SI Vault
Rick Reilly
February 27, 1989
Under coach Bill McCartney, Colorado football has taken off, but so has ugly criminal behavior among the Buffalo players
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February 27, 1989

What Price Glory?

Under coach Bill McCartney, Colorado football has taken off, but so has ugly criminal behavior among the Buffalo players

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Critics of the Colorado program suggest that McCartney has lost control of his athletes. But some observers say that Boulder gives the Buffs a difficult time—especially if they are black, as most of the arrestees have been. Both Boulder and the university are overwhelmingly white; in the 1980 census blacks accounted for 1.5% of the city's population, a percentage that has not changed significantly. Blacks also make up less than 2% of Colorado's student body.

Says Theo Gregory, the academic coordinator for the athletic department, "If you're a black football player here, you're ethnically a minority because you're black, socially a minority because you're an athlete, culturally a minority because you might come from the projects, economically a minority because you can't afford to drive a BMW and physically a minority because you're bigger than everybody else. Somebody racially slurs you, and you might have a tendency to overreact."

The Colorado athletic department also complains that the local press is too quick to turn a snowflake into an avalanche, and the local police are too eager to make collars for fighting. Says defensive tackle Joe Avila, "Most places, they just break up the fight and send everybody home." Says Colorado sports publicist Dave Plati, "If a punch is thrown in Laramie, do you think it makes Page One?"

Ironically, McCartney had been regarded as a strict disciplinarian. He insists that his players do their class-work, and, in fact, his team is believed to have a respectable graduation rate. The athletic department's drug policy is among the firmest in the country—Colorado athletes are automatically suspended from participating in sports for one year the first time that they test positive. McCartney also has been trying to confront the difficulties faced by black athletes. Once a year, the Buffaloes' black players meet with black leaders from the Boulder area.

Starting in March, all players will be required to attend a 1½-hour date-rape seminar, with more seminars to come. And starting last fall, every freshman was given a "mentor"—a professor or university leader not associated with the athletic department—whom he can talk to. Unfortunately, the mentor program has looked good only on paper. For one thing, Reliford had a mentor. For another, there doesn't seem to be a lot of mentoring going on. For example, one mentor, assistant journalism dean Steve Jones, was assigned two freshmen in September and, as of February, he still hadn't met them.

What is most troubling is the general naiveté in the university administration about the football team's crime wave. When school president Gordon Gee was told of Aunese's arrest, he said, "I may...have to go over and personally emphasize the exemplary role we expect our athletes to play. Maybe hearing it from me will be helpful to them."

McCartney sometimes doesn't seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation either. After the Reliford arrest, he told Denver television reporter Jane Hampden, "Rape by definition is a violent act; an act whereby there's real physical violence involved, and so I don't think that's what we're talking about here."

Said Boulder district attorney Alex Hunter, "It's obvious to me that one more spot in that date-rape seminar should be reserved for the football coach."

Still, as bad as things have been in Boulder, Buffalo fans figure their team's troubles would barely make the 10 o'clock news in Norman, Okla. "If you look closely," McCartney says, "you'll notice that we haven't had anybody shoot anybody, we're not on probation, and our program is honest and forthright."

And in every detective's vest pocket.

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