December 14, 2012 in Opinion

Editorial: WSU handles allegations properly


The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

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It looks as if one football player’s claims of “physical, emotional and verbal abuse” from the Washington State University coaching staff were a product of hyperbole rather than wrongdoing after a review by athletic director Bill Moos was released on Wednesday.

The Pacific 12 Conference is also looking into the claims from former star receiver Marquess Wilson, and if that finding is similar, the university can put this melodrama behind it with heads held high.

Wilson walked out of a Nov. 4 practice, and was suspended by head coach Mike Leach later that week. On Nov. 10, just hours before a game against UCLA, Wilson, with the help of his stepfather, faxed the allegations to the media. What the media didn’t know is that Wilson softened his claims later that night in a text message to Moos. The athletic director forwarded that text to WSU President Elson Floyd, who noted that the public relations damage had already been done.

So Floyd made the smart decision by calling for the two reviews to get independent corroboration that the coaching staff had not been abusing players.

In the public allegations, Wilson, who quit the team, said “the new regime of coaches has preferred to belittle, intimidate and humiliate us.” But he was the lone player to walk out on a conditioning drill. In the follow-up text, which was obtained by The Spokesman-Review, he said he didn’t mean to imply that players were physically harmed. His goal, he claimed, was to make it clear that he wasn’t suspended for “drugs or something.”

If he had communicated that in a more straightforward fashion, this controversy could’ve been averted. Nonetheless, a dozen football players were interviewed in the course of the review, and the athletic department determined that there was no abuse.

As it turns out, Moos did get an anonymous complaint earlier in the season about a drill in which players had to hold 45-pound plates over their heads while being sprayed with water. He shut that down.

Football is a tough sport, and practices are a necessary grind. In building mental and physical toughness and instilling discipline, some coaches do cross the line into counterproductive abuse. On the other hand, players and parents can overreact, especially when the season isn’t going well.

At Leach’s previous job at Texas Tech University, allegations of abuse also cropped up, so President Floyd made the right choice to call for immediate reviews.

The conference is expected to release its findings soon, and if the story is the same, the public can be assured that WSU leadership has handled this controversy with integrity, transparency and urgency.

That’s a playbook other public institutions would be wise to copy.

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