Amherst Sanctions Team, Fires Coach Over Racist Chant

Paul Steinbach Headshot

Amherst College in Massachusetts has placed its nationally ranked lacrosse program on probation and fired its head coach in response to reports of racist actions by team members.

As reported by the Daily Hampshire Gazette, the school fired coach Jon Thompson, made itself ineligible for the 2021 postseason and banned formal team gatherings until Nov. 1, which includes any player-run practices or other team-bonding activities. In addition, every member of the team will be required to complete an educational course on diversity and inclusion.

The incident that sparked the punishment first came to light March 11, when the Amherst Student reported that members of the men’s lacrosse team chanted the n-word at a black lacrosse player, who then punched one of his teammates who was using the term.

In a letter to the Amherst College community signed by President Biddy Martin, Catherine Epstein, provost and dean of the faculty, and athletic director Don Faulstick, the school pointed out that the incident was just the latest in a pattern of troubling behavior surrounding the program.

“Participation in athletics at Amherst is a privilege, not a right,” the letter said. “Amherst athletes are required to follow the behavioral standards set by the athletic department and the College honor code as well. We realize that not every student on the men’s lacrosse team has actively participated in the violations that have come to light. However, as with any group or organization on our campus, teammates are accountable to each other and, as a team, also to the larger community. In short, we cannot ignore the harmful culture that exists on the men’s lacrosse team, and its damage to our community.”

According to the Gazette, the letter described several other incidents that led to the administration's decision. Team members had exchanged messages in a popular texting app, GroupMe, that were “denigrating and ridiculing” transgender and gender-nonconforming staff members. Team members also were responsible for incidents of vandalism in residence halls and putting an undue burden on campus custodial services.

Moreover, the team was uncooperative in the investigation of this latest incident, the letter states, and no one took ownership for chanting the n-word.

“Amherst athletics is among the oldest and most prestigious athletic programs in the country,” the letter concluded. “Our athletes can and must reflect the best of Amherst, holding themselves to the high standards we expect of our community in all its endeavors. We stand ready to help guide and support the work of transforming the men’s lacrosse program and to continue the work of ensuring that all our students have full access to the intellectual, social, and co-curricular opportunities Amherst offers.”

Thompson led the Mammoths to their first national championship game last season, marking their seventh tournament appearance in Thompson's first nine seasons with the program. The team was ranked No. 7 in the country this year before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thompson finishes his Amherst career with a 125-47 record.

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