The University of Arizona is falling short on its commitment to teach Wildcat athletes and coaches about preventing sexual assault and domestic violence, a national expert says.
Brenda Tracy works closely with the NCAA on issues involving violence toward women and lobbies for her cause in Washington, D.C. She’s also developing a curriculum to be used by colleges across the nation.
“I know there’s people (at the UA) that want me to come, but I haven’t been contacted by the athletic department,” Tracy told the Star this week. “I’d be more than happy to go … and help get things on the right track and do better. But the first thing you have to do is be accountable and transparent and (the UA) isn’t doing either of those things right now.”
Under the NCAA’s new sexual assault education policy, which was enacted in August, all coaches, athletes and athletic department administrators are required to complete the yearly education.
Tracy’s concern about the UA’s training and its refusal to provide details about what it does comes as the school is embroiled in several highly publicized court cases involving allegations of violence against multiple Wildcat athletes and one coach. One prominent case was featured on ABC’s “20/20” last week.
The UA is being sued in federal court by one of three victims of former Wildcat running back Orlando Bradford. She says the school knew he was a danger to women and failed to protect her. Bradford is scheduled to be sentenced to prison on Monday for admittedly choking two of the women who accused him.
Under a federal law called Title IX that protects students against sex discrimination, the university is required to take steps to safeguard students against sexual assault and dating violence.
The UA has for weeks refused repeated requests from the Star to provide information about the training it provides.
Training and accountability
For more than a decade after her 1998 alleged gang-rape by four men, three of whom were identified as Oregon State football players, Tracy waited for the NCAA or individual schools to take action to prevent violence against women.
All four men were eventually arrested in connection with the incident, and while Tracy reported the incident to police at the time, she wasn’t ready to press charges.
When Tracy decided to pursue the case, she learned that the evidence had been destroyed before the statute of limitations had expired.
Tracy went public with her story in 2014 and in April created a pledge, asking coaches to “set the expectation” with their athletes and make it clear that violence against women is never acceptable.
Set the Expectation is now a national campaign, with Tracy traveling to schools across the country to share her story and ask coaches to have their players sign a pledge that says they’ll be dismissed from the team if they engage in behaviors including “rape, sexual assault, physical violence, domestic/dating violence, stalking, bullying, hazing, and taking or sharing photos and videos of a sexually explicit/violent nature.”
In the past few months, Tracy has visited Arizona State and Northern Arizona to speak to football players and coaches about her program.
Before visiting ASU, Tracy confronted ASU coach Todd Graham on social media about his recent hiring of defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who previously worked at Baylor. Members of the Baylor football team were accused of sexual and nonsexual assault over the previous four years, and an investigation revealed that school officials knew about the alleged rapes and assaults but failed to take action.
“I kind of called him out on that (hiring),” Tracy said. “But there’s a learning curve, too. I think our coaches are finally starting to understand they don’t get to do things the way they used to. Things aren’t being swept under the rug anymore. You have an obligation to your campus, to your players and to the community. These victims are also your victims.”
While she’s there to help the players and coaches get a better understanding of the issue, Tracy said, “I’m also going to hold you accountable.”
The NCAA will too. As part of the new policy, schools are also required to report their results to the NCAA each year.
Every school president, athletic director and Title IX coordinator must also certify that all required participants completed the training and that the athletic department is “knowledgeable about, integrated in and compliant with” school policies about sexual violence and required discipline for players who commit domestic violence.
“We’ll be putting these schools on the NCAA website, so it’ll be publicized,” she said. “We’ll be able to see who needs help, who’s doing things, who’s not doing things and where we need to get in and help certain schools get things done. They won’t be able to hide.”
The Big Sky Conference NAU belongs to decided in July to sign on to the “Set the Expectation” campaign and Tracy is hoping that the Pac-12 will follow suit. The UA is the only public university in the state that Tracy hasn’t been invited to visit.
In many cases, athletic departments function as a “silo” to the campus and operate separately, Tracy said.
“This is why the NCAA needs to get involved. (Title IX education) is mandated federally, but that doesn’t mean the athletics department is going to do it,” Tracy said, adding that while a coach might not be likely to respond to a request from the federal government, he might respond differently to a requirement from the NCAA.
“Which one is going to perk up his ears? Probably the NCAA.”
Requests for info repeatedly rejected
Over the past two years, the UA athletic department has faced a number of legal issues involving athletes and coaches from multiple sports.
In December 2015, UA basketball player Elliott Pitts was investigated for rape. Charges were not filed, but the next month, the university issued a finding of sexual misconduct and imposed a one-year suspension from the state system.
Former assistant track coach Craig Carter is scheduled for trial in March on felony charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, threats and intimidation and stalking, after admitting to holding a box cutter to the throat of an athlete with whom he claimed to be in a relationship. The woman, former UA thrower Baillie Gibson, has maintained that the relationship was not consensual and that Carter repeatedly threatened her and her family members’ lives.
Gibson is also suing Carter, the UA, former athletic director Greg Byrne and track and field coach Fred Harvey, saying that the school failed to protect her from Carter’s violent behavior.
The state is required to pay for all parties’ defense in the civil suit. That means state taxpayers are footing the bill for the legal fees. All parties have retained private attorneys and the legal bills amounted to nearly $700,000 as of Sept. 31.
Carter’s case was profiled on “20/20” last week, and has been the subject of an ESPN “Outside the Lines” investigation.
Despite the court cases, lawsuits and more than three weeks of requests by the Star, the UA is not saying what, if anything, it does to educate its athletes.
The Star first reached out to UA officials on Oct. 25 and has since made several follow-up efforts to get information about training provided to Wildcats athletes.
On Nov. 13, UA spokesman Chris Sigurdson denied the Star’s latest request.
“Athletic departments have to do better”
In January, Tracy will begin work with the NCAA commission to discuss eligibility issues in cases where a player has committed a crime or has a violent sexual history.
Tracy is also tailoring her campaign to include high school athletes, saying that college is too late to “program” students.
“You can get some of them and help some of them,” she said, “but some of these guys are already abusive before they get to college.”
Coaches and athletic departments often hide players’ wrongdoings and make excuses for those accused of misconduct, Tracy said, adding that the preferential treatment isn’t doing the athletes any favors.
“They should have to come to face the real life consequences of their actions,” she said. “Our coaches are complicit in this. They have a role in this and they have to do better; our athletic departments have to do better.”