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San Francisco Chronicle questions employment of Cal strength coach Damon Harrington

Very rough.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The San Francisco Chronicle reported some several disturbing findings from the internal investigation that cleared the University of California of supposed wrong-doing with regards to the safety and the health of student-athletes. It particularly singled out Cal strength coach Damon Harrington.

Let's run quickly through the more pertinent allegations provided in the story. Some of them are extremely troubling.

1. The two investigators had close ties to Cal personnel.

Both investigators that concluded Cal did nothing wrong disclosed that they had personal ties with people within the program. Not having an independent party investigate these claims seems highly irregular.

John Murray, a private strength and conditioning coach, and Jeffrey Tanji, medical director for sports at UC Davis had personal ties with Cal staff. Murray disclosed in the report that he was a "friend and colleague" of Mike Blasquez, who oversees all of Cal’s strength and conditioning programs. And Tanji said he had trained Casey Batten, the football team physician. Both said in the report those relationships did not influence their findings.

Click here for the PDF of the full Tanji-Murray report.

2. Harrington's negligence in Ted Agu's death

The family of Ted Agu won a $4.75 million lawsuit from the University of California, but the man in charge of Agu's workout that day has received no disciplinary action of any sort.

In the case of Agu, Harrington created a drill in which players holding a heavy rope together had to sprint repeatedly up and down a steep hill. Agu was on his 10th lap when he dropped to the ground, and then collapsed soon after. He died after being taken to the hospital.

Harrington and team doctors knew Agu, 21, had sickle cell trait, a blood abnormality that can lead to death under extreme exertion. In their lawsuit, Agu's parents singled out Harrington, who admitted to lawyers that he devised the workout without advice from trainers or doctors. He also told them that he knew of no special measures required for athletes with sickle cell trait.

"There's no reason to change what the sickling athlete does," Harrington said in a deposition. "I don't think there are any precautions."

There has been tons of evidence prior to Agu's death that sickle-cell athletes are more predisposed to worse health outcomes in extremely strenuous situations.

3. The Cal coaching staff came up with a bizarre and insensitive label for black athletes

The Chronicle also learned from ex-players that coaches, including Harrington and Dykes, who are white, called a training group of largely black players the "Noose Group," a name some on the team considered racist.

Wesley Mallette, a spokesman for Cal athletics, denied the allegations that Harrington incited the assault on Hale. He said the "noose" term applied only to a drill and catching technique, and that coaches stopped using it after a player complained.


King, who was in the so-called "Noose Group," said he felt deeply uncomfortable with the coaches' label. When he told Dykes it was racist, he said the head coach told him the label was inspired by a Texas coach who "noosed" cows. Other ex-players confirmed King's account.

Don't have many words here. If true, it's unacceptable and bizarrely tone-deaf.

4. Harrington's role in the Fabiano Hale assault

It's alleged in the story that Harrington's treatment of Cal players spurred into the motion the events that led to the assault of Cal player Fabiano Hale. Three former Cal players--Joey Mahalic, Gabe King, and Trey Cheek--had this to say.

On the day he was attacked, Hale, then 18, missed the morning workout. "That was by far the worst one," Mahalic told police. He said Harrington ordered the players present to roll over and over for 100 yards, then do 50 "up-downs" — running in place, dropping to the ground and jumping back up — then roll 100 yards again. It was a workout, he said, where "you’re going to get unbelievably dizzy and sick. ... It was just to punish us."

Afterward, Harrington told players he would not punish Hale, Mahalic said. Instead, he told them: "This is your problem. You need to fix this. By any means necessary," and slammed his fist into his palm, Mahalic said.

"We had a couple guys who were late, and one guy who didn't show up," Cheek told The Chronicle. Harrington "said, ‘Y'all need to handle it. He's making you suffer for this and that.' A lot of guys felt like they had to go in there and put their hands on someone."

King said: "It stemmed from, ‘You guys need to take this team into your own hands' — almost frontier vigilantism."

University police have not released their report of the Hale incident.

The story was written by Nanette Asimov and Kimberly Veklerov.

Cal fans, your thoughts on this story?