The Air Force Academy says it has launched an investigation of its athletic department and is demanding more accountability from coaches after allegations of athlete misconduct and lax oversight.
The accusations were outlined in a Gazette article Sunday.
The Gazette cited documents that allege a group of cadets, including key members of the football team, engaged in drinking, using "spice" (also known as synthetic marijuana), and spiking women's drinks with date-rape drugs. The incidents mentioned in the article happened between 2010 and 2012.
Tom Roeder is the Senior Military Reporter at The Gazette who wrote the article. He said, "The party and that very scary specter of Rohypnol and sex drove a huge investigation called 'Operation Gridiron' that really opened the door into looking these athletes."
The situation was so serious that the Academy reportedly canceled a sting for fear undercover agents and informants wouldn't be able to protect women from being raped at a party planned as part of that sting, according to the Gazette.
In many of the cases cited, cadets were disciplined and even kicked out of the Academy, but the Gazette says at the time the Academy failed to effectively make deeper changes by doing things like holding coaches and school leadership accountable for cadets' behavior.
Instead, the Academy allegedly enrolled students who weren't committed to the school's honor code and values in its quest to build winning sports teams. Those winning teams, especially the football team, are a significant source of revenue.
“Frankly, they admit that they took risks on recruits in order to get athletes they need. They took people that did not meet their standards, but for the most part, academically,” said Roeder.
Johnson, who became superintendent last year, told The Gazette that the academy's inspector general's office will look into the athletic department to determine whether sports programs promote the academy's ideals.
Johnson also says the academy has established new recruiting standards for its preparatory school, which helps athletes and other potential cadets meet the institution's admission requirements.
She released a statement Sunday. It appears below in its entirety:
In part, recognition of this prior misconduct has caused us to refocus on our culture and climate. Since my arrival a year ago, we’ve taken a number of actions across the campus with the objective to even more deeply engrain a culture consistent with our core values. This past year I realigned a senior position to work directly for me as the sole point of contact for culture, climate and diversity issues. This office is aligning and monitoring our cultural sensors across the installation. Furthermore, I, along with my senior staff, have continued to emphasize accountability not just with the cadets, but with the permanent party.
I’ve personally visited the Athletic Department on several occasions to meet with the coaches and administrators to communicate my expectations and to highlight their important role in cadet development. The Athletic Department has responded. They’ve implemented several programs to ensure all cadet-athletes are living up to the Air Force’s core values. They established the Respect and Character Enrichment (RACE) committee that meets weekly to ensure teams and athletes are living up to our expectations. They recently sponsored a “Mentors in Violence Prevention Program” that included a seminar to over 120 athletes, including the football team, on gender violence. Additionally, as part of the new AF-wide Commander’s Inspector General (IG) program, I’ve asked the USAFA IG to start their review of the Mission Elements with the Athletic Department. These efforts will help in eliminating subcultures at the Air Force’s Academy whose climates do not align with our institutional core values.
A positive example of how the cadets are living up to the culture we expect includes a recently self-produced Cadet Athletes against Sexual Violence video. It shows our athletes making a pledge that they’ll take action to stop sexual violence. I also met with the Football Leadership Council last spring and am encouraged that they are taking ownership of their team’s climate.
Despite all of our efforts, I expect we’ll still have issues with a few young people who will make poor choices. However, I continue to pledge transparency and an emphasis on cadet development that provides the right culture and climate so that we can remain focused on the development of all 4,000 cadets and our bright future.