Rape allegation is sixth to surface

Updated: February 19, 2004, 5:07 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Police said Thursday they are investigating another allegation of sexual assault involving a University of Colorado football player, the sixth to surface in the school's burgeoning athletics scandal.

Ex-players come to coach's aid
A half-dozen former Colorado football players defended their suspended coach Thursday, saying he has provided discipline and morality amid accusations that recruits are lured to Boulder with sex and alcohol.

Standing in front of a crowd of reporters, Scott Nemeth and Rashidi Barnes both said the scandal at the school had gotten out of hand.

"We're losing focus here," Barnes said. "We have basketball, track, football and a number of athletes who are being bombarded by the media. They had nothing to do with anything, they don't know anything (and) we need to just let the kids get their education."

Coach Gary Barnett was put on paid leave late Wednesday for criticizing the ability of former player Katie Hnida after she came forward to say she had been raped by a teammate in 2000. He called her an "awful" and "terrible" player, comments university officials said were unacceptable given her allegation of sexual assault.

University officials say Barnett's job remains uncertain pending the outcome of an investigation into recruiting practices at the school, due by April 30.

Nemeth, however, said Barnett provided a steady hand at Colorado.

"His rules were strictly applied. suspending players or adding additional discipline for being late, dressing out of uniform or displaying any sort of conduct that did not meet the standards discussed in the player book," he said. "Gary Barnett is an upright, honest and moral man and I stand by him as my coach, my leader and my mentor."

Former quarterback Charles Johnson said the players decided on their own to show their support without any knowledge of the university or the football program.

"We believe coach Barnett is a man of high moral integrity," Johnson said. "We believe he is doing the right things. A balanced story is not being told."

-- The Associated Press
Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner said the alleged assault occurred in August 2002, but would not discuss details. He said a police report, with parts blacked out, would be released later Thursday.

The news came hours after football coach Gary Barnett was placed on leave after criticizing the athletic ability of former Colorado player Katie Hnida after she said she was raped by a teammate four years ago. He called her an "awful" player.

University President Elizabeth Hoffman also said she was dismayed by comments attributed to Barnett in a 2001 police report filed by another woman who said she was raped by a football player.

Barnett, 57, will be on paid leave while an independent committee investigates allegations involving the football program, including rapes, alcohol-fueled recruiting parties, escort services and strippers.

Barnett said he disagreed with Hoffman's decision, but would accept it as a "team player."

The coach's comments about Hnida, 22, were "extremely inappropriate and insensitive," and were the main reason Barnett was put on leave, Hoffman said. "Rape is a horrific allegation and it should be taken seriously," she said.

After chastising Barnett privately Wednesday, Hoffman learned Boulder police had released a report that quoted an unidentified woman as saying Barnett told her he "would back his player 100 percent'' if rape charges were pursued. The woman did not file charges.

"We are utterly distressed over the information contained in that report," Hoffman said.

She said she learned of the woman's rape allegation recently, but it was unclear when Barnett first knew of it.

The accusations over the past three weeks stem from federal lawsuits filed against the school by three women who say they were raped by players or recruits at or after an off-campus party in December 2001, the same year referred to in one of two Boulder police reports. The other is from 2002. Hnida's allegation is from 2000.

No assault charges have been filed in any of the cases.

The university, responding in part to a prosecutor's allegation that it uses sex and alcohol to entice recruits, chose the final members of the independent panel that will investigate and report by April 30. Hoffman also said she would hire an administrator to oversee athletics, reporting directly to her and Chancellor Richard Byyny.

A spokesman for the investigative committee declined comment on Barnett's leave.

Hnida, who joined the University of New Mexico football team in 2002 as a walk-on, told Sports Illustrated in a story made public Tuesday that she was assaulted in the summer of 2000 at the home of a teammate. She said she escaped after the telephone rang.

Asked why she didn't tell police, she said she was afraid of the player and didn't want a "media mess."

Hnida said she has been in contact with Colorado authorities but did not expect to file charges.

After her story was released, Barnett was asked by a reporter about her abilities. "It was obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful," he said. "Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. OK? There's no other way to say it."

During a brief news conference in Boulder late Wednesday, Barnett apologized but said his remarks had been taken out of context or misinterpreted.

Hoffman said the coach "was not apologetic" when she discussed his remarks.

"It was my feeling ... that he did not understand the seriousness of the comments he had made the day before," Hoffman said.

Hnida, 22, issued a statement through UNM Tuesday, saying she was "healing" from "horrors endured" while on Colorado's football team. Last fall, she said she didn't return to Colorado for several reasons, including "an incident during that summer."

Byyny said an interim head coach would be named, most likely an assistant coach currently on the staff.

Gov. Bill Owens, who warned the university to investigate, said he agreed with Hoffman's decision to place Barnett on leave. CU athletic director Richard Tharp also supported the decision.

A women's advocate, however, said Barnett and Tharp should be fired.

"I'm perplexed as to what it will take for CU to finally figure out that the coach and athletic director have to go," said Regina Cowles, president of the Boulder chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Ryan Johanningmeier, a team captain when Hnida played at Colorado, said some teammates could be "a bit nasty."

"However, we all get called names. I got called names," he told ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" on Thursday.

Johanningmeier said that when one player's comments about Hnida got too personal, Barnett "gave this guy a pretty good reprimand in front of the team, reminded us once again that this was a player on the team who needs to be treated with respect. A lot of it stopped at that point, from what I saw."

Barnett was hired five years ago with the goal of ending an era of loose recruiting practices and return the team to national prominence.

Barnett, whose contract runs through 2006, has led Colorado to a Big 12 Conference title and a BCS bowl game .

During the last two seasons, nine players were suspended for violations of team rules, including curfew and behavior standards.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press