Scientists have this term for things that happen repeatedly. They call it a “pattern.” For example, if you spent months elaborately constructing a sandcastle replica of the Eiffel Tower and someone kicked it over just as you were shaping the gawky tourists, you’d be angry. Then let’s say it happened again with your Taj Mahal in progress. That person looks to be setting a pattern, one of being an asshole.
If you spend several weeks compiling a case that a local cash-strapped educational institution may be spending an exorbitant amount of money remodeling its leader’s house, and that institution retaliates by giving the documents you’ve been requesting to all local media sources—even the crummy ones—you’d be angry.
If that institution follows that move by replacing an employee—a volleyball coach, let’s say—days after a meeting with a local paper in which reporters expressed concerns about that employee’s behavior, and then the institution publicly broadcast the decision to all other local media, a pattern of the asshole sand-monument-kicking kind begins to emerge.
Let’s say that the pattern-maker is Cal Poly. And let’s say that they’d deny said pattern. That’d make them liars as well as assholes.
Now, let’s all pause for a moment to reflect on the brilliant PR machine Cal Poly has assembled. If they were a football team, they’d be whoever the really good football team is these days. But they’re not. What they are is a group of people colluding to make Cal Poly appear blameless in a situation where the exact opposite is true. I could almost respect them for moving forward sans volleyball coach Jon Stevenson before New Times could get out a story that’s been five months in the making. But I don’t. More on that later.
Stevenson deserved to be fired. By all accounts, he harassed, threatened, and generally made his players’ lives a nightmare. And he did it for years. I don’t need to point out that this is a vulnerable population: away from home for the first time, in many cases dependent on an athletic scholarship to continue their education, carrying the double workload of school and a demanding workout schedule. Stevenson took advantage of that. He used his position as coach—a figure of great authority and import in a young athlete’s life—and humiliated them free of retaliation or punishment.
What I can’t respect is the reason he’s gone. Cal Poly heard years of player and parent complaints, including some truly heartbreaking testimony from players who walked away from scholarships rather than be subjected to his vitriol.
Leaders investigated and wrote scathing reports, then carefully folded the reports and sat on them for more than a year. It wasn’t until there was a threat of someone—specifically the pissy little weekly paper you’re currently reading—embarrassing the university that they decided to act. And that paints a terribly unflattering portrait of the people in power. It says they make decisions based on what’s most convenient for the university at any given time. It says that the mental and physical well-being of their students is disregarded, and in some cases downright threatened, by the university’s actions—or lack thereof.
But what it really says is they knew Stevenson should be fired, that they were in the wrong for not firing him, but they were comfortable to do nothing so long as no one knew about it. Cowardice is like a warm blanket that only works in the dark.
For more than a year now, the university has been something of a laughingstock for employing a volleyball coach forbidden to call or text message his players. This half-assed policy was proof that the university knew there was a problem, but didn’t seem interested in actually rectifying the issue. Aside from the fact that a coach being banned from calling or texting his young female players is profoundly creepy, consider this: The school chose not to inform new players of the restriction.
By recently-ish appointed Athletic Director Don Oberhelman’s own admission, new players weren’t told their coach couldn’t call or text them, because doing so would violate Stevenson’s personnel protections. If a coach is so unstable that his interaction with his players has to be limited in such a humiliating fashion, by what twist of logic is he still fit to coach them?
Cal Poly had to do something so it could say it had listened to people’s complaints and was—GASP!—responding in a reasonable fashion. Problem is, nothing was reasonable about the situation. And Cal Poly is now, finally, flinging the coach’s dirty laundry out for public scrutiny. Only it’s five years late, and the people over there are only playing the cowboy in white to cover their own rears. Perhaps they need to start recognizing that the university’s purpose is to serve and instruct its students, not to protect the university from scrutiny when one of its own does something stupid. Had they spent half as much time and effort addressing the students’ initial complaints as they did strategizing how best to defend their precious castle, the correct decision could have been made a long time ago.
Or they could have stood by their coach. You know, strapped on a pair and taken heat for the decision they made. At least that would have indicated they thought they were in the right, as opposed to the image of insecure wimps they now conjure—or rather should conjure in the mind of anyone who sees past this conniving PR stunt they pulled.
I’m going to propose a new motto for the college: “Learn by ignoring a problem until the local media is about to make you look stupid.” It is kinda long, though. How about “Don’t learn at all; just keep repeating the same dumb mistakes.” Or “Why learn when you can get a job at a university and behave like an asshole because no one will rein you in. Kick over all the sandcastles you want!” For the sake of the volleyball players, who have already suffered enough, I hope the university embraces the mantra it supposedly holds dear—and maybe throws some reflection into the “learn by doing” mix. But I’m not holding my breath.
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