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Opinion: If Warde Manuel doesn’t fire Mel Pearson, his job should be questioned

Syndication: DetroitFreePress Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press, Detroit Free Press via Imagn Content Services, LLC

This is an opinion piece by Maize n Brew Site Manager Von Lozon.

This entire situation very well could be over by tomorrow; a Friday news dump wouldn’t shock me. At this point, I don’t care if it gets resolved right after I hit publish on this editorial. I’ve seen enough and I needed to put my thoughts out there.

When my good friend and Maize n Brew alum Sam Dodge first reported with The Ann Arbor News/MLive that the Michigan Wolverines hockey team was under investigation for a slew of things, I figured it wasn’t going to end well.

And now that the WilmerHale 70-page investigation is completed and now available for public consumption, it’s more clear to me now that U-M athletic director Warde Manuel needs to fire Pearson from his job as head coach of the hockey team.

Among the things in the report is Pearson told the team to lie on Covid contact tracing forms before their NCAA Tournament appearance in 2021, all so they wouldn’t have to forfeit. They ended up forfeiting anyways because, you know, it’s a freaking pandemic. Why would you endanger lives for playing a few hockey games?

Pearson and former director of hockey operations Rick Bancroft also created a toxic environment for female staff members, with Bancroft bullying them. Horrible, right? Pearson also retaliated against student-athletes for speaking up about how the culture had taken a wrong turn, essentially telling former goalie Strauss Mann that his time with the team was done.

To cap it all off, the report found Pearson lied to investigators. Mann spoke up to Pearson about the bad culture he created. Pearson told investigators they never spoke about the concerns Mann had. However, the report said other people who were interviewed said Pearson, in fact, did discuss those things with Mann.

WilmerHale’s conclusion pointed towards some much needed change.

“These issues facing the hockey program require attention,” reads the report. “Despite prior efforts to assess and respond to allegations regarding the culture of the program, additional work remains to be done.

“Specifically, the University should review whether Respondent’s conduct violates other University policies, including but not limited to Standard Practice Guide 601.90, Protection from Retaliation. In addition, the Athletic Department should take steps to address a number of issues discussed in this report [...]”

The bolded section above is, quite literally, telling Manuel to get off his ass and do something. The report was completed back in May, so Manuel has known the outcome of this for nearly three months now. He’s had three months to do what should have been done. As of Aug. 4, 2022, he still hasn’t fired Pearson, and it sure seems like he doesn’t want to do what’s right.

John U. Bacon has been all over the developments, tweeting updates nearly daily. On Thursday, Bacon tweeted the line in the sand has been drawn — the regents and interim U-M president Mary Sue Coleman want Pearson gone, while Manuel wants him to stay, and even tried to get him to sign a contract extension EARLIER THIS WEEK.

Bacon is as plugged-in with the university and the athletic department as anyone; he wouldn’t tweet anything like this just for the sake of tweeting. I have absolutely zero reason to doubt him, which is why I am infuriated with how Manuel has handled this entire situation. And because of that, I now believe his job should be on the line.

If Pearson is retained, that is a fireable offense. Keeping around a coach who enabled a toxic work environment for student-athletes, allowed discriminatory actions for female staff members, and lied to investigators during the investigation, are all inexcusable.

Bacon put it best in a pair of follow-up tweets — “In my view, if UM ignores the findings of the external investigation it commissioned, it sacrifices moral authority. If the conduct catalogued in that report is not grounds for dismissal, then no UM employee or student should ever come forward to report wrongdoing again. UM will lose the trust of its constituents.”

Moral authority is what U-M has stood on for its entire existence. Moral authority is why the university isn’t playing the NIL game with recruits like how Miami or Texas A&M are. It’s why they call themselves the “leaders and best” — because they lead during times like these.

“Leading” is something Manuel is not doing. If Pearson escapes this unscathed, perhaps it’s time someone else did.