EWU cross country runners divided over former coach’s actions

EWU cross country runners divided over former coachs actions

By Logan Stanley, Managing Editor

Disclosure: The author of this article briefly trained with the men’s cross-country team in fall 2016 before deciding to leave the sport of running altogether to focus on his duties at The Easterner.

EWU cross country runners reacted to their former coach’s actions, with expressions ranging from discomfort to approval.

On Dec. 19, EWU cross country head coach Chris Shane received a letter of termination from university president Mary Cullinan.

Chris Shane, former head cross country coach. (Via EWU Athletics)

A press release issued by the university on Feb. 27 explained the termination in full detail, and addressed a Spokesman-Review report. The Spokesman-Review reported on Jan. 5 that Shane had been fired due in part to a 57-page investigative report that detailed 18 allegations of misconduct.

“Eastern exercised its contractual right to end Shane’s employment based on convenience. Mr. Shane was not terminated for cause as a result of the investigative report identified in the January 5th article,” according to the press release.

In addition to the press release was a letter of recommendation for future employment signed by Pam Parks, senior associate athletic director for EWU.

The Easterner reached out to Pam Parks, who declined to comment.

Over the course of two-plus months, The Easterner sat down with individuals from the men’s cross country team. Through this process, multiple members of the team shared their reactions to the allegations in the report to The Easterner. Due to the sensitivity of the allegations, some individuals have asked to remain anonymous.

The following are accounts from athletes regarding four of the allegations that The Easterner has been able to confirm as well-founded in the investigative report, which was released on Nov. 30.

The report details 18 total allegations and was conducted by Jeff Lamoureaux, EWU senior investigator and Title IX coordinator. Out of those 18 allegations, 11 were substantiated by Lamoureaux. The Easterner has linked the entire investigative report that the Spokesman-Review’s Jim Allen obtained, which can be read here.

As senior investigator, Lamoureaux’s role is to be a neutral fact-finder. Lamoureaux goes through an evidence collecting phase for each allegation and then compiles his work into a report. Lamoureaux is not involved in any decision-making, nor does the report offer any recommendations for future action.

Allegation #1

The first allegation dealt with an event “on or around October 30, 2017.” At a practice, Shane made a joke to an athlete, sophomore Miguel Vargas.

“We were in a meeting that was really serious,” Vargas told The Easterner. “It was after conference and we didn’t perform well, and that was the whole reason why were having the meeting. He [Shane] just got off topic—I don’t remember how it even came up. He was like, ‘Do we build the wall?’ Like do we do this, ‘Do we deport Miguel?’ And like, ‘Yeah, we deport Miguel.’ And he’s said kind of like, I guess, racial jokes. But I’ve never thought anything of them because we’re cool enough to be on [that level for] those jokes. He never really crossed the line until the last two weeks I was with him.”

Vargas had not competed in a meet since the Montana Invitational on Sept. 29 due to injury.

“I don’t think he was trying to make me look bad or anything, but in that environment that we were in, it wasn’t appropriate for that at all because it was a very serious environment,” said Vargas. “And then you have the whole team there and they’re just basically laughing at me.”

Vargas mentioned this type of banter had happened before. Previously, Vargas did not consider the joking to be malicious.

This time, though, the jokes struck a different chord with Vargas.

“Honestly, [I felt] a lot of anger,” said Vargas. “I thought about walking out of the meeting, but I just looked down and didn’t really want to show my anger.”

This allegation was substantiated by Lamoureaux’s investigation.

The Easterner spoke with Shane over the phone in late February to get a full perspective on what transpired. For this particular allegation, Shane told The Easterner he was just being “chummy” with the joke. This lines up with Shane’s response in the investigative report.

“Shane stated he had made comments regarding Vargas being deported during a meeting because he was attempting to loosen up the meeting. Shane said the meeting was serious and he was trying to be funny to lighten up the mood,” the investigative report stated.

Shane said in no way were his words meant to be harmful and that he’s very accepting of anybody, regardless of their ethnicity.

Allegation #2

The second allegation concerned another incident involving Vargas. While on a visit with prospective recruits, Vargas was helping show some of them the EWU campus. The group was in front of snyamncut Hall when the allegation occurred.

“I was correcting him on the pronunciation of it [snyamncut Hall], and he [Shane] was like, ‘How do you pronounce it?’ and I was like, ‘sin-YA-men-soot,’” Vargas said.

Vargas said Shane responded with, “Oh yeah, that’s your people.” Vargas then answered with, “No, that’s Native American.”

Immediately, Vargas said he could see that this comment made some of the recruits uncomfortable. Vargas said he personally felt the comment was inappropriate and made him feel uncomfortable as well.

This allegation was substantiated by Lamoureaux’s investigation.

Shane told The Easterner that his comments had no malicious intent and they were taken out of context. Shane reiterated his accepting beliefs, mentioning he has respect for all races.

This response matches up with what Shane said in the investigative report, which redacted the names of student athletes.

“Shane admitted he did make some comment about [xxxx] and “brown people” in reference to the dorm Snyamncut. Shane said again he did not make the comment as an insult but as a joke with [xxxx]. Shane further explained he had a good relationship with [xxxx] that involved both of them making jokes about ethnicity. Shane treats everyone the same and welcomes diversity,” the investigative report stated.

