LINCOLN — Former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne says he would have welcomed the opportunity to have a university office investigate sex assault or abuse allegations against players when he was coaching, rather than handle the issue himself.
But Osborne also defended the process he used when he was coach to determine whether a player should remain or be dismissed from the team.
He said he conferred with other university officials, deferred to the legal process and had a code of athlete conduct that was used.
“At no time would we have played a player who had been either charged with rape or had been found guilty of rape,” Osborne said this week. “At no time did I ever try to turn a blind eye at what seemed to be evidence of serious wrongdoing.”
An article in Sunday’s World-Herald described the new process the University of Nebraska-Lincoln follows in investigating allegations of sexual assault, sexual abuse and domestic violence involving student-athletes.
The process was the result of a 2011 directive by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights stating that universities and colleges should implement Title IX investigative procedures that were “impartial” and thorough.
The action was in response to concerns that coaches and athletic departments had a conflict of interest in deciding whether a player in trouble should remain on a team.
The new process takes coaches out of the job of investigating allegations and deciding the appropriate punishment, and puts it into the hands of the UNL Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance. It is responsible for enforcing Title IX, the federal mandate that requires gender equity in sports but also seeks to protect students, faculty and staff from discrimination based on gender and a hostile campus environment due to sexual abuse or misconduct.
The office has 60 days to investigate Title IX allegations and make findings, including disciplinary steps. The athletic department must comply with the recommendations.
Osborne said he would have been “delighted” to have such an office when he was coaching, “but there was a great deal of silence at that time from the university.”
“I was pretty much left to do what I felt was the right thing,” he said.
The coach added that while an independent investigator is fine, coaches often are told things that such investigators are not.
“I guarantee you they’re not going to know any more than I did,” Osborne said.
Osborne defended the process he used, saying decisions were not made unilaterally.
In the case of Lawrence Phillips, who pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors in the 1995 assault of an ex-girlfriend, the coach said he conferred with the university’s chancellor, the athletic director and a representative of the student affairs office. No one, he said, disagreed with his suggestion of at least a six-game dismissal from the team.
Osborne said Phillips was given a list of conditions, including weekly counseling and a psychological evaluation, that he had to meet to be considered for reinstatement, which Phillips met. The coach insisted, as he has in the past, that Phillips was not reinstated to “win” football games but because he “needed” the structure and support that football provided him.
Phillips now stands charged with killing a cellmate at a California prison, where he was serving time for several convictions, including domestic violence toward an ex-girlfriend and driving his car into a group of teenagers.
“He is the greatest single failure that I have had as a coach,” Osborne said.
In the case of Christian Peter, the coach said Peter was allowed to remain on the team because he was never criminally charged with sexual assault.
Peter was accused of rape by a female student two years after the alleged assault, in an incident occurring before he was a member of the football team.
Investigations by the Lincoln and UNL campus police concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to file a criminal charge. The female student, Kathy Redmond, filed a civil lawsuit that was settled out of court, with the university paying her at least $50,000 and Peter paying her an undisclosed amount.
Redmond said Wednesday she continues to disagree “very much” with Osborne that proper disciplinary steps were taken.
“We have always disagreed on that point,” said Redmond, who founded an organization, the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, to counsel victims of sexual assault and abuse.
Osborne said that absent a criminal charge or conviction, it was difficult to suspend a player.
According to Osborne, Peter took the fall for another person in another instance. Peter pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months probation for third-degree sexual assault, a misdemeanor, involving the groping of a woman at a Lincoln bar in May 1993.
Osborne said an NU recruit, whom Peter was hosting at the time, was the guilty party, an account that Osborne said was later backed up by other players. The coach said Peter was unwilling to implicate the recruit, so he took responsibility.
Over the years, Osborne said, he believes that Peter’s character has been damaged unjustly.
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