Another Day, Another PR Nightmare For Marquette

The public relations hits keep coming for Marquette University in the wake of yesterday's resignation of Athletic Director Steve Cottingham -- and, as we should probably expect at this point, the worst of those PR hits are self-inflicted wounds.

Unsurprisingly, after news of Cottingham's departure hit the wire, there were calls from some for a full airing of the dirty laundry related to the recent sexual assault allegations levied against as-yet-unnamed Marquette student-athletes. That's a sticky wicket, of course, because you're not only dealing with 19- and 20-year-old students, you're dealing with 19- and 20-year-old students who the Milwaukee County District Attorney declined to prosecute.

To its credit, in its statement slamming MU's handling of the allegations, the DA's Office didn't identify the student-athletes who were accused of committing the sexual assaults, and the University hasn't released the names either -- in part, I'd imagine, because the kids weren't charged criminally and in part because Federal privacy laws severely restrict the ability of a college to release information of that kind.

And yet, a day after the University all but confirmed the speculation that Cottingham's resignation was directly tied to the handling of the sexual assault allegations, the University all but confirmed that the accused student-athletes were men's basketball players by making head coach Buzz Williams available to speak with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Don Walker about the situation:

Asked about Williams' involvement in the interview, [acting Athletic Director Mike] Broeker said the school felt the coach was "probably the most powerful spokesman for our university. It's important for him to have his voice heard on the topic of sexual harassment."

"We have the most visible coach of our most visible male athletics program willing to stand up and take a position and a stance on such a sensitive issue," Broeker said.

As if that wasn't enough, Coach Buzz then stumbled and stammered and stonewalled through the questioning about the handling of the assault investigations:

Asked twice if he was reprimanded, Williams did not answer. Said Broeker: "The coaches in that program, the coaches in said program, were reprimanded through, as I said, to the head coach who, in all of our programs, is accountable, as we said before."

Broeker said Williams was made available to speak to the "accountability of the head coach as it relates to their programs."

Williams was asked if he was made aware of the incidents in February and October. Williams did not answer the question.

That's some method of protecting the identities of the student-athletes involved we've got there.

Worse yet, Broeker told Walker that the University had disciplined the coaches of the student-athletes who were accused of committing the sexual assaults ...

"We acknowledge that the coaches in that program were made aware and that was inappropriate. And that was inappropriate in our behalf. The notification to the coaching staff of those incidents, as the district attorney said. It was inappropriate."

... which is kind of a strange thing to say, since the DA's Office, which pulled no punches in lambasting Marquette's conduct over the last few months, went out of its way to make clear that it did not believe that the coaches had done anything to interfere with or otherwise hamper the investigation into the assault allegations.

I've no better, non-vulgar way to say this, so here goes: this fence-straddling shit has to stop, and it has to stop now. Trying to release some of the information while still protecting the rights of the unnamed student-athletes -- the Jason Giambi-patented tactic of apologizing for things without saying what you're apologizing for -- is making Marquette look ridiculous.  The better course of action, at this point, is to shut up.  Use those Federal privacy laws as a shield, if you must, but whatever you do: stop talking about this.

It won't be well received by some, of course, but those folks won't be satisfied with anything short of a week-long bloodletting of each and every detail of the assault allegations, and who was involved, and who knew what and when. But more than that: the people entrusted to make statements on behalf of the Athletic Department and the University as a whole have demonstrated that their words are only going to make things worse. That can't be allowed to continue.

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