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Auburn Statement on Claim of Harassment by Two Football Players Toward a Disabled Veteran

Auburn issues a statement on the claim of harassment.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

First, here is the statement by Auburn University, in full, posted to the Auburn Tigers Facebook account:

On Tuesday, February 17th Auburn Athletics was made aware of an incident in the lobby area of Haley Center involving two student-athletes and an interaction with a fellow student and her service dog.

Based on conversations with the students, it’s our belief that neither of the student-athletes, Andrew Williams nor Dontavius Russell, did anything with disrespectful intent. From a distance, Andrew made noises trying to get the dog’s attention. He didn't understand the purpose of the dog or realize that the student was a disabled veteran. Dontavius had no involvement in the interaction whatsoever as he was only walking to class.

Andrew offers the following message to the female student. "I want to take this opportunity to apologize for raising my voice. I was startled and totally misunderstood the situation. My mother and father who raised me both served in the military. I have tremendous respect for veterans. In the past week, I've learned a lot more about the role of service dogs for veterans and now better understand her courage to attend Auburn."

The matter is under review by the university’s Office of Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity. We have and will continue to cooperate, and we understand the review must be allowed to follow its normal course.

Auburn has a long history of supporting the men and women who have served our country. We look forward to adding new programs and educational offerings that raise awareness about service dogs and the challenges that often impact those who serve. Both of the student-athletes affected by the incident were raised by military families and value all that Auburn does in support of the many military appreciation related activities.


So, now let's go into a bit more about the situation. The story first appeared as a Facebook post on a Service Dog Memes page.

It was then widely spread around various sites, but it never hit very big news anywhere, in spite of the reported efforts of the individual in question's sister, who also took to Facebook to push their side of the story.

For those who were wondering whether there may be another side to the story, there was this Reddit user, who posted the following account:

I don't post often to CFB or to reddit at all that much. Let me also say that I love our country and have many veterans in my family. Our military and veterans deserve the highest respect for being willing to give their lives so that we have our freedom. Yes, I am an Auburn fan and a student of the university, however that does not mean I cannot tell an unbiased account of the events that happened yesterday.

Yesterday, I was sitting in the bottom floor of the Haley center waiting on my girlfriend to be finished with class. Those familiar with the Haley center know that there are people constantly walking in and out of the bottom floor and there are people constantly giving tours and such. I, being the people watcher that I am, enjoy sitting, watching, and listening to the people as they walk by.

I noticed a woman walk in with dog, something I didn't find particularly unusual. A few sorority girls (no I don't know which, I'm not skilled like that) walk over to the dog to try and pet him/her. The woman was very standoffish and told the girls to get away from her animal. The girls puzzled and confused (looking somewhat offended) walked away. A few moments later, more people passed by and tried to pet the dog, much to the owners disdain.

Then two football players (apparently Dontavious Russel and Andrew Williams) walked over to the dog. They were saying things like "Here puppy" and other phrases commonly used to call a dog. As they approached the dog, one squatted down to pet him/her. Upon seeing this, the woman absolutely flipped out. I guess it was just the straw that broke the camels back. I mean, after three isolated incidents of someone messing with something of mine that I didn't want to be messed with I would be pissed too. She screamed at the players, telling them to get away. The players walked away, and like anyone who just got yelled at seemed upset for doing something so accidental were not happy and slightly embarrassed. They said "Damn, okay" and walked away. And not like DAMN BITCH but like a Chris Tucker dayuum. There was no intentional harassing, there was just a girl who had been fed up with multiple people trying to pet her dog.

Analysis of the Statement:

Full disclosure for those who may not know... I am also a Veteran. I've done two tours overseas and have served for almost 11 years. No one has more respect for my fellow brothers and sisters in arms than I do. I say that now so that my reasons for saying some things and refraining from certain others may be clear.

Why didn't the story go much further? Well, perhaps because everyone realized that there may be more to the story, which the Reddit user alluded to. I will not go into the details that some on plenty of message boards have about the young woman who made the initial claims. As far as I'm concerned, once you make the choice to volunteer to serve, you've already gone farther than 99.9% of people ever will. Regardless of how much time she actually served, she still made the choice, and is therefore a Veteran.

From the University's statement, it sounds like the Truth is exactly where we so often fail to realize when we hear a story: somewhere in the middle. The young woman's account says she was harassed by two football players. The school's investigation says it was Williams alone, and that Dontavius Russell's only involvement was being in the area.

The Reddit user mentions other students also approaching the dog before the football players and that being a catalyst for the situation, which the school's release does not acknowledge. The University also does not mention anything about the young woman being belligerent in any way towards the players before Williams' actions.

That's not to say it didn't happen. It is just not mentioned as a finding by the University in their official release. They may well have heard statements to this effect, but did not mention it in the official release. Who knows whether that's because she handled herself exactly as she purported to in her statement or because the school was being very careful in its release to not appear to place any undue blame on her from the public relations standpoint? By not directly addressing the precise chain of events, the school is able to still acknowledge that Williams' actions did merit an apology toward the young woman without coming close to implicating the young woman being a part of the cause, as well.

There is also the very really possibility that she may not have been responsible, at all. Her story may be 100% the truth. The school's statement doesn't really tell us one way or the other. I just think the lack of a precise description of the chain of events speaks about findings in the investigation that the school decided would be better left unsaid.

Plus, the level of punishment and the release by the University indicate to me that the situation was not as bad as she initially reported in her Facebook posting. If Andrew Williams had acted as her statement indicated, it would not have surprised me to see a suspension at the least.

The school's release said nothing that refutes anything in the Reddit user's account, but that's to be expected. Any sort of statement that placed ANY blame on her would be construed by many as Auburn University attacking a Veteran.

What is also clear, though not explicitly stated in the statement, is that Williams has at least seen some form of punishment - or at least "corrective training" as we would say in the military - in his learning about the role of service dogs.

This was really a non-story to begin with. It is a non-story still. I think the University handled the situation quite well. Gus Malzahn's initial apology and offer to have the players meet with the young woman was a step of immediate action. The careful investigation over the course of a week shows that the school was intent on getting things exactly right.

Finally, the school's statement was an artfully crafted piece of work that apologizes while making clear that Andrew Williams' actions were in ignorance of the woman's status as a Veteran or the role of the dog. They apologized for his actions, had Williams himself apologize, and made Williams go through training to ensure it never happens in the future. Meanwhile, they carefully avoided directly addressing exactly what happened, which keeps any possibly story of Auburn blaming a Veteran for anything out of the news.


Please go back to your regularly scheduled arguments over sports. There's really nothing to see here. It was a misunderstanding among students, and one just happened to be a football player.