Morgan's Diggs accused of verbal abuse Academic coordinator filed complaint Nov. 10

November 20, 1992|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer Staff writer Paul McMullen contributed to this article.

The academic coordinator for Morgan State athletics has filed a charge of verbal harassment with the university against football coach Ricky Diggs.

Awaiting a response from the school's legal counsel, Elizabeth "Betsey" Stearns said yesterday she will file a civil suit against the university if that response does not meet her approval.

Stearns filed the complaint on Nov. 10 after a series of events "culminated in one extensive incident" with Diggs, she said. She would not give specifics of the incident, however, other than to say it was not sexual harassment.

Although Diggs initially issued an apology, Stearns said she was not satisfied. She refused to say what action she was seeking with her complaint, though.

Her complaint preceded by eight days a petition signed by 69 Morgan State players seeking the dismissal of Diggs as coach. The petition was delivered to the university administration Wednesday.

Yesterday morning -- even as Morgan State administrators celebrated the golden era of former football coach and athletic director Earl C. Banks, who will be inducted into the National College Football Hall of Fame on Dec. 8 -- university officials were attempting once more to deal with the reality of Morgan's tattered, modern era.

Diggs' second Morgan team is 2-8 heading into tomorrow's season finale against Bethune-Cookman at Hughes Stadium. In their petition, players charged that they were "afraid to talk to him for fear of being humiliated and embarrassed." They also charged Diggs of favoritism, and called for defensive coordinator L. C. Cole to be named head coach.

Diggs refused to address the charges publicly yesterday, and several of his assistants refused comment as well. Players filing into Hill Field House for yesterday's practice huddled in small groups in the corridors, but declined to discuss the petition with reporters. Practice, held in the gym because of inclement weather, went off without any problems.

University president Dr. Earl S. Richardson acknowledged the petition, but said, "I haven't done anything with it. I won't do anything until my staff investigates it."

Richardson has instructed Dr. Raymond Downs, the school's vice president for student affairs, to direct an investigation into the allegations. Downs was out of town yesterday and unavailable for comment. Acting athletic director Joe McIver said the investigation would not begin until Downs returned today.

"The players have been forced into their position," Stearns said from her office in Hill Field House. "They have tried to work with Ricky."

Stearns said there were at least two meetings between the players and Diggs on the subject of his treatment of them, and "they were not satisfied with his response."

Stearns said she had a "very good working relationship" with Diggs before the recent allegation of verbal harassment. Asked if Diggs tried to bend rules to benefit his team, she said, "That's not for me to discuss."

She confirmed two incidents cited in the petition. In one, freshman running back Andre Thomas wanted to miss a practice to work on a paper -- "a take-home test" -- but was refused permission and given an ultimatum of practicing or leaving the team. Thomas left the team.

The other incident involved linebacker Tom Perry, who, according to Stearns, was "kicked off the team for bad performance," only to be reinstated later.

Former Morgan State athletic director Leonard Braxton, who recently took a job as track and field coach at Arizona State, said yesterday from Tempe that he had no indications the players were organizing a protest before he left last week.

"It wasn't like this when I left," he said. "It was all quiet on the western front. I'm surprised that the students are unified in this."

Braxton, who hired Diggs before the 1991 season, said he had received no complaints about Diggs.

"Not to me," Braxton said. "The kids never came to me complaining, and I don't know that they did to anyone else, either."

Braxton said that Diggs' background as a disciplinarian may have a bearing on the players' charge that Diggs humiliates them.

"Sometimes these kids have to understand his military background. He coached at The Citadel and the Air Force Academy. He's a strong disciplinarian. That's his character trait. It came with the package," he said.

Braxton said he knew that Diggs and Stearns had a falling out recently. He said their disagreement focused on "how reports are given about our students. We used to check on their progress once every three weeks. Ricky might have wanted that increased.

"She [Stearns] is a one-woman show, and we were going into new territory when we hired her. She was the first academic coordinator hired strictly for athletics."

Stearns was hired from the Hockaday School, a private girls school in Dallas in August 1991. This is her first job in college

athletics.

McIver said Stearns remains in charge of academic coordination. Since the incident, though, Diggs works with Tom Wilcox, Stearns' study hall monitor, and not Stearns.

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