A racist incident at Amherst College has led to a year-long probation for the school’s nationally ranked men’s lacrosse team and the firing of head coach John Thompson, the Daily Hampshire Gazette reports.
The probation is set to last until June 30, 2021, with the team now required to complete educational training and other programs following the incident targeting a Black teammate. The punishment comes after several players reportedly chanted the N-word at the Black student, who then punched a teammate for using the slur during the March 7 incident.
The squabble was first reported by student-run paper The Amherst Student earlier this month. It marked the second reported bias incident involving the men’s lacrosse team within the past year.
“It’s important for us to recognize and acknowledge that both the use of racial epithets on our campus and physical violence causes harm not only to the individuals involved but to the community as a whole,” Dean of Students Liz Agosto wrote in an email blast to students March 9.
College leadership, including Amherst President Biddy Martin and athletics director Don Faulstick, have since addressed the incident in a letter to the campus community, one in which they highlighted multiple instances of troubling behavior by the men’s lacrosse program.
“Participation in athletics at Amherst is a privilege, not a right,” the letter reads. “Amherst athletes are required to follow the behavioral standards set by the athletic department and the College honor code as well.”
The team, which ranked No. 7 in the nation before the season was cut short due to the recent pandemic, will now miss out on the 2021 postseason.
In addition to probation, team members are barred from participating in any formal team gatherings, including player-led practices and bonding activities, until Nov. 1, 2020. The players must also undergo an educational course chosen by provost Catherine Epstein with input from the college’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, according to the Gazette.
“We realize that not every student on the men’s lacrosse team has actively participated in the violations that have come to light,” the letter continued. “However, as with any group or organization on our campus, teammates are accountable to each other and, as a team, also to the larger community. In short, we cannot ignore the harmful culture that exists on the men’s lacrosse team, and its damage to our community.”
In the memo, Martin, Faulstick and Epstein detailed a number of other incidents that led to their decision to bench the team. The administrators pointed to a social media group chat in which players made “denigrating and ridiculing” remarks about transgender staff members.
But it didn’t end there. The team has also been responsible, in previous years, of vandalizing dorms and putting undue stress on custodial and facilities staff at the Massachusetts campus.
Martin’s letter added that the lacrosse players have been uncooperative in the investigation into the N-word incident, with players refusing to name the individual responsible for starting the racist chant.
“A team culture that repeatedly violates standards of human decency and then protects those who have perpetuated these violations is not a culture acceptable at Amherst,” Martin said.
Coach Thompson led the team to its first national championship game last year and was in the midst of his 10th season with the program before his firing this week.