When a football player being charged with a hate crime is just the start of the embarrassing news for your Ivy League football program, it has been a pretty bad week for the school.
The news from the NBC affiliate in New York that Chad Washington, a defensive lineman at Columbia, had been charged with a hate crime after threatening another student and calling him Asian slurs was followed by a report from WKCR (the "radio home of the Columbia Lions" according to its Twitter feed) that multiple players had sent out dozens of tweets containing homophobic slurs and racist jokes. The station saved the tweets and posted them online. The school said on Thursday it is investigating the situation.
This kind of news wouldn't go over well at any school, but especially not at an Ivy League school that considers itself to be at a higher standard.
According to NBC's report, the arrest came after an Asian student was walking with two women, and the women were heckled by a man. When the victim tried to defend the women, slurs were directed at him by the suspect, identified as Washington, and the victim was followed and pushed up against a wall. Washington faces a misdemeanor charge of aggravated harassment. His lawyer Daniel Fetterman told the Columbia Spectator student newspaper that his client did not commit a hate crime.
"The allegations do not accurately portray the events that occurred," Fetterman told the Spectator. "When all the facts come out, it will be clear that Mr. Washington did not commit a hate crime, and he will be vindicated."
That's not a story Columbia wants to hear, but it could be explained away as the actions of one out-of-control person, or that the situation isn't being perceived correctly as his lawyer said. The tweets that reportedly came from multiple players, which were collected over time by WKCR, are much tougher to explain.
The collection of 46 tweets can all be found here, but be warned that they contain vulgar language and are very offensive. Many contain anti-gay jokes and horrible slurs from accounts that WKCR says belonged to Columbia football players (and many of the accounts have been deleted), including some messages that WKCR said were from Washington, like this one:
That's one of the few tweets WKCR saved that didn't contain a swear word or homophobic slur. Another tweet that WKCR says is from a Columbia player is a retweet of a New York Times story about the Jewish population growing in New York, and the player's comment after the link is a hashtag of an expletive. The ugliness and ignorance of some of the tweets are shocking.
And WKCR said it wasn't like the football players were trying hard to not draw any attention:
We found many of these accounts because @columbialionsfb (the account) interacts with them and promotes following these players.
— WKCR Sports (@WKCRsports) May 8, 2013
We asked Columbia administration if they screen athletic recruits on social media before admission and got a no comment. — WKCR Sports (@WKCRsports) May 8, 2013
The whole situation, unless there's a really good explanation, is really ugly for Columbia. If the tweets are actually from the multiple players that WKCR identifies, there will be many questions about why nobody at Columbia did anything about it, especially since its official football account followed them, and how these people could even be let into the prestigious school in the first place.
Columbia sent out a letter to the student body signed by the dean of students at Columbia, interim dean of school of engineering and applied science, dean of the school of general studies and athletic director. The letter, which was tweeted by WKCR, can be seen in full here, and here is an excerpt:
"We ask that you respect the privacy of all individuals involved and allow us to investigate thoroughly and act according to our protocols and procedures. Speculation based on limited or inaccurate information reported in the press, or anonymous rumor, serves no one well and is detrimental to the wellbeing of those involved as well as to our community as a whole. Senior administrators from Student Affairs and from the Athletics Program, with complete support of university leadership, are working together and treating this matter with the seriousness it deserves.
"With respect to social media messages reportedly posted by some students, we share fully in the belief that offensive messages in any form are unacceptable and fall far beneath the standards of civility and mutual respect we expect of all our students, including student athletes who represent Columbia. We are addressing this matter aggressively with the individuals involved. We also believe that broad generalizations about any group are unfair and hurtful, and we unfortunately have seen that social media has too often become a forum for such offensive comments."
Also, athletic director Dr. M. Dianne Murphy and football coach Pete Mangurian sent a letter to the students, and here is part of that:
"Our athletics program is greatly disappointed by the language and sentiment expressed online by a select few Columbia student-athletes.
"These comments are not representative of the more than 700 Columbia undergraduate students who participate in our athletics program, or the coaches, administrators and staff who serve the University and our campus community.
"Columbia Athletics is steadfast in its support of, and appreciation for, diversity on campus and in the world around us. Personal expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and any other form of bigotry are abhorrent. This is disheartening and embarrassing for everyone involved. We respect and support the University's goals and ideals of acceptance and tolerance of all members of the campus community.
"We are addressing this inexcusable behavior with the individuals involved. We will also address this with each of our 31 varsity teams."
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