A driving force in many stories of institutional struggle is the specter of inappropriate sexual appetite, which is often coupled with an unhealthy power dynamic between the perpetrator and victim. And to wrap it all up, there are the inevitable attempts to hide the whole affair.
This specter haunts Auburn University, specifically our softball team. Players have accused the coaching staff of sexual misconduct, along with physical and emotional abuse.
The issue began to loom large after ESPN published a piece quoting current and former players who detailed the allegations: inappropriate sexual behavior from assistant coach Corey Myers toward players; threats from Meredith Jenkins, athletics executive associate director and senior women’s administrator, made to suppress evidence of such relationships.
Later, our reporting detailed allegations from players who were forced to practice after surgery before being released by medical professionals and others who were directed to use untreated hot and cold tubs that caused pus-filled bumps that later required medical treatment.
On top of all of this, the players went repeatedly to Jenkins, who herself is a Title IX deputy coordinator, and athletics director Jay Jacobs. And the players and their families said they were met with nothing but indifference or even contempt.
Back in September 2016, official ethics complaints were filed by several anonymous players.
Along with being an early challenge for Auburn’s new president, Steven Leath, this institutional issue casts a shadow over Jacobs’ tenure and casts doubt about the Athletics Department’s ability to care for its players.
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In a letter to The Plainsman, Jacobs explained how he’s carefully walked a line between, in his mind, behaving as a father would toward the women on the softball team and making appropriate changes to the coaching staff.
In his letter, Jacobs maintains this act involved reaching a balance between respecting privacy and taking action, and in framing his actions that way, he’s attempted to paint himself as both a kind father-figure and a reasonable administrator. We believe, if the players’ stories are true, that he was neither.
Ostensibly, Jacobs’ lack of action throughout the year was an effort to try to protect the softball players, whom he cast as his daughters in his damage-control letter, which not only was sent to The Plainsman but athletic boosters, too, who must undoubtedly have their own concerns.
But good intentions aside, Jacobs' handling of the allegations has been at best negligent and at worst crooked, and he needs to step down or be removed from his position so Auburn can move forward. Jenkins, who appears not to have done her job as an advocate for victims, should go with him.
The problems stemming from the Myers should’ve been dealt with long ago — before March when the younger Myers left the team and especially before this past August when the elder Myers followed suit. Six months is far too long for complaints to be circulating and far too long for nothing to have been done about either of the coaches.
Allowing these coaches to stay on staff for so long may have been helpful with respect to maintaining a winning softball team — it could have ruined the season if both coaches left — but the role of the Athletics Department is not only to maximize a team’s record.
Even more important is their obligation to treat student-athletes with dignity, to listen to them, and not ignore their concerns like expendable machines whose sole or even main purpose is to make our University money. Because that is not, and should not be, their purpose.
Ultimately, this situation lands at the feet of the athletics director and his senior administrators. He is ultimately responsible for ensuring that his coaches are good, Auburn men and women who follow the creed — as Jacobs claimed Clint Myers was in a statement released when the head coach retired last month.
“The foundation for ongoing success is here because of Coach Myers’ love of Auburn and his desire to see this program reach a level of success that it had never seen before,” Jacobs said when Clint Myers retired.
Even if the athletics director wasn’t directly involved, they’re still called to solve these issues as soon as they can. Instead, Jacobs let this situation drag on for nearly a year before the two coaches were allowed to resign and retire, without a word from the Athletics Department acknowledging what happened.
Regardless of whether Jacobs intentionally or unknowingly allowed this to continue for so long — while some of his players were allegedly threatened and others were subject to physical or mental abuse — the possibility that this could happen again remains. And that is unacceptable.
This story may continue to harm our University’s image, our softball program and, most importantly, the lives of our student-athletes unless the University and its top leadership make it absolutely clear that this should never happen again.
Jay Jacobs and Meredith Jenkins should go.
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