Football Essay Questions

Something bad happened to a Wheaton College freshman on March 19, 2016, bad enough that five of the college's football players have been charged with aggravated battery, mob action and unlawful restraint.

It's being described as a hazing incident — the freshman was also on the football team — and Wheaton College officials claim they investigated and dealt with it last year.

The innocence or guilt of the football players is now in the hands of the justice system. The young man who claims his teammates hauled him out of his dorm room, beat him and left him half-naked on a baseball field is now safe and attending college in Indiana.

But the administration at Wheaton College is facing a number of questions regarding how the incident was handled, and the answers I'm hearing are, at best, insufficient.

On Tuesday, according to a story by my colleagues Stacy St. Clair and Christy Gutowski, the college announced that the five players facing charges are now suspended from practice and games.

Good. But they weren't suspended last week. Or the week before, or the week before that. They were helping the Wheaton Thunder to a 3-0 record.

Given the seriousness of the allegations against these players, it doesn't seem unreasonable to ask why they were still on the team at all.

The college's statement regarding the charges referenced the internal investigation: "The conduct we discovered as a result of our investigation into this incident was entirely unacceptable and inconsistent with the values we share as human beings and as members of an academic community that espouses to live according to our Community Covenant. We are profoundly saddened that any member of our community could be mistreated in any way."

Wheaton College officials were saddened and found the football players' behavior to be "inconsistent with the values we share as human beings." But apparently those values weren't inconsistent enough to stop Wheaton from letting the athletes continue to represent the college on the football field.

Stories about college athletes receiving preferential treatment are common enough to seem cliche. But this isn't a case involving grade-boosting or special perks slipped to players from alumni.

This involves allegations of violent hazing.

Consider this, from the story by St. Clair and Gutowski:

"At one point, the players suggested to the freshman that he had been kidnapped by Muslims who wanted to fornicate with goats, the teen told investigators. They patted his foot and suggested he would be their 'goat' for the evening, the records said.

"The freshman told investigators that his teammates restrained him with more duct tape during the drive, pulled down his shorts and underwear, then repeatedly tried to insert an object into his rectum. After the freshman yelled at them to stop, he was beaten, he said."

The young man had torn muscles in each shoulder.

This is all one side of the story, of course, and the alleged attackers will have their day in court.

But there seems to be a chasm between what the college concluded about the case and what law enforcement has concluded.

The Tribune story cited sources saying the outcome of Wheaton College's investigation was "several players were required to perform 50 hours of community service and write an eight-page essay reflecting on their behavior."

Community service and an essay, along with still being on the football team, doesn't sound like much punishment when compared to felony charges of aggravated battery.

The college's statement said: "When this incident was brought to our attention by other members of the football team and coaching staff in March 2016, the College took swift action to initiate a thorough investigation."

What exactly did that investigation uncover?

I emailed a series of question to LaTonya Taylor, director of media relations at Wheaton College, including this one: "Does the college stand by its investigation, the punishment and its decision to allow these students to continue representing the college as part of its football program?"

She responded with the same statement released earlier.

Terry Ekl, the lawyer representing the freshman, told the Tribune this: "It appears to me that no meaningful discipline was implemented against any of these boys by the college or the football program. The school and the football staff should have to explain that to the public."

They certainly should. Because somebody is way off base here, and if I'm choosing whether to trust the extensive work of Wheaton police investigators or Wheaton College's investigation into players on its popular football team, I know which side I favor.

We send our kids to college with the hope that they learn and become better people. But our greatest hope is that they'll be safe.

Something happened to a Wheaton College freshman on March 19, 2016. Something bad.

That freshman and his family, the students at the college and their parents, the alumni and anyone who worries about hazing and safety on college campuses deserve clarity. And they deserve some answers as to why college officials found the incident inconsistent with their values, while law enforcement found it criminal.

rhuppke@chicagotribune.com

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