BU Hockey Coach Jack Parker Goes Skate-Free
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.
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