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The following article was posted on March 5th, 2014, in the New Times - Volume 28, Issue 32 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 28, Issue 32

White Flag


Alright, outraged Mustang hos and bros, you win! It’s an outrage that your university attempted to govern your university-associated partying, an outrage that I called you out after your eloquent defenders called a Mustang News reporter “butthurt” and a “faggot.” And, after receiving criticism from young writers who didn’t expect me to last long in this field, I realized that my 28-year career could theoretically die at the hands of a kid who’s never even watched an episode of Friends or Full House, and I just can’t let that happen. So I’m doing the honorable thing and backing off so these poor, underappreciated bros and hos—hell, let’s just call them martyrs, shall we?—can pick up the pieces and finally focus their energy on the things that matter most: parties.

Since I can no longer discuss the woes of the bros and the hos at the risk of undermining my ability to get a bid from my frat of choice, I guess I’ll have to turn my attention to the university’s other PR nightmare: the recent stampede of Mustang athletes misbehaving. Of course, misbehaving might not be the right term for what’s been going on. It’s a cute word, the type of word you apply to your niece when she steals a piece of cake from the table. It doesn’t cover the reality of a football player getting shot during a suspected drug deal or a Cal Poly student who claims he and his friend were beaten to a pulp by guys associated with the wrestling team.

And then there’s the term “beaten to a pulp,” which is generally an exaggeration of a situation, but when one of the students winds up at the hospital with six staples in his head, beaten to a pulp doesn’t sound like such an overstatement. This particular case is a bit muddy, and the main victim has been, at turns, open about his role in the brawl and reluctant to speak to officials who might be able to advance his case, so there’s not really much to say or go on with any sort of definitive gusto. The university seems to be convinced that the aggressors likely weren’t wrestlers. Weren’t even Poly students, in fact! Probably!

That’s the worst part in all this: the university’s tepid reaction to the idea that its student-athletes could be using their carefully honed physical prowess to unleash pain and terror on their fellow students. To me, that qualifies as an aha moment if I ever heard of one. Instead, Cal Poly’s response has mostly been comprised of repeatedly reminding reporters that the Cal Poly Rugby Club, members of which were also allegedly involved in a violent altercation, are a club team, not an official Cal Poly athletic team. There. See? Problem gone. I’m sure that information makes everyone feel better.

There should be a tone of urgency, even if you don’t want to indict any of your student-athletes, when you hear that student-athletes—yes, that’s plural—are being accused of pulverizing students. Instead, what we’re left with is a tone of defensiveness, a sullen I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it, why-are-you-trying-to-make-me-look-bad vibe. 

How many incidents and investigations would it take for Cal Poly to acknowledge that there’s a problem to be taken seriously? They won’t actually say, I venture, because that would require stepping up to the plate when and if they hit that number.

I would love to argue that Cal Poly’s Athletic Department knows what’s best for its students and is capable of acting on that understanding. But based on their actions three years ago—namely, ignoring years of student complaints against an abusive volleyball coach, Director of Athletics Don Oberhelman telling reporters he was new and therefore unfamiliar with the complaints, and then firing the coach directly after meeting with reporters—the Athletic Department’s primary concern seems to be the well-being of its reputation—a concern that had decidedly detrimental effects on its volleyball players for years, and one that may now be reasonably said to be harming students and athletes alike.

Unfortunately, we can’t paint a clearer picture of what’s going on with the various sports teams and the athletic department in general, in part because Interim Media Relations Director Matt Lazier insists that Oberhelman is far too busy to sit down with reporters to answer questions. In fact, he’s far too busy for a phone interview. In fact, Matt himself is far too busy for more than a brief phone interview and can only respond to questions submitted via email. My PR-speak is a little rusty, but I think “too busy” translates to “we’re afraid we’re going to say something we shouldn’t say off the cuff—y’know, like the last time we pretended we didn’t know anything about numerous student complaints and then later announced that we’d been investigating the complaints for weeks.”

I can sympathize with Lazier’s plight. It really must suck when your job title is interim media relations director, and members of the media keep asking to talk to you. I mean, it’s almost like they think you’re responsible for providing them with access to information about the institution. But Cal Poly needs to understand that pesky reporters asking pesky questions aren’t the real problem; the real issue is a university culture in which violence and other behavior issues are dismissed, excused away, swept under the rug, or simply ignored. And until you address that problem, reporters are going to continue to come at you with questions and concerns. And however terribly important and busy your administrators might be, some day they’re going to have to acknowledge them.

 

Shredder’s white flags are really just dirty underwear. Send laundry detergent to shredder@newtimesslo.com.