BY HANK REICHMAN
A series of highly publicized sexual harassment scandals is not the only embarrassment facing the University of California at Berkeley. The university’s athletic program is also in the spotlight for abuse. A report yesterday by the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that a 2014 inquiry clearing coaches and trainers of employing abusive and reckless practice drills had been conducted by a UC Davis physician and a private strength coach with personal ties to Cal’s athletics staff. Cal athletics administrators also hand-picked seven of the 13 players interviewed.
The review was undertaken after football player Ted Agu, 21, collapsed during a 2014 workout and later died. Strength and conditioning coach Damon Harrington admitted designing the workout without consulting the team physician, and said he was unfamiliar with NCAA guidelines for players with sickle cell trait, which Agu had. The review also touched on the 2013 assault of Fabiano Hale, then 18, by a teammate who knocked him out and gave him a concussion. Players told campus officials that Harrington incited the assault because Hale missed a workout. This year, the university admitted negligence in the Agu case and settled with the family for $4.75 million.
The latest news was the final straw for the Berkeley Faculty Association, a partner organization of the AAUP. In a letter published under the headline “Enough is Enough” on the association’s website, Professor of Sociology Michael Burawoy and Associate Professor of English Celeste Langan, the association’s co-chairs, asked campus Chancellor Nicholas Dirks not to renew Harrington’s contract until an independent investigation can determine his possible role in Agu’s death and Hale’s hospitalization. Harrington’s contract is up today, and Cal officials have not disclosed what they will do.
The following is the text of the open letter:
Dear faculty colleagues,
The BFA has written the letter below calling on Chancellor Dirks to suspend the renewal of Coach Harrington’s contract, pending further investigation by a truly independent inquiry. One player died, another was knocked out unconscious. This is not how a university should treat its students. The San Francisco Chronicle has made a detailed report on these incidents. http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Critics-question-Cal-s-probe-into-football-8333108.php
In the article Brian Barsky and Michael O’Hare are reported as critics of the university as are Mike Smith (former legal counsel for university) and John Cummins (chief of staff under four Berkeley Chancellors). The Chancellor is quoted as being satisfied that the football coaching staff is now in compliance with regulations and best practices, but says nothing about the behavior of Harrington, who has already cost the university $4.75 million in a civil suit filed by the parents of Ted Agu. Like the sexual harassment cases, this is another instance of exonerating reckless and abusive behavior of those whom the university considers important to its mission, in this case making money from football.
Please add your name if you support the petition to Chancellor Dirks.
Dear Chancellor Dirks:
The Berkeley Faculty Association requests the suspension of the renewal of the contract of football coach, Damon Harrington, pending further independent investigation. Harrington has allegedly been involved in two incidents: first, the over-exertion of football player, Ted Agu, leading to his death (for which the university had to pay $4.75 million in a civil suit in which the university admitted negligence); and second, provocation of team players to physically punish another player, leading to Fabiano Hale being knocked out unconscious. According to an extensive and detailed report in the San Francisco Chronicle (June 29), the investigation commissioned by the university exonerated Harrington without serious investigation of these incidents of abusive training. If there is any truth to the allegations in the San Francisco Chronicle, condoning such behavior of its employees is out of keeping with any university that is accountable to its students and concerned to protect their safety and welfare. We, therefore, call for further independent investigation before renewing Harrington’s contract.
Yours Sincerely, Michael Burawoy and Celeste Langan for the Berkeley Faculty Association