NEW YORK (AP) — Some Columbia University wrestlers will be suspended from the team for as long as the rest of the school year over lewd and racially insensitive text messages, but some teammates can keep competing, including in a state championship this weekend, the university announced on Friday.
Columbia wouldn’t say how many wrestlers are barred from competing, citing educational privacy laws, and the team coach and assistant coaches didn’t immediately respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment.
The team apologized in a letter on Thursday, calling the text messages inexcusable and saying members were prepared for repercussions.
“We could not be more remorseful for the harm that this situation has caused,” the team wrote, according to a student-run blog that said it received the letter.
The blog, Bwog.com, had published screengrabs of the crude text messages.
The Ivy League university had put all competition on hold Monday to investigate the texts, which the blog said were exchanged by seniors on the wrestling team.
Some messages disparaged female students, expressed hope that someone would be sexually assaulted at a campus event, used anti-gay terms and slurred black people, including while discussing the deadly police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
The blog redacted the senders’ identities, so it was unclear how many people sent or responded to them. But Columbia’s athletics department said in a statement on Friday it determined only a “distinct group” of wrestlers was involved.
Those responsible for the offensive statements are suspended from the team through the rest of the school year, some others are barred just through the rest of the semester and those who weren’t involved can continue competing, the athletics department said. No wrestlers are suspended from their studies, just from the sport.
The department said it recognized students have a right to express themselves, but the “appalling” messages don’t fit behavior standards for Columbia’s student-athletes. The athletes’ code of conduct includes pledges to “treat everyone with dignity and respect” and not to do anything that might reflect poorly on themselves or the team.
The wrestlers will work with an advocate for fighting discrimination in sports, the department said.
The messages were revealed a week after Harvard University canceled the remainder of the season for its men’s soccer team because of lewd comments about members of the women’s soccer team.