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Utah State University To Investigate President’s Remarks After Football Team Protests Discrimination

A photo of Romney Stadium at the Utah State University.
Ken Lund
Wikimedia Commons
The Utah State University football team boycotted its final game of the season to protest what they describe as “discriminatory comments” made by the university’s president.

Utah State University will bring in an independent investigator to review remarks made by University President Noelle Cockett, according to a statement released by the university’s Board of Trustees on Saturday.

The move comes after the Aggies football team boycotted its final game of the season to protest what they describe as discriminatory comments from Cockett during a Zoom meeting last week.

As reported by The Stadium, the purpose of the Dec. 8 meeting was to give the players a say in who would become the football team’s next head coach.

The Aggies had come to the meeting in support of hiring interim head coach Frank Maile, who had taken over the football program after the university fired its previous head coach in November.

But the team was dismayed to hear Cockett raise questions about how Maile’s Polynesian heritage and Latter-day Saint faith could affect the recruitment of out-of-state players, according to team captain Kevin Meitzenheimer.

The comments were so shocking to the team — which consists of players of many faiths — that the 80-person squad voted unanimously Friday to sit out the last game of the season, Mitzenheimer said.

“If we didn’t make a decision, that was [still] making a decision,” he said. “So we decided to go with our hearts and our guts and let them realize that those things that were said were not ok.”

Meitzenheimer added the team felt compelled to take the strong step of skipping Saturday’s game because previous racist remarks targeted toward players had not been adequately addressed.

In a statement, Cockett said she was “devastated” that players had interpreted her comments as biased.

“Throughout my professional career and, especially, as president of USU, I have welcomed the opportunity to meet directly and often with students about their experiences,” she said. “Regardless of how difficult the conversations might be in the coming days, I remain committed to giving our students a voice.”

In a statement released Sunday, Maile expressed disappointment in the president’s alleged remarks and applauded his players’ choice.

“As disheartened as I am to learn that this kind of religious and cultural bias exists … at Utah State University, I am equally heart-broken for my players – many of whom are seniors who were preparing for the last game of their collegiate experience,” he wrote. “I want to express my upmost respect and admiration for their decision to stand up for what they believe in — and I’m truly honored that they would stand up for me.”

In response to a request for comment on Monday, a spokesperson for Maile said, “Frank is interested in resolving things as quickly as possible in the best interest of his players, his family and the university that he loves.”

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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