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IG investigating Air Force Academy athletic department as report on misconduct published

Aug. 3, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
AFA FOOTBALL
An Air Force football player catches a pass during the first day of practice of the 2014 season on July 31. Air Force Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson said that the school's athletic department is under investigation. (Michael Ciaglo / The Colorado Springs Gazette via)
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COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — The Air Force Academy said Sunday it has launched an investigation of its athletic department and is demanding more accountability from coaches after the Colorado Springs Gazette reported allegations of lax oversight and athlete misconduct.

Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, the academy’s superintendent, released a statement acknowledging “troubling” behavior by some athletes and other cadets. She cited a 2011 party that eventually led to the court-martial and expulsions of several cadets, some for sexual misconduct.

Johnson told The Gazette that the academy inspector general’s office will look into the athletic department to determine whether sports programs promote the school’s ideals.

Johnson recently summoned coaches to a meeting and told them continued misconduct by athletes would put the school in a predicament like Penn State, where former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of child sexual abuse, said Hans Mueh, the academy athletic director.

“(The coaches) still talk to me and say, ‘I have never been chewed out like that before,’” Mueh told The Gazette.

Johnson said she made her expectations clear, and in response, coaches and athletes have created several programs to explain and enforce academy standards. A group called Cadet Athletes Against Sexual Violence produced a video pledging to fight sexual violence, she said.

The Gazette reviewed hundreds of pages of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act that shed new light on the 2011 party and an earlier one in 2010. Air Force investigators looked into allegations of heavy drinking and drug use at both parties, and claims of the use of date-rape drugs and sexual misconduct at the 2011 party, the documents showed.

Several weeks after the 2010 party, investigators seized synthetic marijuana during a raid on six dorm rooms. Twenty-one cadets were expelled and five resigned, but it’s not known how many were athletes.

No one was prosecuted as a direct result of the 2011 party, but it prompted an investigation of 32 cadets for alleged misconduct.

Johnson said three cadets were court-martialed, convicted and expelled — two football players and a female basketball player. Five other athletes received administrative punishment that resulted in expulsion, and six cadets resigned.

Three other cadets were expelled for what was described as unrelated misconduct.

Johnson said the alleged drug use and sexual misconduct “obviously is unacceptable.” She also said academic standards have been raised for the academy’s preparatory school, which helps athletes and other potential cadets meet the institution’s admission requirements.

Mueh acknowledged that some Air Force athletes convicted of crimes or found culpable for other violations never should have been recruited.

“Obviously, we shouldn’t have brought any of them in — in hindsight,” he said.

Mueh and head football coach Troy Calhoun said the school is now focusing more on the character of potential recruits, interviewing teachers, school janitors, parents and neighbors.

Coaches have been told if they ignore a recruit’s problems or an athlete’s misconduct, they will be fired, Calhoun said.

“If you’re an enabler in any way, if you’re tolerating — that’s out of line,” he said. “You’re not going to work here.”

Johnson said that after she became superintendent in August 2013, she noticed some cadets were more loyal to teams, cliques or friends than they were to the school’s honor code. The code states, “We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably.”

Johnson said the investigation, the new standards, her expectations for coaches and the new programs in the athletic department are designed to root out what she called “certain subcultures” that are out of step with the school’s standards of commitment and respect.

She said all cadets are being told to take greater responsibility for discipline, and if they see misconduct, they are ordered to protect victims and take steps to ensure lawbreakers are punished.

A few cadets will still make “poor choices,” Johnson said, but she pledged to focus on creating a better culture.

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