Correction: At 4:35 pm on Monday, Jan. 23, this article has been corrected to accurately reflect the content of a meeting between Interim President Joe Calvaruso’s cabinet and the men’s basketball team that took place on Jan. 4. Players present at the meeting said they were told to “rip the Band-Aid off,” and speak with their coach, but did not reveal who told them that.
Content Warning: This article contains content regarding racist language. While all slurs are censored, reader discretion is advised.
On December 28, Albion College Men’s Basketball Head Coach Jody May repeatedly said the N-word during a practice after kicking out a player for bantering with a teammate, according to a written account of the events sent to The Pleiad.
The letter, written by an anonymous member of the team, states that after one of his teammates asked May why he removed that player from practice, May said, “he needed to be taught a lesson because yesterday I had to give him a technical foul for saying, ‘give me that shit (N-word).’”
Following this, the author of the letter states that May repeated the phrase on four separate occasions.
“We couldn’t comprehend or even wrap our heads around what he had just said to us,” the author states.
The author adds that May began a temporary suspension the following week. The head coaching duties were taken on by Nate Frisbie, the team’s assistant coach.
According to the letter, this arrangement was how the team wanted to proceed. However, the college soon made plans to reinstate May, upsetting a number of players on the team.
The team soon released another letter, again written by an anonymous author, saying, “We have made the collective decision as a team to give each player the option to sit out the game on Saturday, January 7th, against Trine University. As a result, ten of the sixteen varsity players will not be playing on Saturday.”
The letter states they chose to sit out, “not only because of Coach May’s actions, but because of how the College has handled this whole situation.”
On Tuesday, three players on the varsity team spoke with The Pleiad anonymously for fear of backlash.
The players explained that on Jan. 4, just 10 hours before an away game at Calvin University, administrative members of the college held a meeting with the team, asking them to speak with coach May. The players said the meeting was frustrating and coercive because the college was not receptive to their desire to maintain space between themselves and their coach.
“They had coach May in the building before we even arrived,” one player said. “Knowing that, we knew there was no way we were going to get what we wanted.”
That player said members of the cabinet repeatedly told the team to just “rip the Band-Aid off,” and speak to May during the meeting.
In the letter, the players say they insisted on waiting to see May that Sunday, at a meeting they had previously scheduled with the Assistant Dean for Student Development and Title IX Coordinator Kelly Finn. However, they say they were pressured into speaking to him at that meeting.
They said the college rushed their healing process, leaving them more frustrated than they were before.
“They talked us down to the point where we felt that the only way we could end the meeting was to hear from Coach May,” the letter states.
On Jan. 7, during a ceremony honoring former basketball coach Mike Turner, only seven players took the court. With a team comprised entirely of first-year students, some playing their first collegiate varsity game, Albion lost 62-91. Coach May sat on the bench with the seven players but did not actively coach.
May said via email that it was a “complicated decision” to be present for the game on Jan. 7. Turner was his mentor, he said, but he wanted to honor the players’ requests for space.
“If I had a chance to do it again, I would have participated in the dedication, but then left the gym right afterward,” May said.
The letter says the college told the team it planned on reinstating May the following Monday. But after Saturday’s protest, May’s suspension was seemingly lengthened.
Coach May said via email, “I fully support our players who are able to assess a situation, apply their values and experiences, and make well-reasoned decisions,” adding that he supports those who chose to play and those who did not.
The three players The Pleiad spoke to all said they “need more space” from May.
The players said rebuilding their relationship with May might be difficult. Even before the incident on Dec. 28, all three players said they struggled to form an “actual connection” with him.
Though the relationship between the players and their coach might be fractured, they also said that the relationship between the team and the college is strained.
“The school – they were in a position to handle it correctly and I don’t think they did that,” one player said.
On Sunday, Jan. 8, the Office of the President sent an email addressing the situation to the entirety of Albion’s campus.
“We strive to foster an environment where our students, faculty and staff are supported,” the email states. “We hope to continue the healing process through ongoing dialogue with these student-athletes.”
The Pleiad reached out to Interim President Joe Calvaruso and Dean of Students Leroy Wright for comment. President Cavalruso did not return a comment. Instead, college spokesperson Cathy Cole returned answers to The Pleiad’s questions on behalf of Dean Wright via email on Thursday.
“We have made strides in our work to become a diverse, equitable and inclusive organization where all can feel they belong,” Dean Wright stated via Cole. “But we clearly have more work to do.”
Neither Dean Wright nor Cole addressed questions regarding May’s return to coaching or why the administration pressured the players to speak with May, despite their insistence otherwise.
Dean Wright said that on Monday, the college hired Taran McZee as the new Chief Belonging Officer, a position dedicated to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion on campus.
Wright said that the administration is working with McZee and Trustee Michael Williams ‘78 to “develop a path where we can understand and address what happened as a community.”
On Saturday, President Calvaruso issued another statement to the campus, saying that members of the basketball team and their families met with members of the president’s cabinet, and May, “to decide their future together and to plan a path forward.”
On Saturday, Albion took the floor with a full roster and May as their head coach for the first time since Dec. 17 for a 91-67 loss against Hope College.
May said that he will be holding conversations with his team to process the situation and reach a collective understanding.
He said he is “inspired” to be back with the team, and eager to rebuild relationships with his players.
“I also understand we are not going to be able to rebuild these relationships overnight,” May said. “It is going to take a lot of time and effort on my part.”
Bella Bakeman also contributed reporting to this story.