Last Wednesday, two high-school football players from a small Montana town were charged with felony assault for a November 17th hazing incident in which they allegedly beat a younger boy with a piece of wood.
Charging documents claim that Rico Rodriguez, 15, held the boy down while Zachary Peavey, 16, swung the stick. According to the Billings Gazette, their coach, Jay Santy, “had earlier downplayed the alleged assault, saying criminal charges were not warranted.”
“The way I understood it,” Santy told the Gazette, “it was kids messing around and they got carried away.”
Nonetheless, the boys were expelled indefinitely in December and will be arraigned in state district court on January 27th.
Hazing incidents happen all the time, of course, especially on sports teams, and many are the school administrators nationwide who have struggled with how best to prevent them. But if anyone in Huntley Project, the area where the boys are from, is wondering where they got the idea that it’s acceptable for football players to act like thugs-and, perhaps more importantly, where Santy got the idea that it’s acceptable for a coach to downplay an attack on one of his players involving a weapon-it’s possible that we need to look no further than 350 miles west to Missoula, and Bobby Hauck’s Montana Grizzlies football team.
I doubt that-as Rodriguez and Peavey cornered their teammate in the locker room-they were consciously emulating the behavior of a team that has since 2007 become at least as well known for violent criminality as for its admirable winning record on the field. Unfortunately, however, it’s fair to say that it would have been unwise for Huntley Project parents to hold up the Montana Grizzlies as role models to their children-unless the only thing they wanted their kids to care about was winning football games.
And speaking of role models, there is something in Santy’s reported response that is reminiscent of Hauck’s response to an incident in March 2009, in which two of his players are alleged to have attacked a fellow UM student at a party, eventually kicking him multiple times-including in the head-as he lay unconscious in the street.
Police weren’t called and no charges were filed, so there is much that will never be known about what happened that night. But here are some things we do know:
- Coach Hauck gave every appearance of trying to duck public accountability for a vicious and potentially deadly attack by two of his players on a member of the community he serves, including by trying to bully a student reporter with denial of access. (This behavior attracted national attention and condemnation.)
- Coach Hauck claimed to have disciplined the two players, but-other than having them sit out the first game of the fall season-it’s unclear what this consisted of. (Hauck never responded to my or any other reporter’s requests for information.)
- The two players were both starters, and Hauck-whom we now know was also job hunting-stood to earn a $30,000 bonus if he brought his team to and won the FCS championship.
Let me be clear that I am not rehearsing the same old tired argument about how athletes should be better role models to young people. This is too much to ask of 20-year-old college athletes, but even if we were talking about allegedly grown-up NFL players, it’s foolish to look to someone who can run fast and throw far for guidance in anything but those skills.
What I am saying is that a college football coach has a responsibility to behave like a role model for and demand accountability from his players. If we cannot agree that the primary mission of a college football team is as a venue for the education and improvement of its players, then I don’t understand why we need to have college football teams at all. It’s wonderful that the Grizzlies bring so much pleasure to so many people, but that must never be considered a goal of having such a team, lest we start using on-field performance to excuse the failure of its coach to demand that his players treat their team membership as the honor and privilege that it is.
Missoulians were rightfully proud of the accomplishments of the Grizzlies under Hauck; imagine if they could be equally as proud of the off-field behavior of those players. Imagine if it had become known that Hauck had threatened to expel from the team any players who even appeared to be engaged in criminal behavior. Imagine if parents in Huntley Project-parents across Montana-could point to an example like that.
The last time I wrote about Hauck’s shameful behavior, I received more than a few comments from people with a severe case of hero worship for the man, essentially recommending that I get down on my knees with them and thank the big, powerful man for whatever scraps he chooses to toss to the community he works for and represents.
These same fans had barely had time to hang their knee pads in the closet after the Griz’s December championship defeat before the announcement came that Hauck would be moving on to greener pastures in Las Vegas. Fortunately for all Griz fans, Hauck’s replacement, Robin Pflugrad, looks like a capable man with every chance of replicating Hauck’s winning record.
Here’s hoping he won’t replicate Hauck’s record of avoiding accountability and covering up for the violent behavior of his players.