A Coach Goes Too Far

"Ultimatum" that wrestlers not join fraternities was inappropriate, Brown officials say.
April 11, 2005

Brown University's wrestling coach acted inappropriately when he told members of his team they had to choose between being on his squad and joining a fraternity, university officials say. Brown administrators declined to say what action, if any, they had taken against Coach David Amato, and some of the coach's critics complained that he'd gotten a wrist slap, not a real punishment.

Alumni and students affiliated with the Delta Tau fraternity were furious last month when at least two freshman wrestlers who had been planning on joining Greek organizations decided not to, citing what they characterized as an ultimatum from Amato.

At least one of the wrestlers told the Brown Daily Herald, the student newspaper, that Amato had specifically told the wrestlers that they had to choose between the team and a fraternity. One of the wrestlers withdrew from Delta Tau, dropping the fraternity below the number of new pledges needed to remain an on-campus housing option.

Officials of Delta Tau and leaders in Brown's fraternity system complained to university officials that the coach's behavior violated university rules and that it was inappropriate for a staff member to try to influence the right of Brown undergraduates to decide where to live or which organizations to join. While some urged the university to fire or otherwise punish Amato, others asked the institution to make clear that Amato had violated its policies.

David Greene, vice president for campus life and student services, did the latter last week. He told the Brown student paper that "I think [Amato] recognizes he went too far in this case, and I would say the same thing.”

"It's absolutely appropriate to be able to talk to members of the team about choices they're making and to counsel them about that, to talk about the experiences other players have had when they've made those choices," Greene told the Daily Herald. "Those things all seem to be just right, and (Amato) did those things. I think what's not appropriate is setting an ultimatum for members of the team ... and we're all on the same page that that's not the way that the coach would relate to players in the future."

Greene said any action taken against the coach was private. Through a spokeswoman for the university, Greene declined to be interviewed beyond what he told the Daily Herald.

In an e-mail message, Amato also demurred. "As far as I am concerned it is a dead issue and I do not have any comment."

The president of Delta Tau, Chris DeCarolis, did not respond to requests for comment. But he told the Daily Herald that he was disappointed with the university’s response. If Amato had urged a wrestler not to join Brown’s gay student group, DeCarolis said, “he would have been reprimanded or fired” immediately.

But Jon Land, who is alumni president of another fraternity, Delta Phi, and alumni representative to the university’s Fraternity Council, which oversees the Greek system, said in an interview that he was satisfied with Brown’s actions. “It would have been nice if Coach Amato had admitted that he was wrong,” said Land. But he said that based on what Greene, the vice president, had told him, “Brown has made it clear that this behavior goes against what Brown stands for,” and that “no university official can influence a student’s choice of residential lifestyle or extracurricular clubs.”

Land warned, though, that fraternity officials would be watching next year for signs that freshman wrestlers are discouraged from going Greek. "If I catch wind that he's repeating the same behavior," Land said, "I'm not going to be the diplomat again."


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