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WSU responds to report alleging inappropriate sexual conduct by former football quarterback Jason Gesser

Sept. 13, 2018 Updated Thu., Sept. 13, 2018 at 9:12 p.m.

FILE _ Former Washington State quarterback Jason Gesser, at left, interviews former running back Jerome Harrison, before the start of a football game three years ago. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE _ Former Washington State quarterback Jason Gesser, at left, interviews former running back Jerome Harrison, before the start of a football game three years ago. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Washington State University officials announced Thursday that they found “no violation of university policy” regarding an investigation into alleged inappropriate sexual conduct by former quarterback and current athletic staff member Jason Gesser.

The statement follows a story published Thursday by The Daily Evergreen, the student newspaper at WSU, which cited hundreds of pages of investigative files that indicate Gesser made “multiple advances … on both student interns and co-workers, including allegations of sexual relations and attempting to kiss a co-worker after having dinner with a donor, as recently as 2017.”

According to the story in the Daily Evergreen, the university launched an investigation in December 2017 into myriad allegations regarding Gesser. It concluded that probe in February finding no apparent policy violations.

The university issued a statement by President Kirk Schulz and Athletic Director Pat Chun at 12:10 p.m.

“We take any allegation of sexual misconduct extremely seriously. A thorough review was launched by the University’s Office for Equal Opportunity once university administrators became aware of allegations against Mr. Gesser in December 2017,” the statement reads. “On multiple occasions, investigators interviewed or attempted to interview all those allegedly involved. Following a comprehensive evaluation of the information available, the Office for Equal Opportunity found no violation of university policy.”

Gesser starred for the Cougars from 1998-2002 and set the record for the most wins by a WSU quarterback. After a six-year professional career and several coaching stops, including a stint at Idaho, Gesser returned to Washington State in 2013. He currently helps raise funds for the school as the assistant director of athletics for the Cougar Athletic Fund. He did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Bill Stevens, associate athletic director for communications, confirmed that Gesser remains employed by the university but would not answer questions regarding the investigation or the allegations.

“We are going to stand behind the statement” from Schulz and Chun, Stevens said.

According to a search of state databases, Gesser earned $78,500 in his job at WSU in 2016. His 2017 salary jumped to $88,600. Stevens said Gesser’s current salary is $84,000.

For the past four football seasons, Gesser had been working the radio booth as an analyst for home and away football broadcasts. But the IMG Sports Network, which contracts with WSU, replaced Gesser in August with another former Cougar quarterback, Alex Brink.

At the time, Stevens said the change was done to allow Gesser to allocate more time to his job with the Cougar Athletic Fund. He was promoted to that position in August 2017 after serving three years as the CAF’s director of development/major gifts.

Asked whether that change of radio analysts had anything to do with the sexual misconduct allegations, Stevens directed the question to IMG. Mike Scanlan, of IMG, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Among the allegations in the documents obtained by the Daily Evergreen were reports that Gesser had sexual relations with an intern who worked for him.

Investigators also interviewed a former WSU employee who worked for the athletic department with Gesser. According to the records obtained by the student newspaper, Gesser made unsolicited advances toward his female colleague during a dinner in Pullman.

“I don’t remember exactly all the exchange, but there was an advancement to kiss me, which caught me off guard, nor did I lean in or encourage that,” she said in the records. “It was purely one-sided.”

The former employee also said Gesser sent her several “suggestive” texts, including once inviting her to his hotel room while on the road.

“They were suggestive of sexual things,” she told investigators according to the Daily Evergreen. “I can say confidently suggestive.”

The former employee, who said she worked in a job below Gesser in the athletics hierarchy, also told investigators that she “never felt harassed or assaulted” by her interactions with Gesser.

Schulz and Chun said in the statement that the university followed “its established procedures to review the matter and found no violation of Washington State University policy. The allegations were taken seriously and addressed at the appropriate level.”

The records also show that Matt Almond, general manager at WSU IMG, said he went to Gesser as a “friend and a neighbor” to inform him of the allegations he had heard, according to the Daily Evergreen’s story. Gesser later learned that Almond had turned those allegations in to human resources.

“He texted me and asked to meet with me,” Almond said in the records. “He aggressively came into his office, accused me of ruining his life, his marriage and his kids’ lives.”

Almond also said he was told to “shut my mouth and stay in my lane,” but he did not identify who relayed that directive to him, according to the records.

The public documents reviewed by the Daily Evergreen included a complaint made by a donor that Gesser used university funds in 2016 to fly a woman, who had no connection to the school, to a Cougar Legends golf event in Cle Elum, Washington. The woman was the subject of an auction as a celebrity caddy.

While not directly addressing that allegation, the Schulz and Chun statement noted that the school audited Gesser’s travel receipts in his role as a fundraiser. “A $39.78 overcharge was identified,” the statement said. “Mr. Gesser has since reimbursed the University for the full amount.”

Cris Nielsen, a 1991 WSU graduate who now lives in Seattle, said he was in the foursome that won the bid to have the woman caddy for their golfing group. The winning bid was either $6,000 or $9,000, which was more than enough to cover the cost of her transportation.

“I spend a fair amount of time with Jason in these type of situations and never once have seen him act or do anything inappropriate as friend or representative of the university,” Nielsen said.

The booster said he was glad to learn that the university has retained Gesser and compared his effectiveness to the work that Jack Thompson did to promote WSU decades ago.

“Jason Gesser has done that for our era,” Nielsen said. “To lose him would leave a pretty big vacuum for the college. I can’t even begin to imagine who would fill that role.”

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