Staff Editorial: WKU should be more open about disciplined athletes

THE ISSUE: A few WKU athletes have been disciplined this semester for violating unknown team rules. Other athletes who have been arrested appear not to have been disciplined.

OUR STANCE: The athletic department should be more open in releasing information about WKU athletes. When an athlete has been suspended, the lack of details only leaves fans to speculate, and Topper fans deserve explanations.

Win or lose, the Toppers have devoted fans. And because of that, much is expected of WKU athletes with not only their grades, but also with their behavior. Whether their faults are small and within the team rules or displayed publicly, they should be handled openly.

Most of WKU’s student athletes maintain good grades and don’t need to be disciplined for inappropriate behavior.

But that’s not always the case.

This fall, there have been four instances of WKU athletes either being cited by their coaches for violation of team rules or arrested for breaking the law.

Most recently, senior guard Amy McNear was suspended from the first three Lady Topper games of the season. Her violation remains unknown to the public.

In October, junior setter Lauren Stuckel was dismissed from the volleyball team – with no chance of returning this season – to uphold a certain level of team integrity, according to Head Coach Travis Hudson.

And in September, senior outfielder Kory Petri and sophomore pitcher Taylor Haydel were arrested and charged with public intoxication during tailgating, but any consequences for those actions from the baseball team are unknown. Petri was arrested and charged again during tailgating earlier this month.

Senior Associate Athletic Director Todd Stewart offered statements for all of these incidents noting that their policy dictates such matters would be handled internally.

While the Herald understands respecting the privacy of WKU athletes in some situations, we also think that within a department partly funded by tuition money and fan or alumni donations, transparency should be standard.

Fans should have access to the exact offense and punishment that a student athlete receives. Being open and specific about the offenses and their consequences allows public oversight of the Athletics department and athletes. It helps ensure fairness and accountability in disciplinary issues.

Moreover, the punishments should be consistent. For instance, McNear was suspended for unknown reasons. However, senior forward Arnika Brown’s Lady Topper status was unchanged at the start of the 2008 season, though she was arrested and charged with 11 felony counts involving using forged instruments in her hometown of Hopkinsville. Those charges were later reduced to misdemeanors through plea agreement.

As far as the Herald has been informed, the baseball players were not disciplined either, though we were again told the situation was handled internally.

McNear’s offense could have been an honest mistake such as arriving late to class or practice, but the public wouldn’t know that.

No comment from the Athletics department leaves plenty of room for speculation on the part of fans. Some could guess that the suspended players had even worse offenses because those who broke the law weren’t suspended. That probably isn’t the case, but without even a brief statement from officials, the WKU community can only wonder.

It’s only fair to the athletes to remove any speculation that might be worse than their actual offense.

We know that student athletes are only human; they will make mistakes. They’re not the only ones. But because of their status as public figures on campus and role models to some, they should operate on a stricter standard than other students. And the Athletics department shouldn’t shy away from making the details of disciplinary action public.

The Herald isn’t asking for more than we’re willing to do ourselves. When one of our staffers is arrested or dismissed for violating our standards, we publish the details about it ,just as we would about anyone else. That’s because we too are semi-public figures on campus, and transparency is important.

We know an athlete’s suspension or dismissal is an isolated incident, and the majority of WKU’s student athletes represent the univerisity well. But when a player is missing from the game, their talent goes unused and the team suffers – along with the university.

The athletes are no different than Spirit Masters, forensics team members, professors or any other group with WKU stamped to their daily duties and public performances.

These young men and women who violate rules aren’t the entire Athletics department, but because they are prominent parts of it, they, like all other WKU athletes, represent our institution even when they’re not in their uniforms.

When little children sport jerseys and WKU gear at games, they shouldn’t have any reason to doubt the person whose number they happily wear. And when fans wave their red towels to cheer on these athletes, they should be able to do so proudly without questioning why a player is missing from the lineup.

This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Herald’s 10-member editorial board.