Skate-Free

Last season, sexual assault accusations against two BU hockey players exposed the team's depraved culture of entitlement. So why does longtime coach Jack Parker still have a job?

By Jason Schwartz | Boston Magazine |
jack parker bu hockey scandal

Photo by AP Images, Illustration by Josue Evilla

It was about 10 minutes until puck drop and students were flooding into Boston University’s Agganis Arena. The men’s hockey team was about to open its season against conference rival Providence College, and the undergrads, stepping in from the October chill, moved past ticket takers, picked up red “Dog Pound” T-shirts on the concourse, and started to fill the two sections of seats behind each goal. The marching band was rocking with “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” and when the BU players skated onto the ice for warm-ups, the crowd went crazy. Soon the Providence starting lineup was announced and the BU students, as they do, punctuated each name with “Sucks!” The PC goalie was greeted with the traditional chant of “Sieve! Sieve! Sieve!”

The public-address announcer next introduced the BU players, before intoning, “Starting his 40th year behind the Terrier bench, the coach, Jack Parker!” When Parker’s face appeared on the big screen, everyone cheered, the whistles and applause going on for an extra few notes in a show of support.

Last season, two of Parker’s players were accused of sexual assault. One of them, Corey Trivino, was charged with assault with intent to commit rape and ultimately pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of assault and battery. The case against the other player, Max Nicastro, was dropped when prosecutors decided that they didn’t have enough evidence for a conviction. Nevertheless, the arrests and the brutal headlines that came with them shook the campus. The allegations followed a string of other problems in recent years, including two players being kicked off the team and several others suspended. The misconduct that led to those disciplinary actions was never disclosed by Parker, but clearly, whatever happened was serious.

With BU gearing up for a billion-dollar fundraising drive—Parker is a favorite of donating alumni—the timing of the allegations of sexual assault could not have been worse for the school’s president, Robert Brown. He ordered an investigation into what had happened, and on September 5, the task force that conducted the inquiry released a summary of its findings. The official report stated that a “culture of sexual entitlement exists among some players on the men’s ice hockey team, stemming in part from their elevated social status on campus.” Apparent confirmation of that came the next day, when the task force’s subcommittee reports—pieces of testimony that the school had intended to keep confidential—that were leaked to the Globe included tales of a wild on-ice sex party after the team won the 2009 national title.

Parker first told the 16-member task force that he knew nothing about the party, then admitted that he might have heard about some guys drinking. Beyond being less than forthcoming, he’s also been, at times, tone-deaf. When Trivino was accused of attempted rape, Parker immediately kicked him off the team and expressed appropriate concern for the victim—but he also mixed in some head-scratching thoughts about his former player. “He’s a terrific kid. I can guarantee you, he has no recollection [of] what he did that night,” Parker told the Globe at the time, adding, “I know he’s a good kid and that’s not Corey’s M.O. except when he’s drinking. Some people can’t drink, he’s one of them.”

In 2012, most of us are past the idea that somebody can be a terrific kid except for when he’s attempting to rape someone. Clearly, Parker is old school—and considering his team’s string of disciplinary issues and rotten culture, one thing is clear: It’s time for him to go.

 

As the game against Providence College began, Parker stood stoically behind his bench, occasionally scribbling in a small notebook or leaning forward to talk to a player. He is beloved at BU, for his three national championships as well as his dedication to the school, for which he is an enthusiastic fundraiser. Accordingly, his team plays on Jack Parker Rink.

Just down the boards from the team’s bench was an ad for T’s Pub, a place alleged in those secret subcommittee reports to have supplied BU players, including underage ones, with free drinks—a charge the pub’s current owners deny. The task force cited the team’s heavy alcohol use as a problem, which seems normal enough for college until you consider the attitudes that apparently went along with it. As revealed in the leaked subcommittee reports, one unidentified hockey player told the task force, “You don’t ask [permission for sex] when you are drunk.” A female student reported that a hockey player had stuck his hands down her pants at a party, refusing to remove them even when she punched him. Many BU hockey players—some of whom enter the school having already been drafted by NHL teams—see their time on campus as just a brief stopover before hitting the big time. In other words, they believe they’re different from other students.

