A group of Colorado State football players released a statement on Saturday on behalf of their team that disputes accusations of intimidation and racism against head coach Steve Addazio and his staff.
The statement comes one day after the university suspended all team activities and expanded the scope of an ongoing investigation about intimidation around COVID-19 protocols to include concerns about racism and verbal abuse within the athletic department and football program.
The school had hired the law firm Husch Blackwell to investigate the program after multiple coaches, players and sports medicine staffers told ESPN and the Coloradoan that players had been instructed to mask symptoms of COVID-19 because they might lose playing time if they contracted the coronavirus, while staffers at the school said inconsistency, misinformation and negligence around COVID-19 protocols had compromised the safety of student-athletes.
A new round of accusations surfaced on Saturday night when the Coloradoan published a story with multiple sources detailing instances of alleged racial insensitivity and verbal abuse within the athletic department dating back to Mike Bobo's tenure and continuing through the past eight months under Addazio. In one situation, Jimmy Stewart, a mental health counselor who works with student-athletes at CSU, told the paper he witnessed Addazio berate and "humiliate" a football player over an academic issue.
Stewart said he believed Addazio's attitude toward the unnamed athlete, who is Black, was steeped in a racist attitude. "In that encounter with the Black student-athlete, Coach Addazio had this attitude that he's bigger and more powerful than the student-athlete," Stewart told the Coloradoan.
A staff member told the publication Addazio later bragged about the incident and called the football player a "f---ing douchebag."
Multiple sources at CSU confirmed both the incident and the language used in the incident to ESPN. When reached by the Coloradoan for reaction, CSU athletic director Joe Parker said that if the allegation is true, the language is "not acceptable."
The publication also said Addazio had called both COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement a "distraction from football."
After the Coloradoan published the story online, CSU football spokesman Kyle Neaves said the program did not have any additional statements. Joyce McConnell, CSU's president, when reached by ESPN said she had not released any new statements.
Earlier Saturday, a group calling itself CSU United (#CSUunited) reacted to Friday's development and the Coloradoan's preview of Saturday night's story by saying the accusations are false. It claims it is a group led by seniors but with "the support of the entire team."
The statement said the accusations have "created an unfair and unstable environment" within the team. It also claimed that any allegations of racism or verbal abuse by the coaching staff are false.
"To the contrary, our experience since Coach Addazio's first day has been positive, welcoming and focused on our development as student athletes," the statement reads. "To be absolutely clear, we have not experienced any racially insensitive comments to our teammates from the athletic department or coaching staff."
The letter also claims the team has "blossomed" under Addazio and has not practiced under a "harmful culture."
Brian White, an assistant at Colorado State, also tweeted a statement of support with the words "the truth shall set u free."
Multiple sources within the CSU football program told ESPN Saturday the #CSUunited letter does not have the full support of the team.
Mike Bobo was on my UGA staff for the first 14 yrs that I was there. During those years I cannot remember receiving 1 complaint from a parent, HS coach or more importantly student athlete about how he was treated by Mike. The same goes for any staff member. Mike blessed UGA!— Mark Richt (@MarkRicht) August 9, 2020
Rodney Garner, a Black assistant coach at Auburn who has coached/played in the SEC for 30 years and has been at several different schools, also voiced his support for Bobo on social media on Sunday.
Last week, 27 Colorado State football players missed the team's most recent practice with COVID-19 symptoms or potential exposure. After team activities were paused when eight players tested positive, some players and coaches told ESPN they viewed Addazio's plan to return "early" from a 14-day quarantine as ill-advised and unsafe. By Sunday, the team had 11 positive cases. The results of Monday's retesting for the entire team have not been released.
McConnell said the school's initial investigation, which started on Thursday before expanding Friday, followed concerns about protocols for COVID-19. The school hired the same firm, Husch Blackwell of Kansas City, Missouri, that the University of Iowa used for its investigation of racial bias within the program last month.
"I am profoundly disturbed to hear of these new allegations, and I have already expanded the scope of the investigation," McConnell said in a statement on Friday after concerns of racism and verbal abuse were revealed. "Colorado State University is an avowedly anti-racist university and an avowedly anti-racist community. We will not tolerate a climate that makes any member of this university community feel unwelcome or not valued. On the contrary, we will expose it and put an end to it immediately."
McConnell also echoed an earlier statement vowing that any player, coach or staff member who comes forward will not be a victim of retaliation in the investigation.
Anthoney Hill, the school's former player development coach and its starting quarterback in the early 1990s, said he was terminated following Addazio's hiring as head coach in December because he had expressed concerns about Addazio and the hiring of his son, Louie Addazio, and Urban Meyer's son-in-law, Corey Dennis. Meyer reportedly assisted CSU with its search, which led to the hiring of Addazio, who is Meyer's friend and one of his former assistants.
Hill arrived in 2015 under Bobo and maintained his position for about a month after Addazio's arrival.
In his response to the university's termination letter, Hill also told Parker he was concerned about the salaries of the African American coaches on the staff as compared to those of white coaches.
Hill's letter described a harmful culture and suggested he had witnessed racially insensitive comments under Bobo and worried about a similar environment under Addazio.
In a letter sent to ESPN in January, Parker responded to Hill's letter by saying his allegations appeared to involve former members of the staff under Bobo. Parker also said in March in a letter to Hill that he worked to keep Hill on the staff by offering to make him an academic advisor at $48,000 a year, with the possibility of securing the $53,000 salary he had earned on Bobo's staff. That letter also said Addazio eventually met with Hill and promised to keep him in his player development role with the $53,000 salary before the school withdrew the offer when Hill sought more money.
Parker alleges in the March letter that Hill told him the program would have "to accept the consequences" of him speaking out about his experiences if his salary demands were not met.
"I'm more concerned about your conduct in allowing CSU Athletics to become an environment where coaches can exhibit toxic masculinity as well as make racially insensitive comments to black players on your watch," Hill wrote to Parker after he was terminated in January. "Also, bringing in a new head football coach who tells the graduate assistants within days of knowing them that he 'doesn't give a f--- about their feelings' is contradictory to being 'committed to the holistic development of student-athletes ... and of crafting a culture where students thrive.'"
Another source who works closely with Addazio confirmed to ESPN the language used in a meeting with graduate assistants.