Last week's allegations that Minnesota wrestlers were selling Xanax and the head coach J Robinson knew about it continues to create news. I know, who could have predicted? The latest news to break is that Robinson has been placed on paid administrative leave, per new Athletics Director Mark Coyle. This follows a story in the STrib where J Robinson's agent says he told the Athletics Department about his desire to drug test wrestlers he suspected were using banned substances.
Given everything that has happened in the last week it felt like a good time to step back and discuss what we know and what it could mean. This post ended up being way longer than I planned, so there is a TL;DR section at the bottom.
What we know
- University of Minnesota police are investigating drug abuse by members of the Minnesota wresting team. This has been confirmed by the UMPD to the Star Tribune and by the University of Minnesota, who said they had passed information to the UMPD as part of the investigation.
- Last week the U said they had not started an internal investigation following a request from the UMPD. The reason for this was to avoid interfering with the UMPD's active investigation. Yesterday the U told the Star Tribune that the school was now able to start it's own inquiry:
"In close coordination with UMPD, we have received approval to initiate the internal investigation, and it is our intention to fully investigate the concerning allegations involving our students and staff."
- Wrestling head coach J Robinson has been placed on paid administrative leave.
What has been alleged
- As many as 10 wrestlers were using Xanax and 4 wrestlers were dealing Xanax, per an anonymous member of the wrestling team who spoke to the Star Tribune.
- Per Fox 9, Coach Robinson has been interviewed by police:
Robinson allegedly told them he was aware of narcotics use on the team, and he had fully taken care of the issues. He would not provide the essays or the names of the players involved to police, unless they were granted immunity.
Police believe Robinson allegedly told some of his players they were being investigated by police and needed to lawyer up. When reached by phone last week, Robinson didn't deny an investigation, but said "it's all data practices," referring to Minnesota's open public records law.
No source was provided for the information about the investigation.
- The same wrestler also alleged that Coach Robinson collected approximately 1,400 Xanax pills from the wrestlers who had been dealing them as part of an amnesty agreement he designed where he did not report the drug sales to the police. The wrestlers had to write a 1 page paper about their actions. The wrestler provided the Star Tribune a text message that referenced the paper:
"Remember that paper is due on my desk by tomorrow evening. #1 What emotion you’re feeling by getting caught, by letting yourself, your teammates, your parents down, how did it feel and do you want to feel that way again? #2 what did you learn from this? 3 what are you going to do different. Your plan so does not happen again."
Per a second anonymous wrestler this email was not sent to the whole team because he did not receive it.
- The first anonymous wrestler told the STrib he had spoken with police.
- Coach Robinson's agent alleges that the Coach informed his direct supervisor (associate AD Mark Ryan) about his concerns that wrestlers were using drugs. J also allegedly told Beth Goetz that he wanted additional drug testing of his athletes per his agent. He also alleged that it took 4 days for the coach to receive a response about the drug testing request.
Questions and thoughts
How big a deal is this? In general this is a big deal. But it's important to quantify what I mean by that:
- For the players alleged to have sold Xanax and possibly for those accused of using Xanax the UMPD investigation could result in criminal charges.
- For head coach J Robinson there is also the possibility that the UMPD investigation could bring criminal charges. If any of the allegations around his conduct prove are found to be true by the University he seems certain to be fired.
- For the Athletics Department/the University at large the biggest impact is public relations. Nothing that has been alleged by the anonymous sources about the drug sales or Coach Robinson's actions show any misdeeds by other department or University staff. This just looks really bad. That's not to say that there are no questions worth asking here. The allegations by Robinson's agent could highlight processes around drug testing or other policies that need to be improved. But could is the operative word here, as nothing we've learned gives concrete things to be concerned about.
What is J Robinson's agent up to? In my opinion it's all a smokescreen. His agent's claims are that J told his superiors he suspected some wrestlers had a drug problem and that Robinson requested additional testing of some kind. The agent implies the response to that testing request was slow and that guidance from the department was lacking, but we have no way of knowing:
A) if it was actually slow by the standards the U tries to follow
B) if Robinson initiated his request through the proper channels (asking for stuff the wrong way tends to slow down a process)
C) if he should have received more guidance per University policy
It's also important to note that to my knowledge, the University has never made a public statement where they allege Robinson ever did anything wrong with regards to reporting his suspicions of drug use or for additional drug testing.
Why would Robinson's agent allege the U wasn't telling the truth and then offer up information that the U hasn't made formal statements about? I have to again say that I think it's an accusation designed to take the heat off of Robinson. It's also important to note what the agent didn't address, namely the allegations that Robinson knew about drug dealing, didn't report it, and then tried to discipline the players himself. That said, there are certainly legal reasons why he might not want to comment on the allegations of a cover-up on his part.
Should we be more understanding of Coach Robinson's actions? The most heated debate around the allegations that I saw focused not on whether Robinson should be fired if the serious accusations proved true, but whether we should be more understanding of his actions in two ways. Those asking for more understanding tended to make two similar arguments:
1) What would you do if it was your child and you found out?
2) Given that players are like sons to coaches, could we reasonably expect Robinson to turn his guys in?
For me personally, I think it is entirely possible to be empathetic of the challenge Coach Robinson face while saying what he did was wrong. When it comes to question 1, I don't know what I'd do. I'm not a parent. But what I would hope to do at a minimum is provide my child with a punishment that recognizing the severity of the problem. Even if you say you understand exactly why Robinson didn't turn his guys in you have to admit his in-house punishment would be woefully inadequate if the allegations are accurate. There are further reasons why I disagree with the premise of this question, but I'll stop here for now.
When it comes to question 2, I would argue the expectation should be for Robinson to report the behavior. Even if I stipulate that this expectation is unreasonable given human nature, it doesn't mean we should be ok with what Robinson did. Would you be ok with it if the allegations where he covered up heroin dealing? A fight where non-wrestlers were assaulted? Sexual harassment or sexual assault? The last one is especially timely given what we learned about the internal discipline of Baylor Football.
I think empathy for Robinson is a good thing. But what he is alleged to have done can not and should not be condoned on any level regardless of what we think of the man personally.
- We haven't learned anything new about the allegations of drug sales or Robinson's involvement after the fact.
- Robinson's agent is making statements that seem to imply the Athletics Department did something wrong and is saying the U is lying. Neither accusation seems to have any corroboration.
- Robinson is on paid administrative leave and the U has opened their own investigation.
- While it's possible to empathize or understand Robinson's alleged actions, disciplining criminal behavior internally without proper external investigation is a bad thing.