KU fans react to scrutiny surrounding team
As the University of Kansas Jayhawks prepared for one of their toughest men’s basketball games this season — versus Baylor on Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse — fans were coping with reports of questionable off-court behavior by some players.
The Star reported Monday that a KU investigation found that one player likely hit a female student multiple times in late 2015. Another was charged with a misdemeanor after police recently found drug paraphernalia in McCarthy Hall. That player, Carlton Bragg, has entered into a diversion agreement.
McCarthy Hall is the residence hall for the team and other male students. KU police are investigating a reported rape of a 16-year-old girl in the residence hall. In a police report, several players are listed as witnesses to the alleged rape.
While some fans worry that recent news reports will serve as a distraction on the court, others said the reports don’t diminish their love for KU’s basketball players.
They just want to see their Jayhawks win.
Elden Mitchell, president at Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, said he was hoping for a victory over Baylor, tied with KU atop the Big 12, “because that will show that they don’t let outside environment affect the way they play.”
Mitchell, who graduated in December and lives in Lawrence, said he and his peers at KU support the players and look up to them no matter what allegations surface with players’ names attached to them.
“They are such phenomenal players,” Mitchell said, “people are expecting so much from them, they forget that at the end of the day they are just teenagers, 18, 19 years old, just kids and students. We make mistakes.”
All that aside, Mitchell said, “we (students) see them as all-star players, and we have respect for them. Personally, I don’t think any of this is going to influence whether the team plays well.”
But even though fans said they were excited for the game, some said they were concerned about what had come to light in the last week.
Lance Hultgren, a sophomore at KU from Osage City, called the reports about Bragg “sad” and pointed to the basketball player as being part of the face of KU.
“We’re known for basketball,” he said. “It’s college, but that doesn’t make it right.”
Emily Schwant, a freshman from Topeka, said students may not want to come to the university because of the reports.
“KU basketball is what everyone looks up to here at KU,” Schwant said. “So it’s kind of bringing everyone kind of down. Like, ‘Where’s the team going to be the rest of the season?’ ”
KU fan Anthony Torres said the news surrounding the team was shocking.
“I think they better clean it up, you know, because it doesn’t sit well with the administration here at KU,” said Torres, a 58-year-old man from Shawnee. “It’s gotta stop.”
David McCabe, a 60-year-old from Topeka, said he’s been a lifelong fan.
“Well, obviously it’s a negative impact on the school,” McCabe said. “I hope it all works out, you know, a lot more positive light than it’s begun”
But even with that discord, McCabe said he expected a good game.
“Hoping for a big KU win,” he said, waiting outside of Allen Fieldhouse in chilly weather Wednesday night.
Stephonn Alcorn, KU’s student body president, said he was disappointed but said the problems are not unique to Kansas.
“I know there is a lot of work being done here trying to reshape the culture in these athletic programs so that both the athletes and the people around them understand that this is not behavior we want to represent our university.”
He was excited and looking forward to Wednesday night’s game.
KU public safety deputy chief James Anguiano is a fan. “I’m very tied to KU. I’m a proud parent of two KU alums,” but Anguiano said that “no game is bigger than any investigation.” He added, “I think we also have to remember everyone is innocent until proven guilty.”
As a fan, Anguiano said, “I’m very cautious. I don’t prejudge. But if these things do prove to be true then I want to know what are the corrective measures.”
Anguiano said he would like to see the National Collegiate Athletic Association begin to “look more at the criminal aspects of the game.” Maybe impose some sanctions when players commit a crime. NCAA rules do set academic requirements, but association officials have balked at the idea of preventing an athlete from playing because of his or her criminal background.
In the meantime, Anguiano said, “I’m definitely not done with KU.”
But some social media comments have been harsh.
One tweet on Man Cave Sports, a social media platform for sports fans, shows a structure blowing up and actor Leslie Neilsen of the spoof “The Naked Gun” fame waving his arms saying “Nothing to see here, please disperse.” Below it FANMAN_KSU wrote “#KUbball fans right now.”
Still, hardcore fans like Bridgette DeSmet, a 1988 graduate who was at KU during the Danny Manning years, have faith in players’ skill; but at the same time they defend the players they want to see KU leaders do more to improve the culture.
“The players are held to a bizarre standard,” DeSmet said. “They are expected to be great athletes, good students and exemplary citizens. However, they are young people thrust in the national spotlight, treated like gods on campus and responsible for an entire university’s reputation and success.”
DeSmet, who said she wants “Coach Self to ensure our athletes are treated equally and fairly — no special treatment,” also said she is “heartbroken” to hear that a player may have hurt another student: “The safety of women on campus is a huge concern.”
Like others she has some concern that accusations questioning the character and integrity of a team members may be a bit of a distraction.
But in the end, she said, “I hope for a win, of course. I think being home at Allen Fieldhouse is helpful.”
The Star's Matt Campbell contributed to this report.