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UW-Eau Claire Football Players Involved In Racist Post To Be Allowed Back On Team

Most Teammates Opposed Return Of Players In Question, According To Team Captain

UW-Eau Claire sign
Carolyn Langton (CC-BY-SA)

Five former football players at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire who were suspended last year because of ties to racist messages posted on Snapchat are rejoining the football team, although some of their teammates say the reinstatement violates the student athlete handbook.

UW-Eau Claire officials agreed with a recommendation to reinstate the players, according to a statement sent by the university Tuesday. The university declined to give specifics on who was on the panel that made the recommendation, the reasons for its decision or when it made its recommendation.

The panel, which the statement said included students, faculty and staff, found that the suspended football students were “not responsible for any violations listed in Wisconsin’s Administrative Code UWS 17.” Jonathan Malueg, quarterback and captain of the football team, said the five students returned to the team Monday.

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“This wasn’t what we wanted at all,” said Malueg, adding: “We have much of the team that believes they shouldn’t be back.”

In an email to UWEC coaches published by the university’s student newspaper, Malueg criticized the way the university handled the racist incident, taking particular issue with an appeals process that did not include the athletics department.

He said that the incident wasn’t treated as an athletic sanction at first, and because of that, coaches were excluded from the final decision.

Malueg argued that the department’s exclusion is in violation of the Student-Athlete Handbook. The handbook states the UW-Eau Claire’s athletics department “will not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment and will not condone any actions or words that constitute such.”

It goes on to say that suspension or dismissal of players from a team should be decided by the head coach and director of athletics.

The five players were suspended from the football team last year after Snapchat posts appeared publicly that showed an image of Ku Klux Klan members while referencing Black Male Empowerment, an organization on campus with Black members.

In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio in November, UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt referred to the incident as “despicable and horrible.”

In the prepared statement that was sent out Tuesday evening, he said: “While we accept the ruling of the panel, it is NOT acceptable behavior for Blugolds to act in a racist manner.”

When asked about the panel and the students returning to the football team, university representatives wrote in an email that “the only information that is being provided by the university at this time is the information that was included in the press release.”

Schmidt said in Tuesday’s statement that the campus would pursue “restorative justice,” when moving forward, and said that plans laid out last spring by a Rapid Action Task Force will help guide those discussions. The task force is different from the panel that led to the decision to reinstate the students on the football team.

The statement from the university said the practice of restorative justice “focuses on healing for the victims, repairing the harm to the community, and providing an opportunity for the offender to accept responsibility for their actions and learn from their failures.”

Football coach Wesley Beschorner said that these reinstated members of the team should engage with restorative justice recommendations to fully be a part of the team. He also said that the context surrounding the Snapchat incident is up for interpretation and said “no personal malice” is felt for the people who participated.

Malueg said some members on the football team do believe the players should be welcomed back, though he said the difference in opinions isn’t causing tension. Discussions among team members stress listening to both sides of the issue, he said.

Malueg said the team is in the process of figuring out how they’re going to respond to the university’s decision.

“We’re going to keep discussing here as a team in the coming days,” he said.

WPR reporting intern Bailey Rieger-Borer contributed to this report.