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The Todd McCorkle Allegations: Context and Judgment

(Note: What follows addresses some of the particular allegations reported to have arisen in the course of the University of Georgia's investigation of former women's golf coach Todd McCorkle. Please be advised that some of the excerpts included below are accompanied by an adult content advisory.)

Waggle Room's Mulligan Stu has been following the Todd McCorkle story since it first broke and his continuing coverage of unfolding developments now includes a cautionary suggestion not to jump to conclusions. This measured recommendation was offered in response to a reader comment from Golf Girl.

Writes Golf Girl:

As I said when I first read about this story, it's wrong to blow incidents like this [out] of proportion without a more complete investigation of the facts. Lots of golf writers, bloggers and traditional media types immediately pegged McCorkle as an out-of-control pervert who sexually harassed his team, however we don't know the full story. It's possible that there could be certain venomous individuals on the team (or certain publicity hungry fathers of team members) who had an agenda ... or an issue with this coach... and decided to parlay minor issues and lapses in judgment, into a full fledged sexual harassment case. Many facts in this case have not yet been made public, thus it's simply wrong to rush a conclusion.

Mulligan Stu wrote the following in reply:
Some of the allegations noted by Golfweek seem silly; some much more serious. None of them have context. And most of them are disputed. All of them were also made against a coach who apparently was very disliked by his players ... although part of that dislike seemingly stems from the very comments and behavior the coach is alleged to have engaged in.

Is there a pattern of behavior that rises to the level of sexual harassment? The university concluded there was enough, at least, to warrant a 1-month suspension without pay and a counseling program (the school's recommended course of action before McCorkle quit).

One thing that strikes me about this case is the near total silence from former University of Georgia women golfers who played for McCorkle. The current team is not talking, and that's understandable. (But it also implies that nobody on the current team is willing to defend McCorkle.)

But the former players could add some valuable context, if any of them were talking. I've contacted several former Georgia golfers who have declined to comment. Nobody is rushing to defend McCorkle, nobody is rushing to back up the current players. Perhaps that's not surprising given possible legal implications. It seems more likely, though, that past players would speak out in defense of McCorkle, if any were willing to do so.

As for me, after this I'm going to stop trying to read the tea leaves. There's just too much conflicting information, a total lack of context, and too much missing information. If something newsworthy - such as Jenna Daniels, McCorkle's wife, releasing a statement - happens, I'll pass it along. But no more attempts at interpretation. Golf Girl is right. Just wait and see what develops.

Golf Girl makes a reasonable point and my belief that McCorkle should no longer be employed by my alma mater is based upon the fact that the University conducted an investigation and concluded that he was in violation of the institution's anti-harassment policy.

Obviously, if the results of that investigation prove to be substantially inaccurate, then McCorkle has been wronged. If that is the case, McCorkle and his wife, Jenna Daniels, would better serve their cause by issuing denials that come across as pointed rather than oblique.

Mulligan Stu is correct that the excerpts published in Golfweek, culled from the documents assembled during the investigation and covering alleged incidents between spring 2004 and April 2007, are supplied without specific context. He also is right to assert that some of the accusations, taken on their own, essentially are innocuous. The University concluded, however, that, when taken together, these allegations appeared to create a context within which to judge the purported pattern of behavior.

For instance, this does not appear to be objectionable behavior:

When at the airport on road trips with the team, McCorkle bought Maxim and FHM magazines. Players said this made them uncomfortable.

However, that allegation dovetails with this one:
While flipping through a Victoria's Secret catalogue, McCorkle pointed to a picture of a woman wearing lingerie and said she looked like one of his players.

This, in turn, seems of a piece with an alleged 2006 incident which McCorkle reportedly denied:
While in the team van, McCorkle commented to a player: "Nice purple underwear."

Likewise, at least one player apparently posed a question of dubious propriety to the coach:
A player asked McCorkle, "Does this shirt make my boobs look big?" McCorkle replied: "About as big as they normally look."

While I believe the wiser course for a man in McCorkle's position would be to respond by telling the player that such a question was inappropriate, he could hardly be faulted for initiating that alleged behavior if the player put the question to him. Such statements as his alleged answer to that question, though, should be considered alongside such reported remarks as this:
McCorkle said to a player: "I would like to see what the rest of your bra looks like."

The reported results of the investigation included allegations of two separate incidents, in March 2006 and September 2006, in which McCorkle was said to have stated that he didn't wear underwear. Golfweek also reports that, according to notes from the University's interview with the former coach, McCorkle admitted that the following April 2006 event occurred:
A player asked her teammates what the sexual term "blue balls" meant. McCorkle later defined the term (slang for a male's discomfort after sexual deprivation) for the players in detail.

(Note that the report alleges that the player asked her teammates the question, which would appear to differentiate it from the reported incident that same spring in which a player put an inappropriate question directly to McCorkle. One also wonders what significance ought to be attached to the phrase "in detail.")

This allegation from September 2005 appears harmless, however ill-advised:

McCorkle put his arm around a player and said, "Why do you think people keep looking at you? It's because you are so pretty."

