Since August, Plano East High School baseball coaches Travis Collins and Reagan Allen have been on paid administrative leave. Per a report from the Dallas Morning News, we now know why: An ISD investigation turned up a pattern of downright abusive behavior from the two coaches. The hazing, according to the investigation, included racial and gay slurs, ridiculing injured players, ignoring concussions, and allowing a “fight club” to take place in the school’s batting cages. The investigation concluded in the fall, but the findings weren’t reported until the Morning News obtained a copy late last week.
“Training in regard to coach/athlete respect and sensitivity is embedded in topics and sessions that occur annually,” the statement said. “Additional reinforcement related to teacher/student interactions will be covered during the August in-service training.”
Parents first raised concerns with the coaches last spring. In May and June, some parents contacted district officials about rumors of the fight club and accusations of racist and other derogatory comments. They also alleged Collins and Allen were indifferent about students’ health and safety.
After reviewing allegations from the last few years, the investigation sustained some claims but described others as unfounded.
The Morning News reports that they received a statement declaring that Collins and Allen have been removed from the program, but it’s unclear exactly when that decision was made. For their part, both coaches deny the claims against them, blaming players who were “upset about their lack of playing time.”
Stories like this tend to get framed as he-said/he-said, and that frame is at work here, too. (CBS-DFW interviewed a handful of players who are supportive of the coaches over the weekend.) It’s worth noting, though, that this is less of a he-said/he-said story, and more of a he-said/they-said-then-an-school-district-investigation-determined-that-it-actually-happened.
The allegations substantiated by the investigation are serious. Coaches allegedly used gay slurs against injured players (“Students said the coaches used slurs and called a student with an injured back ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ referring to the movie about two men in a gay relationship”) and unspecified racial slurs, ignored concussion protocols, belittled injured players, and set machines on “rapid fire” in order to intimidate players they didn’t want on the team during tryouts.
The coaches claim that the allegations were “half-truths” taken out of context by investigators, but if that’s true, those investigators were able to parse some of them from others—allegations that the coaches actively pressured injured players to play, or that they refused to provide adequate water to the team, or that they allowed students with failing grades to play were found to be unsubstantiated.
Reading between the lines, it seems likely that the investigation isn’t something that Plano ISD wanted out in the public—the coaches haven’t been active in the program all year, but the results of the investigation were only reported in recent days. The school responded to the Dallas Morning News report with only a brief statement, and offered no comment to Texas Monthly.
That’s not unexpected. The allegations come at a bad time—a Plano East baseball product, Jake Arietta, won the MLB Cy Young Award in the fall, and hazing in high school sports is under increased scrutiny at the moment. (The second season of ABC’s American Crime focuses on the issue.) Coaching misbehavior has also been a national story recently, with football coaches at John Jay High School in San Antonio under fire after two players assaulted a ref in the middle of a game last fall. The coaches themselves may no longer be with the program, but it’s not a surprise that the school would rather not publicize why that’s the case.
It’s also not surprising that the coaches would deny both the allegations and the efficacy of the investigation—something that’s aided by a less than forthcoming school district. Some of the players on the team may continue to support Collins and Allen—even coaches whose behavior has been determined to have been abusive to some players can have favorites—but the entire affair is messy and leaves a lot of questions left to be answered. Chief among them, though, is who we’re entrusting with the authority to develop boys into men, and what it means when that authority goes to the wrong people.