UNIVERSITY GRAPPLES WITH COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION Allowing WSU Athletes to Play after Felony Arrests Triggers Questions about Discipline, Accountability

By Sokol, Chad | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), September 20, 2016 | Go to article overview

UNIVERSITY GRAPPLES WITH COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION Allowing WSU Athletes to Play after Felony Arrests Triggers Questions about Discipline, Accountability


Sokol, Chad, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


When a Washington State football player is accused of a crime, the response from coaches and staff is almost always the same: "It's a team matter."

But is it?

Universities grapple with this question when responding to allegations, such as those leveled against several WSU players in recent weeks. Violence can trigger strong emotions in the court of public opinion, but it's often the coaches who decide when players will play.

Some observers call for immediate action: Kick the player off the team, or at least suspend him.

Others question why the assault made headlines: What if the accused weren't a football player, but a member of the chess club?

"I think it's important to note that our code of conduct applies to all students equally," said Adam Jussel, the director of WSU's Office of Student Conduct. "There's no special treatment for anyone."

But Shawn Klein, a sports ethicist at Arizona State University, said it could be justifiable to impose a stricter code of conduct on student-athletes. In exchange for representing the university on the field, they receive various perks, he said.

"They are more in the public light, and if they do something wrong, it's more likely to be found out," Klein said. "And it's more likely to rebound to the institution in a negative way."

WSU athletic director Bill Moos expressed a similar sentiment Friday during a joint news conference with the Pullman Police Department: "Student-athletes have chosen to become representatives of our university. With that comes a certain responsibility."

Recent allegations come at a time when new President Kirk Schulz is spearheading an effort to revamp WSU's image and improve its standing among public research universities.

Coach Mike Leach has taken a public stance on the off-campus activities of his players. Schulz, however, declined to comment until Monday - a day after The Spokesman-Review published a story on a string of felony arrests of WSU football players. In an interview Monday, Schulz said he would wait until after the football season to discuss changing athletic department policies regarding criminal allegations.

WSU spokesman Rob Strenge also made a distinction Friday between the athletics department and the university as a whole, saying Leach "speaks on behalf of the football team. President Schulz speaks on behalf of the university quite frequently. I think he expects the department heads to take responsibility for their areas."

Leach has accused police and news outlets of targeting his players, although two non-players, Pedro Diaz and Dylan Rollins, both 19, also face charges in connection to a July 23 assault at a house party on College Hill.

Two players, Robert Barber and Toso "T.J." Fehoko, are accused of starting a brawl by punching two other students from behind, leaving one with a concussion and another with a fractured jaw.

Pullman police Chief Gary Jenkins stands by his detectives' work, saying they interviewed more than 60 partygoers. …

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