felt hurt by the allegations. “Coach Bobo denied that he made any comments or statements in a racially derogatory manner.”
One of the things mentioned was Bobo’s use of the term “boy.” According to the report, multiple witnesses stated that Bobo and another assistant coach would frequently refer to players, particularly Black players, as “boy.” Although it was stated that the term was not just used with Black players — many felt uncomfortable with the term due to its “racist history.”
Even more damning was that the report references a current player, who is Black, and stated that the aforementioned assistant coach asked him and other Black teammates if they wanted watermelon and Kool-Aid. This was confirmed by multiple other players as well.
According to the report, the assistant coach only stopped using the term after a small group of players confronted him about its use. The report also states that Joe Parker told investigators that he had a meeting with Bobo to discuss the usage of “boy” — and then instructed Bobo to meet with the team to address the situation. It does not state if that ever happened.
Some of the other allegations against Bobo include referring to a player as a “thug” in reference to their drug usage, telling a Black player to smile, “so we can have some light” during an unexpected power outage, commenting on a Black female staffer’s hair, and telling players that he knows a lot of them do not have fathers, so he can be their “daddy.” The report states that one former player claims to have told Joe Parker about Bobo’s comments. When questioned by investigators, Parker denied receiving such a report.
Bobo said that he tells players and their families when he recruits them that they will become part of the football program’s family but denied using the term “daddy” or saying that he would be their replacement parent figure.
It’s also important to note that the female employee that is mentioned above told investigators that she was never offended by Bobo’s comments, and did not believe they were inappropriate in any way. “The staff member stated Coach Bobo has been nothing but great to her and was the most supportive Coach she has ever worked for.”
In the initial reporting by the Coloradoan, Bobo was accused of telling assistants that the next time he hires a Black assistant, “I need to get one with a Black wife.” — in reference to how it could help them with recruiting. Former CSU assistant and current South Carolina assistant, Joe Cox, later denied this on Twitter — expressing that he would have been outraged as someone that is married to a Black woman.
However, the report indicates that Bobo did make the comment — at least based on the corroboration of two employees — as well as what he told investigators himself.
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.
A variety of current and former players did defend Bobo. The report claims that these players stated Bobo is not racist and loves everyone as equals. Multiple former staff members also defended Bobo as well.
Finally, one former staff member reported that a former assistant coach made racist comments to him and one of the players, but believed they felt reluctant to report to the administration because they did not think anything would be done to address it.
Athletic Department Culture
One of the things mentioned in ESPN’s interview with Anthoney Hill is that after being fired, he told Parker that he was much more concerned with the type of toxic environment that he had allowed to occur under his watch.
According to the report, several witnesses also described negative personal experiences within the athletic department that reflect racial insensitivity or microaggressions.
One staff member, who is Black, believes that she is included in marketing materials solely because of her race, but is then excluded from important meetings and engagements.
One member of the football coaching staff stated that everyone should receive more training on how to work with athletes of color and that a “white savior” mentality exists within parts of the athletic department.
A different staff member, who is a Black woman, said that she was called “aggressive” and “angry” in a performance review. The report states she perceived this to be based on the stereotype of an “angry Black woman.”
Other witnesses were not pleased with the athletic department’s rolling out of the “Together Initiative” — mainly because the department itself lacks diversity.
Finally, several witnesses raised concerns about how Joe Parker has handled racial issues within the athletic department, particularly issues involving the 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 brought up Parker’s handling of personnel issues associated with former CSU men’s basketball coach Larry Eustachy.
Eustachy was placed on administrative leave in February, 2018, but only after it was made public that the university was investigating the coach’s behavior. Even after being placed on leave, though, Eustachy remained in contact with the team and threatened people inside the program for speaking out against him. In the end, the school negotiated a buyout agreement with Eustachy, who in turn signed a nondisclosure agreement.
According to the report, a former staff member told investigators that Parker “would sweep things under the rug” when faced with complaints. Another said that he reported concerns to Parker through the “chain of command,” but nothing was done in response. “In this staff member’s view, this chronic inaction fosters a culture of nonreporting.”
Parker himself said that he has not appropriately responded to allegations of racial bias within CSU Athletics.
Finally, allegations that Black student-athletes are more likely to be drug-tested at CSU than their white teammates was not corroborated by the research done by Husch Blackwell. Data shows that during the 2018-19 school year, Black student-athletes accounted for roughly 20 percent of the overall student-athlete population at CSU. According to the testing data, 40 of the 199 random drug tests or 20 percent administered were given to Black student-athletes — which as the report points out, does not support the accusation that Black student-athletes are tested “eight times more” than their white teammates.
Data collected from student-athletes across all intercollegiate athletic teams over the previous two academic years from year-end surveys.
- 98% reported not experiencing stereotyping or homophobia on their teams
- 96.1% of student-athletes report not personally experiencing racism within their team
- 91.4% believed the Athletic Department stresses the importance of diversity and inclusion
The official conclusion from the Husch Blackwell Investigation can be read below.
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.
- Amplify the University’s policy statement against retaliation within the Athletic Department.