LOGAN – The Utah State Aggie football team was supposed to board a plane Friday afternoon bound for Fort Collins, Colorado to face the Colorado State Rams in their season finale. The trip isn’t happening.
According to Stadium’s Brett McMurphy, the players are boycotting the game over comments made about interim head coach Frank Maile’s religious and ethnic background by Utah State University President Noelle Cockett. Cockett and Athletic Director John Hartwell reportedly conducted a virtual meeting with the football team’s leadership council to gauge their opinion of Maile’s candidacy to be the permanent head coach.
“The team’s leadership council raised issues about Cockett’s comments regarding Maile, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Murphy’s report states. “The players were so “dumbfounded” by Cockett’s comments that a player conducted an anonymous players-only survey asking the players if they were on the zoom call and whether they were concerned about anything they heard in the meeting.
“About three-fourths of the team that responded by Thursday mentioned they were concerned about the religious bias against Maile by Cockett.”
“I am devastated that my comments were interpreted as bias against anyone’s religious background,” Cockett said in a statement issued Friday afternoon. “Throughout my professional career and, especially, as president of USU, I have welcomed the opportunity to meet directly and often with students about their experiences.
“Regardless of how difficult the conversations might be in the coming days, I remain committed to giving our students a voice.”
Besides releasing comments made by President Noelle Cockett, the university said it will take time to meet with players and hear their concerns in an open dialogue so it can address them.
The team issued the following statement to Stadium:
“The Utah State football players have decided to opt out of our game against Colorado State due to ongoing inequality and prejudicial issues between the players, coaches, and the USU administration.
“On Tuesday, December 8th, the Utah State University Football Leadership Council held a zoom meeting with Noelle Cockett, President of USU, and John Hartwell, the Athletic Director. The purpose of the meeting was to have a say in the search for our new head coach. During the meeting, we voiced our support for Interim Head Coach Frank Maile. In response to our comments, their primary concern was his religious and cultural background. Players, stating their diverse faiths and backgrounds, then jumped to Coach Frank Maile’s defense in treating everyone with love, equality, and fairness.
“It is not the first time issues of repeated discrimination have happened. In December 2019, our head equipment manager used a racial slur against one of our African-American teammates. After disregarding the incident, pressure resurfaced to investigate in the summer of 2020. After the investigation, the administration concluded he would continue to be employed.
“We want our message to be clear that this has nothing to do with the hiring of Coach Blake Anderson, the recently-named head coach of the program. We are sure he is an excellent coach; we look forward to meeting him and his staff. We are highlighting the ongoing problems of inequality and want to create a better future for the community of Logan and Utah State University.”
“USU also takes issues of racial discrimination seriously, including the incident mentioned in the statement about a USU Athletics employee,” the university statement added. “USU hired an outside investigator to look into the incident, and took disciplinary action.”
McMurphy reports that the team held a players-only meeting Friday morning that lasted for more than an hour. They voted unanimously to not play the season finale because of these issues.
Maile has been connected to USU since he played for the Aggies from 2004-2007. He joined the USU coaching staff in 2009 and continued on through 2013 before coaching the defensive line at Vanderbilt. Maile returned to USU in 2016 and has served as the interim head coach twice.
On Thursday, reports surfaced that USU was selecting Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson to be its next head coach. USU has not confirmed the hire.