[Update re today’s court hearing] Why I haven’t posted about the soccer team issue

Update:  At today’s court hearing, the parties reached an agreement that will allow the senior midshipmen on the soccer team to participate in graduation and events leading up to graduation (the boat for tonight’s senior cruise is being held at the dock to give them time to get from the courthouse to the dock).  The midshipmen will not receive their diplomas or licenses at graduation pending the investigation and/or the next court hearing, which is set for July 6.

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For the past week, I’ve been receiving texts, IM’s, emails and phone calls about the status of the soccer team. I’ve deliberately not weighed in on the issue and thought it might be helpful to explain why.

Background

There is very little information known about an alleged incident involving the soccer team.  What we know for certain is what was released in an email from Superintendent Helis to the midshipmen yesterday:

“The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Transportation has informed me that upperclassmen on the Academy men’s soccer team are under investigation. Accordingly, I am suspending the men’s soccer program pending resolution of the matters under investigation.”

The rumor mill is going crazy due to the lack of information. Here’s what I’ve been able to piece together that seems to be reasonably accepted as accurate:

  • There was allegedly an incident on a soccer team bus in September 2016.
  • The incident allegedly involved seven first class midshipmen and a plebe.
  • Some Academy officials were aware in fall of 2016 that there were allegations of some sort of an incident.
  • On June 2, 2017, some of the seven first class midshipmen (possibly all) were given letters telling them that they would not be permitted to graduate while the incident was under investigation.

Here’s what we don’t know:

  • The nature of the incident. I’ve heard rumors ranging from minor, non-sexual misconduct to far more serious misconduct that would fall well within the range of the Academy’s definition of sexual assault or sexual harassment. We don’t know.
  • When was the full nature of the incident reported? Remember that a plebe in September of 2016 is still in a very new environment and on unsure footing. Reluctance to report or to describe everything that occurred would be natural. Remember too that if the incident had a sexual component, victims of SASH, especially male victims of SASH from other males, are often initially reluctant to report what happened. Was there an initial complaint made with the complainant unwilling to reveal all of the details? Was a complaint delayed due to the factors described above?  Since we don’t even know what the nature of the incident was, we obviously don’t have the answers to such questions.

Analysis

Now let’s put this in perspective. First, the incident is being investigated by the professionals of the Office of Inspector General rather than the usual, untrusted, suspects in the Academy leadership chain of command. Often, the OIG will issue a report at the conclusion of an investigation. Although due to privacy issues, we can only expect to see a redacted report or perhaps even only a summary, there should nevertheless be far more transparency than we are used to seeing from an investigation conducted by the current Academy leadership.

Second, while the suspension of the soccer team and the delayed graduation of midshipmen is of great importance to members of the team and the accused midshipmen, it does not compare to the gravity of the sea year stand down cancellation that destroyed a core component of the Academy’s curriculum.  Termination of a varsity sport does not threaten the careers and future of the entire Regiment of Midshipmen.

Both of the above factors counsel in favor of letting the investigation take its course and seeing what it reveals. All stakeholders should support a proper investigation.**  If it turns out that there was misconduct, then that needs to be dealt with in accordance with the Midshipmen Regulations and, if appropriate, the law.

What next?

The fact that I am advocating a wait-and-see attitude does not mean that I do not see concerns and questions that need to be addressed. I intend to follow this investigation and will follow up with questions that are not answered.  Key questions I have at this point:

  • When was this incident reported to the Academy administration and why did it take until two weeks before graduation to take action?
  • What is the justification for suspending the soccer team while the investigation is pending? Normally, except where there is evidence of a serious ongoing situation, one waits for the conclusion of an investigation before taking punitive action.
  • Will the imposition of a suspension prior to the completion of an investigation discourage future reporting of incidents? Helis has stated that there has been a reluctance on the part of midshipmen to report incidents of SASH.  But, if a midshipmen encounters SASH in a sport that he or she participates in, won’t fear that reporting the incident will lead to a suspension of the team discourage reporting (particularly since sports are a key way that midshipmen use to temporarily escape from the regimented life at the Academy)?
  • Even when allegations of misconduct on a sports team are proven, normally a suspension of the program is imposed only when the problem is systemic and spans several years.  Is there any justification for such a suspension in this case?  It doesn’t sound like it; indeed, if the rumors that only first classmen  were among the offenders are true, then suspending the team when the offenders will not even be on the team in the fall seems extraordinarily unfair.
  • Was the sudden action taken by Helis against the midshipmen and the team due to new information he recently learned; or was it because now that the OIG is investigating, he wants to be perceived as taking bold action?
  • What was the legal authority Helis relied upon to deny midshipmen the right to graduate?  Were the midshipmen given a hearing and opportunity to address the charges against them before this action was taken?

A note to commenters. I am going to be particularly restrictive about approving comments on this topic. Emotions are running high and the primary purpose of the post is to explain why I’m not posting further about the issue — not to generate additional commentary. Let’s remain focused on the issues that are existential threats to the Academy — restoration of sea year; getting reaccreditation approved; and the current Academy leadership.

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** If anyone has information relating to the incident, I urge them to contact the OIG. The contact info is as follows:

David Wonnenberg
DOT-OIG Senior Congressional and Public Affairs Officer
Eric Weems
DOT-OIG Congressional and Public Affairs Officer
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17 Comments

  1. I totally agree with concentrating on the major issues at hand, i.e. accreditation, sea year and Academy leadership. How do we do this?

