Todd Hartley: Sex and the gridiron
February 20, 2004
There was big news out of Boulder Wednesday night, as the president of Colorado University and the chancellor of the university system got together to announce that CU football coach Gary Barnett has been placed on “administrative leave,” pending the results of an investigation into the football team’s sexual transgressions.
What does “administrative leave” mean? We’ll answer that in due time. But for now, back to the sex.
In the past few weeks, two young women have come forward with claims that they were raped by as many as four men at a party thrown by the team in order to impress visiting recruits, and another woman alleged she was sexually assaulted by two football players. Then, just this week, a woman named Katie Hnida, a former kicker for the football team, claimed she was raped by a teammate.
“Katie was a girl,” he said. “Not only was she a girl, but she was terrible. There’s no other way to say it. She couldn’t kick the ball through the uprights.”
Shockingly enough, Barnett’s punishment was doled out the very next day.
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But Barnett alone is not responsible for the culture of sex (one of the rape victims alleges that the football program uses sex and alcohol as “recruiting tools”) that reigns in Boulder. Sexual misadventures are nothing new to the Buffaloes.
In the glory days of the late ’80s, CU was coached by a man named Bill McCartney, a bible-thumping, God-fearing man if ever there was one. His daughter, on the other hand, was a girl of, shall we say, loose morals.
The daughter got pregnant and had a son, and, so the story goes, virtually every player of color on the team had to have a blood test before they determined who the father was. It turned out that the father was the team’s quarterback, a man of Samoan descent named Sal Aunese.
One can imagine that a devout Christian like McCartney might be aghast at the proceedings involving his daughter, but he was able to bear it for the sake of the football team.
You see, as fate would have it, Aunese was dying of cancer at the time, and between Aunese’s withering figure and that of his newborn son, McCartney and the team had all the emotional impetus they needed to propel them to the national championship in 1990.
In the next few years, however, the program dropped out of national prominence, and shortly after his daughter gave birth to another child of indeterminate parentage (eventually revealed to be defensive lineman Shannon Clavelle), McCartney decided to retire from coaching and instead form an ultraconservative Christian group of faithful husbands called the “Promise Keepers.”
The point is, the sex was always there. Other than a few random allegations of sexual assault against the team, rape never entered into the equation.
Presumably, the sex was still there during the tenure of coach Rick Neuheisel, who succeeded McCartney, but Neuheisel was a sappy, guitar-playing surf dude, and there’s no way he would ever encourage any untoward activity. Unsurprisingly, Neuheisel’s teams played without any cajones, and he left the program in a sorry state when he bolted for Seattle and the head coaching job at the University of Washington in 1999.
So that’s the mess that Barnett stepped into when he arrived in Boulder and started making the Buffaloes a national power again. Was sex a part of Barnett’s success? Apparently, as it turns out. But this doesn’t mean the culture of sex was Barnett’s fault or even that he was aware of it. It had been a part of McCartney’s success too.
And that is why Barnett was placed on “administrative leave.” He just might be innocent, and he really can’t be fired for his words, however stupid they may be.
But in truth, “administrative leave” means Barnett was canned. Because though you may not be able to fire him, if a man is moronic enough to respond to rape allegations by saying the woman was a terrible kicker, you never want that man coaching your football team again.
[Todd Hartley, founder of the “Promise Breakers,” writes this column on Fridays in The Aspen Times. E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org]