Image courtesy of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazzette

An Open Letter to Hunter Yurachek, Chad Morris, Joe Steinmetz, and Razorback Nation

November 5, 2022 will probably be a beautiful day in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The crisp fall air will likely be whipping through the Ozarks, as the leaves start to fall from the trees, leaving a kaleidoscopic display of foliage both on campus and off. Spirits will be high, as some 80,000 people gather to cheer on the Razorback football team. But festivities will be marred by a looming shadow, because on November 5, 2022, Arkansas will play host to Liberty University.

Normally, there wouldn’t be much to examine in the case of a football game. Sure, there could be the usual conjecture about starting offensive lines, or debate on which defensive scheme would be most effective, but nothing sinister should ever be expected to dominate conversation. Nevertheless, it will.

Liberty University is one of the most controversial schools in the NCAA, and for good reason. There is tremendous baggage at almost every level, from coaching to administration. By engaging in a contract with Liberty, the University of Arkansas will be both legitimizing and financially rewarding a history of racism, sexism, and outright malevolence. This cannot be allowed to happen.

I don’t make these statements lightly — unnecessary overreaction can be just as much a normalizer of hate, as it makes us numb when actual hate presents itself. But there is a clearly defined, empirical basis for these claims, and I cannot sit idly by while a school I love chooses to debase itself with the company of bigots.

Hugh Freeze, Head Coach

As the head coach of Ole Miss, Hugh Freeze displayed a pattern of dishonesty at every juncture. Ole Miss was constantly under investigation by the NCAA due to Freeze’s activities as head coach. In addition, his tenure was marked by personal scandal that ultimately led to sanctions placed on the program and Freeze’s resignation.

Under Freeze’s watch, recruits were allowed “impermissible benefits,” such as under-the-table payment and fraudulent academic records among other issues. Freeze was also found to have used his university issued cell phone to contact an escort service, that may have been used in recruiting, but at the very least violated university policy.

This is not to seem as though I am feigning outrage over something relatively innocuous. Personally, I believe players should be compensated for their contributions to their universities, but that is beside the point. If the University of Arkansas claims to abide by NCAA rules, it cannot also vindicate Freeze’s misconduct by contributing to his paycheck. It is antithetical to “doing it the right way,” a claim the University of Arkansas will lose the ability to make if Freeze is legitimized.

Admittedly, the actions of Freeze are the least compelling of all evidence against Liberty University, but they are important nonetheless. The University of Arkansas will cede moral high ground by playing Liberty University, undermining recruiting efforts, and damaging the University’s reputation as a whole. If Freeze’s actions are not enough, the actions of his superiors should convince the administration of Arkansas that playing Liberty would be a terrible mistake.

Ian McCaw, Athletic Director

Rather than do the right thing, and swiftly bring the offenders to justice, the officials, including McCaw were complicit in covering up the credible allegations in the name of “athletic success.” Baylor was experiencing a bit of a renaissance at the time, and McCaw saw fit to ensure that the success continued, despite the assault allegations.

This is a black mark on the face of the sport. Too often winning is prioritized over everything else, including criminal justice. This was the case at Baylor, and unfortunately has been the case at numerous other schools. The situation at Baylor was rampant, however, as a lawsuit revealed that from 2011 to 2014 at least 31 football players committed at least 52 rapes.

This led to an investigation conducted by Pepper Hamilton LLP, which revealed that Briles, McCaw, and Starr were aware of the assaults, and knowingly colluded to suppress any allegations. The fallout of this investigation resulted in the termination of Briles and the resignations of McCaw and Starr.

By hiring McCaw, Liberty University has in effect legitimized McCaw’s practices of suppression in the name of winning, and by playing Liberty, the University of Arkansas will too. I am willing to forgive sins of the past in many instances, but McCaw has shown no remorse, and believes himself to be the victim of some grander conspiracy, rather than the actual victims of sexual assault.

The University of Arkansas is comprised of nearly 30,000 students, and nearly half of whom are women. What does it say to those women that their University will break bread with a man who systematically bullied and suppressed the women of Baylor University in the name of winning football games? That they are not to be believed and heard? That their assault doesn’t matter if it interferes with football? This is not the modus operandi of the University I love, and should be incompatible with any place of higher education, or for that matter, any place. To deny half of the student body justice is indefensible, but perpetrators of this act are who the University is seeking to befriend.

Jerry Falwell, Jr, President

Recently, Falwell was quoted as saying in the wake of mass shootings that he “always thought that, if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in…” This is the kind of rhetoric that leads to innocent people — like those in New Zealand — being gunned down. Hate is not natural. It is normalized, and Falwell is normalizing it in this quote.

Mr. Falwell is entitled to his free speech, but as a public university with a plethora of Muslim students, this should be an incredibly concerning red flag. Liberty University has no responsibility to welcome Muslim students (even if it’s the right thing to do) as a private university, but Arkansas is a public, state-funded school, and does bear that responsibility. What message is being sent to Muslim students? That we will engage with bigots because they have a football team?

If this was not enough, he was quoted upon hiring McCaw as saying “You look at what Baylor was able to do during his tenure, it fits perfectly with where we see our sports programs going.” Based upon the previously outlined reasons, this is an unbelievably vile statement to make.

He has also threatened the life of a political adversary. Regarding his disagreement with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, he began by stating that his “boys always had guns in their hands.” He continued, “That’s not something you teach them, that’s something they’re born with, but as far as those cows you mentioned, I’ve got a hundred cows … you just let Alexandria Cortez show up at my house and try to take my cows away.”

Given the context, one can only interpret this as threatening to shoot the congresswoman. Now, it is likely that this comment was made in a “joking” context (however poor the “joke” is), but as a representative of a university, I believe that you have to be better than that, especially when considering the world in which we live, where mass shootings occur daily. Do I believe he would actually shoot Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? No. But this kind of dialogue only perpetuates the ideation of people who actually do commit these heinous acts.

Conclusion

The game is scheduled for 2022, and while scheduling college football games is grueling, there is enough time to right the ship. Liberty University is not even a premiere football program, and there are plenty of other schools that would likely jump at the chance to play a program as storied as the University of Arkansas.

I suppose in effect, I’m saying, you don’t have to do this, and you shouldn’t do this. As a recent graduate, I’m sure my contributions are just a drop in the pan, but I will be ceasing to donate to the Razorback Foundation as long as Liberty is on the schedule, and would encourage others to do the same. The University of Arkansas is better than becoming bedfellows with Liberty, and I think upon examination, this is a fairly obvious conclusion.

So to Director Yurachek, Coach Morris, Chancellor Steinmetz, and members of Razorback Nation, I beseech you. Reject Liberty University. Do not normalize hate. Be a beacon, nestled in the Ozarks, inspiring the hearts and minds of ALL people.

Our alma mater states that Old Main, and the University as a whole stands “pure as the dawn.” That purity will be tainted forever by Liberty University. Please, for all that is good and right, continue to be that “beacon of hope in the ways dreary lighted.”

Respectfully,

Tucker Partridge, a lifelong Razorback

Tucker Partridge is a former Sturgis Fellow at the University of Arkansas in the Class of 2018.

Comments, critiques, and inquiries may be made to tuckerpartridge@gmail.com.

Tucker is on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and may be found using the handle @TuckerPartridge.

What do YOU think? Let me know in the comments below. Let’s start a discussion.

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