That accusation takes on a slightly different tint when considered in conjunction with these allegations from October 2005 and April 2007, respectively:
Players were eating dinner at a restaurant and McCorkle, referring to a player, said that he was "going to sit by the prettiest girl in here." McCorkle's wife, Jenna Daniels, was present.

On the way to the SEC banquet, McCorkle told a player "you look sexy."

(Reportedly, McCorkle admitted that the latter took place.)

Once again, such accusations as this, even if unwise, do not appear to cross the line:

McCorkle gave a hug to everyone after the first round of the SEC tournament, but he gave one player a hug and kissed her on the cheek.

When we think about that allegation, though, we also need to remember this one:
After shaking all his players' hands at the SEC banquet, McCorkle said to one player, "I know you don't want me to hug you, but I'm going to anyway."

In light of all of these allegations, it is understandable why a player might say what one of them reportedly said:
One player said McCorkle would "randomly (be) rubbing your back or flipping (your) hair, or (give you a) pat on the butt." The player said she would ". . . otherwise not think anything about it. But with all the other stuff (McCorkle did), it feels wrong."

Let us not forget that among the allegations is this one from August 2005:
McCorkle showed his team a sexually explicit video of Paris Hilton on the Internet.

Bear in mind, as well, that the University's official policy statements offer the following examples of sexual harassment, with emphasis added:
Sexual advances, physical or implied, or direct propositions of a sexual nature. This activity may include inappropriate/unnecessary touching or rubbing against another, sexually suggestive or degrading jokes or comments, remarks of a sexual nature about one's clothing and/or body, preferential treatment in exchange for sexual activity, and the inappropriate display of sexually explicit pictures, text, printed materials, or objects that do not serve an academic purpose.

Procedurally, the University's anti-harassment policy states that "[a]ll reports and complaints of discrimination and harassment will be promptly investigated and appropriate action will be taken as expeditiously as possible. . . . The University will make reasonable efforts to protect the rights of both the complainant and the respondent." Following such an investigation, the course of events is to unfold as follows:
The University will take the appropriate remedial action based on results of the investigation and will follow up as appropriate to ensure that the remedial action is effective. Complainants are encouraged to report any reoccurrences of conduct which were found to violate the [anti-harassment] policy. The [officer responsible for investigating harassment complaints] will notify the complainant and respondent, in writing, of the results of the investigation. . . .

The respondent shall have the right to appeal the decision of the [investigating officer] to the President or his/her designee pursuant to this policy. In exercising the right of appeal to the President as provided by this procedure, a written appeal must be made within ten (10) working days after written notification of the decision which is being appealed. The President or his/her designee may receive additional information if he/she believes such information would aid in the decision. A decision will be made within a reasonable time and the [investigating officer], the complainant, and the respondent will be notified of the decision. During the time of appeal and review, disciplinary action taken as a result of the original complaint, may be implemented and enforced.

By all accounts, McCorkle received written notice through Steve Shewmaker's memorandum, which was issued on May 4. Last Friday, May 18, was the 10th working day following the delivery of that written notice of the investigating officer's findings and I am aware of no report indicating that McCorkle has filed an appeal. Moreover, McCorkle's subsequent resignation, which was announced publicly three days after Shewmaker's memo, presumably would supersede all other procedural avenues available to him through the University's established structure.

In spite of all of that, Golf Girl and Mulligan Stu are right to remind us that we are working from news reports based upon documents produced in an investigation in which any number of people, acting from a wide variety of motives, may have made statements that took actions and remarks out of context, portrayed matters in a particular light to suit their purposes, chosen their words carefully to suggest what was not said directly, stretched the truth, or just plain lied. While I have no reason to accuse anyone of any of these things, they remain within the realm of possibility and certainly within the ambit of our uncertainty.

All we really know is that complaints were made about Todd McCorkle's behavior, that these complaints produced an investigation, that this investigation concluded that he had violated University policy, that he would suffer sanctions short of termination as a consequence of this conclusion, and that he elected subsequently to resign his post as the head coach of the women's golf team. That resignation was not tantamount to an admission of guilt and McCorkle denied some, though not all, of the allegations against him.

To the extent that I have drawn conclusions based upon those known facts, I have argued that the University shouldn't attempt to have it both ways; since the University obviously lent sufficient credence to enough of these allegations to issue a memorandum informing McCorkle that he had been found to be in violation of the anti-harassment policy and would be punished as a result of that determination, the University should have acted consistently with its conclusion and followed through accordingly. I am confident that I am not alone in making this judgment.

I concede that Golf Girl and Mulligan Stu are correct to slam on the brakes on the rush to judgment. Certainly, Golf Girl makes a valid point when she cautions us to refrain from branding the former coach "as an out-of-control pervert." I would not hang such a label around Todd McCorkle's neck upon the basis of the reported allegations now before us.

Nevertheless, because the University conducted its investigation and reached its reported determination, it remains my personal preference that Todd McCorkle take work elsewhere rather than remain in the employ of my alma mater. It is possible that McCorkle was guilty of nothing more than those few instances of questionable judgment to which he reportedly admitted to investigators, but I would prefer the public representatives of the University of Georgia to avoid not just impropriety but also the appearance of impropriety. A Georgia coach, like Caesar's wife, should be beyond reproach.

Go 'Dawgs!