Leadership Questions for the Broncos and Buffs

Scandals for Colorado’s biggest sports institutions make it harder to enjoy sports as a safe-haven, Kessinger says.

“That’s when I really knew that I was alone.”

That line keeps coming back to me. With so many moments where sports served as a safe place in my life, it’s jarring to think of sports isolating someone else.

The quote is from the accuser currently pressing charges against former University of Colorado football assistant coach Joe Tumpkin. Sports Illustrated interviewed her in a story that sent reverberations around Buffaloes country.

In the story, Tumpkin’s accuser detailed a call she had with Buffaloes head coach Mike MacIntyre in December. She told MacIntyre that Tumpkin repeatedly beat her and she wanted the coach’s help to get Tumpkin treatment. MacIntyre told the woman that he would get back to her, but according to SI, neither he nor anyone else from the University did. The phone call was not reported to CU’s Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance. A couple of days later, MacIntyre announced that Tumpkin would receive the added responsibility of calling defensive plays for CU’s bowl game.

That action led to the accuser’s feeling of isolation.

CU lost its bowl game and within a day of the game, the accuser filed charges against Tumpkin. The University suspended Tumpkin before forcing him out. His trial is underway in Boulder.

The story brought back old feelings. CU has been here before. Back in the early 2000’s, a complicated scandal brought down the football program and took out much of CU’s administration in its wake.

Someone closely involved in that scandal became relevant on the front range again in recent weeks. The Denver Broncos new head coach Vance Joseph may have been run out of Boulder for his actions in 2005.

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A few weeks ago, the Vance Joseph introductory press conference as Broncos head coach was to be a celebration. Joseph, the former CU quarterback and coach, was back in Colorado. The Broncos spoke highly of Joseph’s ability to connect with players.

That evening, after the press conference, old allegations against Joseph resurfaced from his time as a coach at CU. The Boulder Daily Camera’s Mitchell Byars found the story in the paper’s archives and posted it to Twitter. The headline read: Vance Joseph, ex-CU Buffs assistant coach, investigated for sexual harassment.

Joseph was never charged with a crime or even questioned by authorities. The alleged incidents took place while he was married and a CU coach.

Sweeping aside the collective forgetfulness of the Denver press on the incident, the Broncos almost certainly knew about the allegations before hiring Joseph. Instead of giving the story to a media member to defuse it ahead of his hiring, they let it rest.

Perhaps the Broncos thought no one would find the old story. Maybe they thought fans wouldn’t care about the allegations. They were wrong on both counts. The perceived indifference on the issue isn’t a good look. It sends the wrong message about a serious problem.

Joseph has done just one interview after the allegations reemerged. The Denver Post’s Nicki Jhabvala was awarded the story.  Joseph denied the allegations of sexual assault, while also saying that he was disappointed and embarrassed by the situation.

The contrast of those two ideas cleared up nothing. He did nothing wrong, but he is also disappointed and embarrassed?

Paul Klee wrote eloquently about this complicated subject this week in the Colorado Springs Gazette. Broncos fans have no idea what to believe about Joseph in this instance. Joseph’s silence leaves us with more questions than answers.

As fans, we’re left to wonder where the leadership on this issue might come from in the future. I wish it could be from the flagship team in Denver. Joseph may turn into a great head coach, but this was his opportunity to show Broncos Country how to lead through difficult circumstances.

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“So how bad is it?” A friend asked as I read the SI story on Tumpkin on my phone.

“It’s hard to tell,” I said, dread overcoming me as I imagined another scandal at my alma mater. I had one clear thought: winning football games is not worth the endangerment of anyone.

It took the article in Sports Illustrated for the Buffs to comment on the Tumpkin’s incident. I’m guessing tense discussions took place in Boulder that afternoon. Finally, CU Chancellor Phil DiStefano released a statement.

In DiStefano’s statement, he made it clear that, going forward, MacIntyre and the entire athletic department have to report claims of domestic violence to CU’s Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance. That rule stands regardless of the victim’s relationship to the University or whether charges were filed in the legal system. Given CU and the NCAA’s history, it’s astounding that this wasn’t already the rule.

On Friday, MacIntyre ended his long stretch of silence on this matter by releasing a statement through the University.

“I would like to clarify the following reported statements,” MacIntyre said. “There were too separate conversations. The first was her report to me of abuse. In the second conversation, I communicated to her that I reported it.”

“Tumpkin was made the play caller for the bowl game because, at the time of the decision, there was no police report or legal complaint,” he continued. “This decision was approved by my superiors.”

“I want to be clear I unequivocally endorse the chancellor’s plans for improving CU’s policies and practices in dealing with matters of domestic violence and pledge that I and the entire football coaching staff will work to carry out our obligations under university policy.”

That statement could lead you to believe MacIntyre may feel more remorse for the alleged victim than it first appeared. One would hope so. We don’t know. For a man that takes pride in turning his players into men, how you treat women should be paramount in his guidance.

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Life goes on around football. In the world of NCAA football scandals, CU’s football program will survive this “minor” incident, barring new developments. This was a mistake in judgment that hopefully will not be repeated.

The Broncos are preparing for the NFL Draft. The doors of communication on the old Joseph incident will likely remain closed unless new details emerge.

I am fortunate. I do not know the fear and pain of domestic violence or sexual violence. I do not know what it’s like to feel isolated for a crime committed against me. I do not know how it feels to watch violent incidents dismissed or ignored in public, while I deal with my own pain.

Communication is key to leadership. The Denver Broncos and Colorado Buffaloes are leaders of men. They are leaders in Colorado.  Someday, I hope that they stand up against these issues. I hope that they choose to make sports a safe haven that isolates no one.

This post originally appeared on 5280 Sports Network, now a part of Mile High Sports