Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart met with the media for a press conference on Thursday to address the ongoing Title IX lawsuit that claims the university athletic department has created a “hostile sexual environment”.
“I can assure you at this university, this is discussed very frequently as it is in our department,” Hart said. “We’ve gone to great lengths to educate and I don’t think there’s a team meeting that takes place where coaches don’t discuss this. There’s not a meeting in our department…where we don’t address this.”
Hart was quick to say that football coach Butch Jones has a good track record of handling sexual assault allegations.
“I trust Butch Jones implicitly,” Hart said. “I know who he is. I know what his work ethic is. I know what he’s meant to this university well beyond the department of athletics. And I know how he represents the university and again I trust him implicitly.”
Hart was specifically asked about Jones and the recent allegations that he allegedly called former receiver Drae Bowles a “traitor” for assisting an alleged sexual assault victim that accused two other football players of raping her.
“I think Butch Jones’ statement spoke to it and that is a part of the lawsuit,” Hart said briefly, choosing not to comment on specifics in the lawsuit.
Bowles also said in a sworn affidavit that he was accosted by then current players on two different occasions for helping the alleged victims. That’s not the type of reaction one would expect based on the message Hart said administrators regularly relay to the players.
“We encourage our students on this campus to come forward, to report incidents of sexual assault,” he said. “We also encourage bystanders to come forward to report incidents of sexual assault.”
Hart said he missed Tuesday’s press conference with all 16 of Tennessee’s head athletic coaches because he was out of town meeting with legal counsel concerning the Title IX lawsuit. Despite the criticism his absence incurred, Hart said that was by design.
“If I had been in town, I wouldn’t have gone to the press conference,” he said. “That was their request. They wanted a forum.”
However, Hart acknowledged that the press conference did create some bad publicity.
“I think some of that occurred in our coaches’ press conference. …They wanted to make it clear that our culture was a good culture,” he said.
Hart said it is not the university’s position to investigate sexual assaults. That should be left to the legal system.
“I have to say that we’re not the judge and jury,” he said. “The courts will decide their fates there at the end of the day.”
With so much negative publicity surrounding the Vols, Hart said he had no concern about his job stability. Hart has been the subject of criticism on social media by some former employees who did not support his decision to combine the men’s and women’s athletic department and remove the “Lady Vol” logo from all women’s sports with the exception of the women’s basketball team.
“There are some unhappy people,” Hart said. “Yeah, we have a handful of former employees who are very unhappy. …You can’t worry about that. Life is too short to engage in that. I really feel for those who can’t let go. I don’t harbor any resentment. I feel for them.”
Hart pointed out that Tennessee has approximately 500 student-athletes on campus and that accusations of sexual assault are handled the same way between a normal student and a student-athlete. He said continued education is the key.
“I think we’re getting through to a large majority of them,” Hart said. “You have to remember at that age group, that’s a challenge. That’s not on them. That’s on us.”
Lastly, Hart shared a sobering thought that every college campus has to deal with.
“The culture in our building is good,” he said, “but I can’t tell you with 500 student-athletes that we’re not going to have future incidents, because we are.”