Thursday, May 27, 2004

The Era Of Unaccountability

Sports Illustrated reports today that the University of Colorado has reinstated its football coach, Gary Barnett, following a suspension for cosmic loutishness. When questioned by the press regarding allegations by a former female kicker on the team that she had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of various of her male teammates, Barnett launched into an embarrassing non sequitur about this woman's deficiencies as a football player. That incident, coupled with various other accounts of Barnett's willingness to overlook other allegations of sexual misconduct by his players, resulted in his suspension last February.

Under Barnett, the Colorado football program has been rocked with nine separate sexual assault allegations (none of which resulted in charges) and allegations that recruits to Colorado's football program have been plied with sex, drugs and alcohol provided or arranged for by Colorado football players. A commission appointed by the University's Board of Regents concluded last week that the recruiting abuses had in fact occurred, but found no evidence that Barnett or other Colorado officials "knowingly sanctioned" such practices. Barnett and other Colorado officials were criticized in the report for lax oversight and a failure to promptly respond to reports of recruiting violations and abuses. The commission recommended greater oversight of the athletic program by the University.

Meanwhile, three of the women that accused Colorado football players of sexual misconduct have filed federal suits alleging that the University was responsible for a hostile environment that created conditions that led to the assaults. Man, if I'm the attorney for the plaintiffs the videotape of Barnett's dismissive response to press inquiries regarding the rape allegations is exhibit 1A in support of the charge that Barnett and the University created a hostile environment. Exhibit 1B is the University's decision to retain Barnett after its own commission found that Barnett had not been duly diligent in overseeing recruiting practices.

University President Betsy Hoffman announced a "sweeping overhaul" of the administration of the athletic program, but decided that neither Barnett, Athletic Director Richard Tharp nor any other official in the scandal-ridden Colorado athletics department would lose their job. How does one effect a "sweeping overhaul" without replacing any of the parties that presided over failure?

No doubt the neanderthals will seize on the fact that none of the nine sexual assault allegations were prosecuted and that the commission found "no evidence" that any official had knowingly sanctioned the recruiting abuses. But we should be careful not to take the evidentiary standard used in deciding whether society will deprive one accused of a crime of his liberty and apply that standard to decisions regarding the continued employment of manifestly poor administrators. That's like saying George Bush should retain the Presidency as long as he hasn't been convicted of a crime. But neither Bush nor Barnett have any right to their positions; they serve with the leave of their employers and if they serve poorly they should be canned.

I'm not arguing that Gary Barnett is guilty of a crime and should go to prison; I'm arguing that he and Tharp headed a football program that has been out of control for years, and his actions and public statements lend credence to the inference that the football program's problems stem in part from his apparent belief that the only thing that matters is how well one plays football. This isn't about evidentiary standards, it's about the University of Colorado either deciding to preserve its reputation or give animal house behavior in its athletic program a wink and nod. The University's decision to hold no one accountable for the documented failures of its athletic program sends the message that if you can kick the ball through the uprights then you're entitled to be free from sexual assault, but if your kicks are wide...well, stop whining about getting raped and get your ass back on the practice field.

Are we living in the era of unaccountability? In both the Univ. of Colorado scandal and the Abu Ghraib scandal we see administrators who unmistakably conveyed to their subordinates their indifference to certain conventions and then profess shock when these conventions are disregarded by subordinates. They then engage in an absurd minuet of formally assuming responsibility while deflecting accountability.

I'm not naive about the way the world works. We all know that niceties like recruiting regulations will take a backseat to winning football games as long as the television guys are willing to pay millions to broadcast bowl games and Universities are getting their cut. And we all know that the Deserter and Rummy and Ashcroft really don't give a damn if innocent Iraqis are beaten, tortured or murdered. But that doesn't change the fact that when these guys fuck up, we must hold them accountable lest they keep fucking up. Just like Rummy and the neocons continue to do. Failure begets failure, and that's what we'll continue to get until someone in the Deserter's administration stands up and says unequivocally and emphatically:


Post a Comment

<< Home