And Parker is different from other coaches. Over the decades, he’s become tremendously independent at the university. In April 2002, he was given the title of executive director of athletics, in recognition of the leadership role he’d already been playing in the department. “Jack will become the chief strategist, advocate, and spokesman for varsity athletics at Boston University,” school president Jon Westling said at the time. Essentially, Parker was given the freedom to run his program his way, without having to worry about much oversight.

If we’ve learned anything from Penn State—where legendary coach Joe Paterno oversaw a system that for decades allowed the sexual abuse of children—it’s that bad things happen when the coach becomes more of an institution than the institution itself. Parker is, by all accounts, a well-meaning person—he is certainly no Paterno. But his elevated status at BU has been troublesome. One of the problems the task force identified was that Parker was, essentially, solely in charge of disciplining his team. When a player broke the rules, rather than referring him to the school for punishment—as is the case with every other BU student—Parker typically dealt with it himself. “The coaches became their own keepers,” Jean Morrison, BU’s provost and chief academic officer, and co-chair of the task force, told the Globe in September. “These should be university issues.”

Katherine Redmond, who runs the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, a group that works to prevent sexual assault on college campuses, says players in these situations “know that everything is handled internally, and they know that they have power.” BU’s treatment of Parker has only reinforced that view—the more important you are, the more you can get away with.

 

BU’s task force recommended that Parker lose his executive athletic director title—he has—and bring his disciplinary procedures in line with the rest of the school, which he’s pledged to do. The task force also suggested the school establish a sexual assault center on campus to provide care and counseling for victims, and education for students. To the school’s credit, it has created the center—though it’s a bit curious that it didn’t already have one. The task force also recommended that the hockey team undergo sexual assault prevention training, be held to a higher academic standard (it called for a review of admissions criteria), and be more integrated with the rest of the student body (one idea was to sprinkle players throughout the dorms, instead of letting them all live together).

But for every solid recommendation in the report, there’s another part that feels like it was specifically designed to cover for someone—usually, Parker. For instance, the report says, “The absence of a few routine, transparent, and systematic processes that would establish clear expectations for players’ behavior has created a culture in which important aspects of oversight for our student-athletes’ behavior…has fallen inappropriately to the coaching staff.” The phrasing makes the coaches seem almost like victims, as opposed to the ones who took the control.

That type of soft-pedaling underscores one of the task force’s major flaws: It was composed exclusively of people affiliated with BU—deans, professors, trustees, and the like. In other words, people with a stake in maintaining the school’s reputation. According to experts, including Redmond, of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, the addition of outsiders to an investigative body is industry best practice because it provides a much-needed unbiased perspective.

Also of concern is the task force’s lack of transparency. Remember that BU released only its summary findings. The university has said that it intended to keep the subcommittee reports—with all their salacious details—confidential, because not all of the allegations had been confirmed, and because it had promised secrecy to those who spoke with the task force. School spokesman Colin Riley says that tracking down allegations was not part of the task force’s mission. (Every member of the task force refused or did not respond to requests for interviews, and Riley denied a request to speak with administrators.)

It seems strange that these allegations were legitimate enough for the task force to use them as guides in making its recommendations, but not legitimate enough to share with the public. More important, why didn’t BU try to confirm everything? Promises of confidentiality could be easily kept by withholding names. And even if you don’t really care whether people are having sex on the ice, the university needs to investigate accusations of sexual assault—like, say, that a hockey player forced his hands down a female student’s pants. As to Riley’s contention that the accusations were not made public because of the promise of confidentiality, who exactly is being protected by keeping it secret that there’s a player who thinks it’s okay to have nonconsensual sex when he’s drunk?

And BU’s approach to the report may have actually done the hockey players a disservice. John McCarthy, the co-captain of the 2009 championship team, insists that there never was any wild on-ice sex bacchanal. He admits that players had a party and were drinking on school property—something he says he regrets—but argues that it was no different than any other college affair. “People weren’t naked and skating on the ice,” he says.

If McCarthy is telling the truth, then BU’s apparent desire to protect its image at the expense of an honest, unflinching self-examination has backfired. Perhaps school administrators didn’t want to hang Parker out to dry by airing all of the embarrassing details. Maybe they just decided that they couldn’t afford to, given the billion-dollar fundraising push.

Forty years is a long time to do anything, and Parker has too much power and seems too out of touch. It’s clear that both the university and its hockey program need a cultural reset. For that to happen, BU must leave Jack Parker behind.

Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2012/11/jack-parker-bu-hockey-scandal/