    We need a new Maritime Administrator in place pronto to address and resolve these things. How can we get this done?

    I know Sec Chao is busy with things like infrastructure, air traffic controllers and so on. But she needs to live up to her confirmation hearing promises to address Kings Point problems.

    What to do? I wrote a letter to Sec Chao encouraging her to name a new Maritime Administrator as soon as possible to address the accreditation and sea year problems.

    Thanks again to The Kings Point Sentry for your work.

  2. Thank you for a proper reasoned response to the issue. Full support from the stakeholders of a proper investigation should be given IMHO.

  3. Your post is why I appreciate KPS. It is measured. It is reasonable and it keeps it’s eye on the prize– sea year restoration and accreditation. None of us is capable of commenting on this incident and I suspect, were it not for a general lack of confidence and trust in Helis, the handling of the situation would be done in the normal and acceptable course of business. ( as you stated, feel free to post this at your discretion. Just wanted to you to know that I believe you are taking the right approach).

  4. I appreciate your thoughtful response. Often people insist on “KP At All Costs” stance, while I certainly hope the incident was far less serious than sexual assault or damaging harassment, I agree that an investigation should be treated respectfully with commentary on the situation held in abeyance until facts are clear. If the investigation centers on SASH issue, though, I wonder at the administtation’s failure to act even as SASH concerns have been at the center of the Sea Year stand down.

  5. It has be my experience that military commanding officers have been either reassigned or relieved due to non-confidence while there is an active Inspector General investigation concerning allegations of SASH or hazing incidents. While I applaud your approach, I think the soccer team incident shouldn’t be taken in isolation but rather included as yet another example of the current leadership’s failure to communicate swiftly, succinctly, and continuously at all ranks (classes and stakeholders) the seriousness and potential outcomes ANY misconduct could have to the academy and their futures. The colloquialism “you do the same thing, you get the same result” seem apropros, but perhaps Archilochos said it best: “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

    • Great point! There is a Systemic Lack of Institutional Control at the Academy currently, as evidenced by this and many other documented examples. The responsibility for leadership failures lies firmly at the feet of one person, James Helis.

      As Superintendent, then he must be held responsible and be summarily dismissed. That would send a message about the consequences of poor leadership which the Mids should never forget, and hopefully will never follow his example of.

      #DrainWileyHall

    • If Helis acted improperly in handling the soccer incident, then it very much is a part of “keeping our eyes on the ball”.

      With another case he has kicked another student out for Sea Year Projects failure, with a false reason of violation of ACPRO on the Recommendation For Disenrollment. The student was no longer on probation of any sorts. It ended the Trimester before Sea Year Tri began.

      The Super is shameless. The Dean and MARAD IG needs to be investigated as well for letting a false reason be used to deny an implied benefit.

      • I still think we have to let the soccer situation run its course by letting the IG do his or her job. If Helis did something wrong there, hopefully the IG will pick up on it. If these mids did nothing wrong, I feel bad for them, but hopefully it will work out. So the lawyers sort it out.Sea year and accreditation remain the priorities and I suspect both of those topics, not the soccer team, r where opposition to Helis will b the strongest.
        In line with that thought, IF a student was disenrolled by Helis under false pretenses regarding sea year and ACPRO, as you say, he and his parents should be in touch with their lawyers and their elected representatives immediately. I personally know a mid who got a lower grade on a portion of his sea year project because the info needed for the project was simply not part of the cheapened sea year experience provided to him. I urged the mid to challenge the grade on those grounds but he indicated to me that his other grades were all very good and that he didn’t want to dwell on the negative. Unlike the mid you describe in your post, there was never even a question of academic probation with this mid.

  6. OK, now we have the Soccer Team Stand Down. Punishment for the masses… Does anything at this bloody school work right? The 2017 Yearbook is an abomination.

  7. Would appreciate any update on the midshipmen who were denied graduation. I saw a post today from MARAD affirming the fact that the Soccer Program remains suspended and will not compete this fall as the August 1 NCAA deadline is past.

  8. Everything anyone, including me, has to say about the soccer team situation,is pretty much guess work or speculation. That said, based upon what seems to be out there, I have to say the following;
    1. The alleged perpetrators , all seniors apparently, have left the school. If they do or do not graduate or get disciplined is yet to be determined. As such, however,the soccer team suspension is clearly a form of collective punishment of those who so far are not even not complicit in the behavior at issue. (BTW, the use of collective punishment has traditionally been a method used by tyrants to exert control).
    2 Supposedly, Helis did conduct an investigation back in the fall and no charges resulted. That’s the closest thing we have so far to any actual finding of guilt or innocence.
    3. The “soccer stand down” is only punishing those not even accused and is particularly unfair to this year’s seniors ( their last chance to play) and to the plebes who were recruited in some way to play soccer. ( broken commitment again).
    4. Most importantly, the institution of such extreme collective punishment will again DISCOURAGE the reporting of legitimate SASH complaints and that would be a shame.
    5. We could have another Duke lacrosse team situation if the charges are not sustained.
    Obviously something may come out that changes my opinion, but again, the excessive history of secrecy lack of communication from the academy and blatant misrepresentations of facts regarding SASH make trusting administration decisions difficult.

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