Deafening silence on athletic department misconduct allegations hurts students

It is not unusual for GW to remain silent in the face of controversy.

The Hatchet’s editorial board has called for transparency time and time again on issues like high-level departures across the University and particularly in departments that affect students like the Colonial Health Center and the University Police Department.

But even after countless calls for transparency, the University continues to avoid revealing how they deal with internal problems.

The athletic department was rocked by allegations that former athletic director Patrick Nero had “strange” social relationships with students and a video of the department’s former public-facing leader making “obscene gestures” was released earlier this month. These findings have called Nero’s sudden resignation last year into question, but this isn’t the first time the athletic department has failed to address a controversy and we have pushed them to do better.

Unfortunately – as is typically the case – GW and the athletic department have remained mostly silent on the topic. An athletic department spokesman declined to respond to more than 15 questions from The Hatchet posed to both him and Athletic Director Tanya Vogel, and the two also declined to meet with The Hatchet. A spokeswoman for the University also declined to answer questions about the allegations and deferred to the athletic department’s response.

The only response from the department, however, was that the department wants to move forward under their new leadership and that “the University takes seriously the safety and well-being of its students, including student-athletes, and it carefully and thoughtfully reviewed concerns raised in the past regarding its athletics program.”

But that is not enough. The department cannot move forward in the face of disturbing allegations of misconduct. Nero is no longer employed at GW and one could make the argument that this situation is in the past, but without an explanation from the University that confirms they handled the situation at the time and took steps to ensure this will not happen in the future – students, alumni, faculty and anyone with a connection to athletics at GW should feel uneasy.

While being transparent with the community – who also has vested interest in the University’s athletic department – is important, it is infinitely more important that student-athletes who dedicate their college careers to athletics are informed about what is going on in their department. It is unsettling that administrators are content with preventing athletes from knowing the truth about what has inevitably affected them all.

Student-athletes are in a uniquely vulnerable position, with many receiving scholarship money to play on their respective teams. While one would hope that coaches and administrators are supporting athletes and encouraging them to come forward if inappropriate behavior occurs, silence on the situation that is currently looming over the department tells students that if they do come forward with issues, they will be swept under the rug.

The Hatchet does not know whether this issue has been discussed internally by individual teams, but that needs to happen at the very least so the department and individuals who interact with it know that GW puts the welfare of student-athletes as the top priority.

The main takeaway from the administration’s response to this scandal is that because Nero and former men’s basketball head coach Mike Lonergan, who allegedly feuded with Nero and was tied into the allegations against Nero, are both no longer employed by GW – the issue is no longer prevalent. But that outlook is ignoring the fact that if this behavior did occur, there’s likely a larger issue in the culture of the department that allowed it to continue for years. In fact, current and former student-athletes told reporters that the department often sweeps issues under the rug and that these rumors were not a one-time-thing.

This strategy is not just ignoring the fact that this could signal a larger issue, but it also limits the possible positive outcome that could result from the situation. Especially considering Nero no longer works at GW, the University could easily announce that there was an issue that was resolved when the individual left the University and explain the steps it is taking to improve the department.

In the few weeks following the release of this story, University President Thomas LeBlanc sent a mass email to students stating that “ethics matter” on campus and explaining that students have the ability to report “unethical or illegal behavior” confidentially. This email – which didn’t address what it was related to – fails to provide any real purpose. If this was an attempt by the University at saving face, it failed and only further demonstrated that GW is unwilling to be accept fault, be transparent and, most importantly, improve the lives of students by making changes.

As long as GW continues sweeping problems under the rug, issues will continue in the athletic department and across the University. While GW’s desire to remain silent is understandable and they may be unable to reveal additional information due to confidentiality, it is more important that it works to be transparent and tell students who it intends to prevent incidents from happening in the future.

It is in the best interest of current, former and prospective student-athletes for the University to take a stance against what happened and to ensure that it won’t happen again. The University must be transparent about what happened, when the events took place and what regulations will be put in place to prevent this from happening in the future.

While we are tired of asking for what seems like a simple request – we must continue to advocate for transparency because it is what is best for students.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Renee Pineda and contributing opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of design editor Zach Slotkin, culture editor Margot Dynes and managing director Elise Zaidi.

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