Since the investigative report was released, Shane said Vargas and he have connected and smoothed out any differences. Vargas confirmed this with The Easterner.

After the fall quarter, Vargas left EWU and transferred to Spokane Community College.

Allegation #12

The third allegation The Easterner looked into, which is listed as Allegation 12 in the investigative report, dealt with an incident on a team trip “on or about October 28, 2017.”

Three athletes, who asked to be unnamed and were present in the vehicle at the time of the incident, confirmed the following with The Easterner.

The men’s cross-country team was heading back to its hotel after a race in Salt Lake City. Shane was driving when another vehicle on the road honked at the van. The other occupants in the vehicle appeared to be upset at Shane and were making vulgar gestures.

Shane then rolled down his window and yelled to the other vehicle, “You don’t have to honk. I did not honk at you because you are fat and ugly,” the investigative report stated.

This allegation was substantiated by Lamoureaux’s investigation.

Shane told The Easterner this incident did occur, but he did apologize to the athletes.

This response is in accordance with what Shane said in the investigative report and what Lamoureaux discovered in his findings.

“Shane was asked about a road rage incident in Utah while he was driving the van. Shane admitted there was an incident he described as ‘not my best moment.’ […] As he began to merge lanes in traffic with his signal on, the vehicle in question would not allow him to merge but Shane continued to ease into the lane. The vehicle began to honk excessively at Shane. The driver of the other vehicle then drove up along Shane’s driver’s side and lowered their window.

“Shane lowered his window and told the driver that it was unnecessary to honk at him because he had used his turn signal. The driver then displayed their middle finger at Shane. Shane responded by telling the driver they were ‘fat and ugly.’ Shane said after it happened he realized he should have not acted that way. Shane apologized to the athletes for his behavior,” the investigative report stated.

For the athletes in the van, some viewed the situation differently than others. One senior member of the team did not think it was appropriate.

“This is a joke,” one athlete said. “You can’t act like that as a coach in front of your athletes.”

But a different senior member of the team disagreed.

“That’s a team moment kind of thing,” another runner said. “No one would ever know about it. It’s something you don’t take a note about.”

Allegation #14

The last allegation The Easterner looked into, which is listed as Allegation 14 in the investigative report, concerned an incident during a team meeting on Nov. 2.

Earlier on Nov. 2, a few athletes on the men’s cross country team expressed their displeasure with Shane during a team run. After the run, Shane received a phone call from a senior member of the team detailing what had occurred, according to athletes on the team.

Following this conversation, Shane decided to hold a team meeting to address the situation. Shane wanted the team to stop talking negatively about each other, according to athletes on the team.

The team headed to Shane’s office during the evening of Nov. 2 for the meeting. Shane asked the team who had made those comments, but no one admitted to it, according to athletes on the team.

Then a few athletes spoke up. It was during this exchange with two of the runners on the team, who both asked to be unnamed, when Shane made a comment, according to athletes on the team.

Shane referred to the two runners as a “cancer” and the “biggest thorn in the side of the team,” according to athletes on the team.

Eventually one of the athletes was kicked out of the meeting by Shane, which ended shortly after the comments were made, according to athletes on the team.

Six athletes interviewed by The Easterner confirmed this account. One athlete who was present for the meeting, senior Isaac Kitzan, said Shane did apologize to those athletes. Kitzan said a majority of the allegations were either false or taken out of context, and expressed support for Shane.

This allegation was substantiated by Lamoureaux’s investigation.

Shane told The Easterner those comments were made, but they were not intended with hostility. Shane said he wanted to make a point to the team that the current environment was not acceptable.

The complaints were brought forward by one runner to EWU Human Resources on Nov. 3, the day after the team meeting. Shane took the team to the NCAA West Regionals in Seattle on Nov. 10. After the meet, Shane was notified of the investigation.

On that trip to Seattle, Dave Nielsen, jump and multi-events coach for the EWU track and field team, traveled with the cross country team. It was the first and only time that Nielsen accompanied the cross county team for a competition during the season, according to one athlete on the team.

“For me, I felt like it was a big issue to have him [Shane] still coaching while he was under investigation,” one runner said. “I don’t feel like there’s been any accountability.”

On Nov. 30, Lamoureaux completed his investigation. Lamoureaux said he could not comment on individual investigations.

Another athlete, when he heard that Parks had written a letter of recommendation for Shane, called the university’s actions “deplorable.”

During the entire time that Shane was under investigation, he was never placed on administrative leave by the university. It was 19 days after the report was completed when Shane received a letter of termination.

The university-issued press release on Feb. 27 stated that Shane was not fired due to the investigative report. Shane’s contract at EWU included a “for convenience” clause that allowed the school to terminate without any reason given, according to Dave Meany, director of Media Relations for the university. That was the case with Shane’s termination.

Shane has since moved to Utah following his departure from EWU, and told The Easterner he plans to pursue another coaching opportunity in the future.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said every EWU contract includes a “for convenience” clause. It has been revised.

Letter of recommendation for Shane signed by Pam Parks, EWU associate athletic director. Obtained from Dave Meany, director of Media Relations for the university.
The Feb. 27 press release that explained Shane’s departure from EWU. Obtained from Dave Meany.