by Irvin Muchnick
It’s one thing for the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League to have a locker-room culture, for which ownership and the coaching staff are ultimately responsible, by which a knucklehead like Richie Incognito could see fit to harass teammate Jonathan Martin well past the point of decency.
It’s quite another thing for the same culture to pervade the football program of the nation’s leading public university — which right now doubles as home of last-place academic performance by its major sports “student”-athletes. That is where we are with the story of Fabiano Hale, who apparently was beaten up by a teammate a month ago for the crime of missing a weight-training session.
Morally, this state of affairs shouldn’t matter even if the football team goes 11 and 1. But since new Bears coach Sonny Dykes happens to have just gone 1 and 11, he has even more questions to answer about what the hell is going on in the Berkeley hills.
And by the way, why is the person who hired Dykes, athletic director Sandy Barbour, still drawing a high-end paycheck courtesy of California taxpayers — after racing Cal football graduation rates to the bottom; saddling the university with expensive out years for the contract extension of Dykes’ failed predecessor, Jeff Tedford; and running up an unconscionable debt load on the white-elephant Memorial Stadium facelift?
If Fabiano Hale is our point of entry into grasping the brain drain that is public football, so be it. At this point the principals continue to fair-catch my follow-up emails and faxes; these include an assistant coach implicated in the episode, as well as Barbour and Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks. So it’s time for a full review of the allegations.
As I reported here and here, Hale, an 18-year-old freshman running back from Santa Cruz, blew off weightlifting on November 1. According to family friends, Fabiano decided instead to study for an upcoming test. I have no idea how egregious this violation is — though I do know how brazenly coaches both defy rules on the books supposedly limiting student-athletes’ sports-related hours, and schedule “voluntary” work that is anything but, especially considering that players’ so-called scholarships are really one-sided year-to-year contracts.
I also don’t know if this was weightlifting for the whole team or, more likely, one of a series of sessions broken down alphabetically or by position group. But according to the unrefuted account from the Hale side, Cal’s strength and conditioning coach retaliated against Hale’s absence by forcing the teammates who were present to do double sets. The coach added that anyone who didn’t like the punishment should take their complaints directly to the absent Hale, as they saw fit. We don’t have the exact language the coach is alleged to have used. It is easy to project, however, how amped-up jocks might extrapolate the vague instructions of authority figures.
Cal’s head football strength coach, Damon Harrington, has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
As the story goes, one of the players proceeded to confront Hale and, after little or no verbal communication, slugged him into unconsciousness — even adding some MMA-style ground-and-pound to the initial sucker punch. The assailant is so far unnamed, perhaps because the ensuing finger-pointing would lead straight to Dykes or his staff, and multiply the mounting evidence for the civil claim the Hale family undoubtedly is pondering against the university.
In the narrative further unrefuted so far by Cal, the family learned of the situation from a teammate, not a Cal official. And when Hale’s stepfather arrived at Alta Bates Medical Center to check on Fabiano, no accompanying university rep had yet arrived.
The people of California, every bit as much as those of Alabama, get the football program they deserve. As a citizen of the Golden State myself, I want to know if ours is good enough, especially off the field.
Still to come in this space is a history lesson on what we were told about Cal’s classroom success with its athletes last decade — propaganda spoon-fed to, among other outlets, the Los Angeles Times Sunday magazine. We not only don’t know who’s minding the store. We also don’t know who’s watching the store-minders.