A report from the San Francisco Chronicle on the investigations of the Cal football strength program’s liability in the 2014 death of Ted Agu and 2013 hospitalization of Fabiano Hale has led chancellor Nicholas Dirks to order a new probe into the program.
The Berkeley Faculty Association asked Dirks not to renew strength coach Damon Harrington‘s $150,000 contract until a new, independent investigation could clear Harrington from liability in the incidents. Dirks agreed to launch a new investigation but did not address Harrington’s contract situation or his presumptive role in the incidents.
“While I am gratified that the chancellor is taking the matter seriously, I am disappointed that the new investigation he proposes is confined to (assessing the current program) and not the culpability of coach Harrington,” sociology professor and Faculty Association co-chair Michael Burawoy told SF Gate. “It suggests that the university is in thrall to its athletics department, or more precisely, the revenue it is supposed to bring.”
Agu’s February 2014 death came after he collapsed during a workout designed and supervised by Harrington and his staff, and three months earlier Hale was attacked by a teammate for missing a workout and left concussed and unconscious, an attack that two players told the San Francisco Chronicle was “incited” by Harrington.
Furthermore, the Chronicle found a subsequent investigation into Cal’s strength department was conducted by John Murray, a private strength coach and “friend and colleague” of head Cal strength coach Mike Balsquez and UC Davis athletics medical director Jeffrey Tanji, who the Bears’ team physician Casey Batten. The paper also wrote that Cal football players interviewed by investigators Murray and Tanji were hand-picked by the athletics department. The investigation agreed with coroner’s original report Agu died of a heart condition, but the corner’s finding was later changed to complications from sickle cell trait, which Harrington and his staff knew Agu had.
“It’s unimaginable that (Harrington) still is on the payroll or on campus,” Cal professor Michael O’Hare told the Chronicle. “It’s incomprehensible that none of the people in the whole chain of command has done anything — especially given the press recently on sexual harassment.”
Former Cal chief of staff John Cummins added, “Obviously, there is a conflict of interest there, or at least an appearance of a conflict. The death of a football player, and a player-on-player assault that led to one player being hospitalized with a major concussion — these are very serious matters. You need an independent body or individual to look very carefully at this.”
A number of current Golden Bears took to Twitter to defend Harrington.
Harrington’s contract has been renewed twice since the Agu and Hale incidents, and was up for renewal again Friday. A Cal spokesman did not return a message from CFT seeking clarification on Harrington’s contract situation.