USU football players reportedly boycotting season finale because of religious bias

Utah State interim head coach Frank Maile runs off the field after the game Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/Herald Journal via AP, Pool)

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.

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  • Don December 11, 2020 at 5:55 pm Reply

    “I am devastated that my comments were interpreted as bias against anyone’s religious background.” – Pres. Cockett

    Now I want to know what she said. She has to know that with the cancel culture that is so prevalent, she should be more careful about what she says. Notice her wording that she isn’t denying she said something but rather pinning it on other people for misinterpreting her, which is a dangerous sign.

    I won’t make a judgment until we know what she did or didn’t say, but honestly she could lose her job over this. It is generally less politically incorrect to be biased against Mormons than it would be racial or other protected classes (even in Utah), so she might get away with it. If there is proof of racial bias on top of the religious bias accusation, then she won’t. I think she has done a great job as president so far, so it would be disappointing to lose her. We will see if she survives.

  • Jon December 11, 2020 at 7:23 pm Reply

    The regents need to do their job and get rid of her.

  • Donald James Graham December 11, 2020 at 10:26 pm Reply

    As an alumni (Class of ’77) I find having the head of the University spoting such hateul ideas. Maybe I see the past through nostalgic eyes, but I do not remember anyone having such offensive opinions during my time there. When I arrived at USU I had absolutely no knowledge of Mormonism, their beliefs or their attitudes. 4 Years later when I left I had nothing but respect for them. Between the religous bigotry and the racial issue also raised in this article it seems Cockett has much to answer for

  • Condorman December 12, 2020 at 3:32 am Reply

    I guess this is one way to avoid being constantly embarrassed on the field. Do the players no that pretty much nobody on the planet cares that they aren’t going to play, if the news didn’t report it most people in CV would have never known.

  • Jimmy Fallon December 12, 2020 at 6:22 am Reply

    The article needs to clarify why these students think she is biased against LDS. Race card I could understand, but LDS?? Most of the school is LDS, most of the faculty is LDS. It’s like if she was president at Liberty University and said this about a Christian coach, sorry doesn’t make sense to me.

    • Polly Polygamy December 16, 2020 at 9:28 am Reply

      Exactly – People get jobs in this state ALLLLL the time because of their religious affiliation to the Mormon church. Why is it only acknowledged & considered a problem when the same discrimination is used against someone in that community?

  • David December 12, 2020 at 9:32 am Reply

    There is systemic anti-religious bias in academia. In Utah Mormonism is the easy target. USU profs often express this bias. Expressing this bias by the president in any way out loud is illegal and unethical. She should be fired if verified and the sooner the better!!! I am proud of the team for their character and integrity in this issue. Three cheers for people who make a peaceful and meaningful statement

    • A December 12, 2020 at 2:46 pm Reply

      As a USU faculty member who has met President Cockett several times, I find it most likely that whatever she said was misunderstood by the players and what she meant to say was not offensive. I’ve seen no evidence of anti-LDS bias on her part. Quite the contrary, she has a history of hiring, promoting, and working with many members of the church. If she harbored such bias, it would be evident long before now. As a member of the church myself, I have never seen any such bias at USU among my colleagues. There are a few that I know (some of whom I work closely with) who aren’t exactly friendly to the church, but that does not translate to bias against members in the workplace or classroom. I can’t speak to other departments, but that’s how it is in mine, which is one of the larger departments on campus. I hear many stories of such bias at other universities, but I don’t hear those stories at USU.

      I wish we had a quote of what was actually said and the context so that we could actually understand the situation. In its absence, though, there seems to be quite the lynch mob mentality. My own experience tells me that this is simply a case of poor word choice leading to a misunderstanding of President Cockett’s meaning. We all say things that are misinterpreted by and unintentional cause hurt. I think that’s all this is.

  • Kralon December 12, 2020 at 11:14 am Reply

    We really need to know what she said to be able to respond. However, comments regarding the coach’s religious and cultural background should NEVER have been mentioned when discussing why he wasn’t qualified. I would expect the president of a university to know this.

  • dave December 12, 2020 at 5:57 pm Reply

    It is very upsetting at a President of a State University would say anything during a hiring process about a person’s religion or cultural background. I thought we have protections in place against religious discrimination, and racism.
    It really does matter exactly what she may of said if it her comments could have be construed in any way that religion and race were discussed during a hiring process. Shame on her.
    Why do our Regent’s in the Great State of Utah put up with this, didn’t Utah State have another issue of racial comments by employee’s this year?

  • Dave Langi December 13, 2020 at 1:44 am Reply

    A fruit can be peeled differently. For example, the owner of the Salt Lake Real soccer team made some remarks that made some people uncomfortable. The country’s soccer fans and others were up in arms for his hide. Let’s see how this situation will play out. When it comes to equality that women demand, it is not so provocative when a woman is involved or accused.

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