Creighton coach Greg McDermott and player Maurice Watson Jr. in 2015.

Universities trying to punish student newspapers that criticize aspects of their athletic programs is a regular development, but seeing a university go after employees of a violence intervention and prevention center for daring to criticize the basketball coach in the student paper is a new one.

That’s apparently what Creighton University is up to, though, as Patrick Redford writes at Deadspin:

Two employees of Creighton University’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Center are “under review” and could potentially be disciplinedafter writing an op-ed in the student paper criticizing the conduct of basketball coach Greg McDermott. McDermott recently posted a photo of himself handing out a ring to former guard Maurice Watson (apparently first-round losses to Rhode Island deserve jewelry?) which prompted Lauren Ward and Meredith Lierk to write in the Creightonian and point out that honoring Watson—who was expelled from the school and suspended from the team after being accused of raping a fellow student earlier this year—was “a selfish and reckless act” that essentially ignored the sexual assault Watson was accused of.

The article has been scrubbed from the Creightonian’s archives, though in the post, they call on McDermott and athletic director Bruce Rasmussen to “go above and beyond compliance with NCAA sexual assault prevention” by deleting the picture and proving that no Creighton money was spent on the ring. It’s not a ludicrous demand, and, given the steps taken by the team and school to punish Watson, it’s plenty reasonable to call bullshit on rewarding Watson.

The university seems to be responding in a thoroughly inappropriate way, though. Their spokesperson told the Omaha World-Herald that the employees are “under review” because they should have addressed their concerns directly with McDermott:

The two women, Creighton Violence Intervention and Prevention Center advocates Lauren Ward and Meredith Lierk, should have taken their concerns directly to Greg McDermott and Bruce Rasmussen, Creighton spokesman Jim Berscheidt said, speaking for the administration.

 Instead, they had the letter to McDermott and Rasmussen published last week in the online student newspaper.

…Berscheidt said that the letter doesn’t represent the views of Creighton’s administration and that the conduct of the employees is under scrutiny. He declined to say whether they might be disciplined and called it a personnel matter.

…Ward is the associate director of the Creighton Violence Intervention and Prevention Center, and Lierk is the assistant director. They are the two advocates for victims and others.

We’ve regularly seen that addressing those kinds of concerns internally doesn’t accomplish much, and making them known in the student paper seems like it could go a lot further. But the really ham-handed response here is the university complaining about these women’s actions. If they want to defend McDermott and insist that it’s reasonable to present a ring to a player who faced those kinds of accusations and was no longer enrolled at the school, that carries its own perils, but it doesn’t look as bad as insisting that university employees whose job is to try and advocate for victims and prevent sexual violence and sexual assault should stay publicly silent on an issue like this. And trying to stifle public debate this way is a bad look for a university.

By trying to silence these women, Creighton has made it an even bigger story and made themselves look far worse.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.