Griz Football Critics, Defenders Tackle 'Culture Of Sexism' At Missoula Forum
The University of Montana’s president, athletic director and returning head football coach had a frank conversation with some of the football program’s toughest critics Monday night in Missoula.
They had a civil dialogue. The critics aired their grievances, and the University’s representatives said the school has done a lot to address issues like sexual assault. They said the football program has grown more mature, and that it’s focused on building men of character.
The off-campus forum was convened by Missoula Rises, which is affiliated with the Montana Human Rights Network. The catalyst was the university’s controversial decision in December to rehire Coach Bobby Hauck, who led the Grizzlies to seven conference championships between 2003 and 2009.
UM alum and longtime Griz supporter Lisa Davey protested the decision to re-hire Hauck. At the forum, she recounted reasons that she made public late last year.
"I think there’s a really clear body of evidence that the team was not well controlled last time Bobby was here," Davey said.
Davey ticked off players’ multiple arrests for a variety of crimes during Hauk's tenure. She’s also upset with how Hauck dealt with student reporters, and said his reputation and the team culture he created didn’t happen overnight.
"It was years of power and entitlement and arrests and partner assaults and making national news for being a bully," Davey said.
Davey circulated an online petition protesting Hauck’s return. It quickly gathered hundreds of signatures, and made her the target of harassment and threats in several online fan-owned forums like eGriz and Maroon Blood. The University and the athletic department were quick to condemn that behavior.
UM Athletics Director Kent Haslam said he listened to community members’ concerns.
"I knew going in there was no middle ground here. But felt like hiring him was a great step forward for where we wanted to take the University. I really felt like we got an older and more mature - sorry to say that Coach Hauck [older] - head coach."
Missoula Rises pressed University officials on how things are going to be different under Coach Hauck this time.
Hauck acknowledged that his players did not always act perfectly in the past, but said the reason he continues to coach, after almost thirty years, is that, "I want to develop men of character. People that are great husbands, fathers, great in the community. Basically successful in life. We try to give them the background to be all of those things. That’s why we do what we do."
Missoula Rises founder Erin Erickson pressed Hauck on the challenge of helping student athletes achieve balance in a town where college football players are sometimes worshipped as heroes.
"How do you specifically set the tone for your student athletes that demands a culture of respect for women and for other vulnerable groups," Erickson asked.
Hauck’s response: set a good example, and hold players to high standards. But he also said:
"The misnomer would be that as coaches, we’re some omnipotent force that controls everything they do 24 hours a day. We don’t. We try to educate them. We try to mentor them. And when they do things right, we praise them. And when they do things wrong, we hold them accountable."
New UM President Seth Bodnar acknowledged the sometimes competing imperatives of managing a Division 1 football team. But he said he’s also been very clear with Coach Hauck and the rest of the athletics department that, "The point of our athletics programs is not to win games. It’s not. These are key ways to enhance the development of the young women and men who participate in these sports. Ultimately athletics are about building leadership, character traits, teamwork. The good news is — so I’m glad you didn’t throw any tomatoes yet — is when you focus on that, wins follow."
Also on the panel was Drew Colling, director of UM’s Student Advocacy Resource Center [SARC]. SARC helps students who are victims of sexual harassment and assault.
Colling stressed that rape culture isn’t just a problem in football teams, or at UM; it’s a combination of attitudes and messages that are pervasive nationally and globally.
"By the time we get our students, they’ve been enculturated in rape culture."
Colling said that in the wake of the on and off-campus sexual assaults that brought interventions by the U.S. Department of Justice, SARC has expanded its work with the athletic department and the entire student body. They provide mandatory bystander intervention training and sexual assault prevention training to all incoming students and specialized trainings for athletes. The athletic department has also revamped its student athlete code of conduct, and is working more closely with its office for equal opportunity.
After Colling spoke, Missoula Rises’ Erin Erickson, addressed Athletics Director Kent Haslam, saying that in the community, "There was this perception that you wanted a pat on the back for basically doing what you should have done in the first place. But it seems to me, or is it accurate, that the university has actually been going above and beyond of what was required?"
Haslam said progress has been made, and new checks and balances are in place, but said firmly that the work is never done.
"I get nervous when you sit back and say, 'well boy we sure feel good about ourselves. We’re doing great.' We don’t ever want to do that. It’s constantly top of mind," he said.
Erickson called on Governor Bullock to appoint a Montana Board of Regents member that directly represents the university’s priority of creating a safe and inclusive campus.
She also directly challenged the Grizzly fan base and the community at large to examine their own roles and interrupt any kind of oppressive behavior, whether online, in the stadium or on the streets.
"If you are not stepping in and stopping it when you see it, then you are complicit," Erickson said. "You are complicit in that behavior."
Lisa Davey invited eGriz online fan forum representative Brint Wahlberg to be on the forum, too. Wahlberg, who’s also in Missoula Rises, got sick and had to drop out last minute. But in a posting after he watched a Facebook Live stream of the event, Wahlberg said that whether fans agree or disagree, vicious behavior doesn’t belong in the fanbase, and Griz Nation needs to work together to call it out, regardless of who it’s coming from.
Other posts on eGriz after the event said people are tired of anonymous posters getting so much attention, and that they want to move on to talking about spring football, not online trolls.