Utah State University head football coach Blake Anderson acknowledged in a statement Friday that he had told his players it “has never been more glamorized to be a victim” of sexual assault. And he apologized for saying it.
“I regret the words I used, and I apologize to anyone who has bravely come forward with allegations of wrongdoing,” Anderson said in a comment released by the school.
On Thursday, Utah State University had said that it was investigating the comments that attorneys attributed to Anderson. The remarks from the coach came in a second recording obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune and are mentioned as part of a lawsuit filed this week by student Kaytriauna Flint.
The suit also referred to a recording of USU police Chief Earl Morris telling players in a separate meeting to beware of having sex with Latter-day Saint women because they might later feel “regret” and report it as nonconsensual. USU put Morris on administrative leave, saying its police chief “must have the trust of the campus,” and he later resigned Thursday.
After that, some pointed specifically to Anderson’s comment that it is glamorous to be a victim of sexual assault, and asked for the school to examine it as well. The Aggies are headed to a national bowl game against Oregon State this weekend.
USU said in a new statement Friday that the comments from the coach came in August, the day after the chief had talked to the team. The school also noted that the meetings occurred a month after football team members participated in a required Title IX sexual misconduct prevention training.
The coordinator of USU’s Title IX office was at the meeting where the coach spoke, too, as was the outreach and prevention coordinator from the school’s Sexual Assault and Anti-Violence Information office, or SAAVI.
Those two USU employees are tasked with being advocates for sexual assault victims. USU spokesperson Amanda DeRito later clarified that they both left before the coach’s comments.
The school in its Friday statement added: “The university reiterates that students who experience sexual misconduct must be able to trust in USU so they feel comfortable coming forward, whether to seek help or report. ...
“USU will be working diligently to address these issues in our campus community and will provide more information on steps taken in the future,” the statement continued.
In the 40-minute recording of the meeting, Anderson goes on to warn the team that the players are “way more at risk” of being accused of assault than others because they’re athletes and are a “target to some.”
In response to one of the players’ questions about “false reporting,” he says it’s “never been more talked about in the news right now” to be a victim of assault.
“And so you don’t need to put yourself in a position that you can create a victim,” he said. “And it doesn’t take a whole lot. So it scares the s--- out of me.”
He tells the players to be “really, really smart” in relationships in order to “stay out of trouble.” And that’s when he makes the “glamorized” comment.
DeRito had said Thursday in response to The Tribune’s questions about the coach that the school putting the chief on leave was a priority because of the position he held in responding to concerns from all students. She said USU was concerned about how Morris’ comment would hurt “trust” in the police department.
Utah State originally said Tuesday, when the recordings were first released, that the statements “are not consistent with the university’s trainings.”
Attempts to reach Anderson directly were unsuccessful. USU Athletic Director John Hartwell did not respond to a request for comment.
In his apology statement Friday, the coach said he appreciated “having an opportunity to address comments I made during a conversation with our team during our Fall camp.” His message, he said, was to encourage players to do the right thing.
“In the course of that conversation,” he added, “I used a phrase regarding victims of wrongdoing to magnify that message to our team, but after reading my comments in the transcript that was released, I realize my choice of words was hurtful.”
He continued: “We have to do everything we can to encourage and protect anybody who has been the victim of a wrong, or whose personal rights have been violated. Anyone who knows me knows how strongly I feel about this. Giving victims a safe platform to address wrongs they’ve suffered is always the right thing to do, and something I’ll always stand for.”
In the recording, the coach had mentioned that the team has “a very, very close to zero tolerance policy here” for sexual assault.
“So if you do something wrong, you deserve every bit of what’s coming,” he said. “But if you didn’t, you deserve every protection of what the law provides, and we’ll do everything we can to help.”
He said, too, that if a player comes to his office to talk about assaulting someone, he is obligated to report it. “Even if I don’t want to call, I have to do so. So you need to understand confidential space,” he added.
Susan Chasson, a sexual assault examiner who has worked in Utah for 30 years, said Thursday that she was concerned by the coach’s comments about victims.
“As a health care provider, I know what the lifelong impact is of sexual assault on women’s health, and I also know the majority of women already never come forward,” she said. “When comments like this are out there, what incentive would a woman have to come forward?”
She added: “It just sets up an environment where women will not be believed.”
The process of reporting an assault is already very challenging, Chasson said, as survivors must repeatedly recount what happened and undergo being examined.
In 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice detailed a pattern of mistreatment of victims at USU and said allegations against the school’s football players and fraternity members received “minimal investigation” when an accusation was made.
Chasson believes USU has started working to fix attitudes there, but said the comments to the football players are a setback and should be addressed from the top.
And she wants the Title IX Office there to note why that kind of attitude from a coach is problematic.
“It also needs to start with men, but obviously the type of education that was given to the football players is not appropriate,” she said. “The reality is we are never going to prosecute every sex assault. But we certainly can prevent a lot of damage to women by treating them differently [than is done now].”
The Title IX coordinator told the players in the recorded meeting that most of the cases she sees deal with students not understanding consent. The two employees attended to explain the school’s process when an allegation is made.
“Our office is the investigatory body that investigates allegations,” the coordinator of Title IX said, according to the recording. “We also provide supportive measures and help individuals that have experienced sexual misconduct. And I want to emphasize first off that I have seen both sides of that with our football team.”
In response to a question from one player about continuing to play football after an allegation, she also noted that, “unless there’s like a really heightened immediate threat, the person is still going to continue to play until the process plays out, which takes about four months.” She said she wants the players to be successful and “have amazing careers.”
The coordinator from SAAVI talked about how the process at her office is confidential for people to get help.
The recordings surfaced as Flint, who reported she had been sexually assaulted by a football player in 2019, alleged in court papers that the university continues to protect its football team and brushes aside women who report assaults by members.
Her claims about the player come after USU football linebacker Torrey Green was convicted in 2019, after his graduation, of sexually assaulting six women while he was a student at the Logan school.
—Tribune reporter Jessica Miller contributed to this story.
Editor’s note: If you need to report or discuss a sexual assault, you can call the Rape & Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 888-421-1100.