No, this wasn’t a freedom of speech issue. It was a Cal Poly commit behaving badly

Former Cal Poly wrestling recruit caught yelling homophobic slur at rally

Bronson Harmon lost his Cal Poly wrestling scholarship after video of him using an obscene gesture and homophobic slur during the Families Belong Together March in Modesto on June 30 surfaced on social media.
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Bronson Harmon lost his Cal Poly wrestling scholarship after video of him using an obscene gesture and homophobic slur during the Families Belong Together March in Modesto on June 30 surfaced on social media.

Bronson Harmon, an up-and-coming wrestler, planned to go to Cal Poly on an athletic scholarship this fall.

That won’t be happening.

He’ll be going to Cal Poly, but not on a scholarship. And he won’t be on the wrestling team.

Harmon was caught on video yelling a homophobic slur and flipping someone off at a June 30 protest march in Modesto. A few days later, Cal Poly’s wrestling coach called Harmon and told him his scholarship was revoked.

This was a tough call, but the right one for Cal Poly.

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The university has been trying to attract a more diverse student body, which has been a challenge following a string of much-publicized incidents, including two separate cases of white fraternity members appearing in blackface.

In response, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong asked the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate whether fraternities and sororities have violated Cal State’s non-discrimination policies.

What sort of hypocritical message would it send if the university welcomed Harmon onto the wrestling team?

Athletes have privilege and responsibility — and know they must act as role models. They are held to a higher standard than other students. They can be kicked off teams for smoking, drinking, using drugs, fighting and, yes, taunting people with homophobic slurs.

Harmon should understand that; he was a star wrestler at Oakdale High School and competed in state meets. What’s more, when he accepted Cal Poly’s offer of financial aid, Harmon signed an agreement acknowledging the university “could cancel his assistance for actions that could cause embarrassment to the school.”

And, yep, this definitely qualifies.

Harmon and his father showed up at a Families Belong Together march that opposed Trump’s treatment of immigrants. They were there as counter protesters, carrying red-white-and-blue Trump signs.

Harmon said he and his father were harassed, spit on and called Nazis.

We have to ask: What did they expect? They helped create a volatile situation and should have been prepared to handle it without lashing back.

If not, they should have stayed home.

Harmon told The Tribune he was wrong to react as he did and he regrets it. Yet in the same interview, he also complained his freedom of speech was taken away.

That’s not the case.

It’s one thing to take a knee to protest injustice. It’s another to play the freedom of speech card when you’re caught in the act of shouting, “F*** you fa**ot,” at a person holding a camera.

Harmon’s scholarship wasn’t revoked because he made a political statement. He was stripped of his scholarship after video surfaced of his homophobic outburst.

He’ll face other consequences as well, which include having his past come back to haunt him when future employers Google his name.

He does, however, still have the opportunity to attend Cal Poly. He also can learn in other ways.

The organizer of the Modesto’s Families Belong Together march has offered to have a conversation with Harmon and his father, to explain why they were protesting.

“... We will be willing to set that up and give him a chance to redeem himself so that he’s not forever known just as the kid who lost his scholarship for shouting hateful slurs on video,” she posted on the Modesto Bee website.

We believe Harmon should have multiple chances to redeem himself. He’s 18 years old. Who among us hasn’t done or said something incredibly insensitive at 18, or 28 or 38, for that matter?

Harmon’s life should not be ruined by one brief incident. And at the same time, Cal Poly should not look the other way or give him a slap on the wrist.

It’s time for the university to draw a firm line. Revoking Bronson Harmon’s scholarship sends a strong statement that should resonate with other students. We support Cal Poly’s decision.