Editorials

Cal Poly needs to send clear message about student safety and well-being

Cal Poly football head coach Tim Walsh talks to players Tuesday about how they should prepare for the upcoming season after the second practice since an off-campus incident Sunday that led to the arrests of five players on the team.
Cal Poly football head coach Tim Walsh talks to players Tuesday about how they should prepare for the upcoming season after the second practice since an off-campus incident Sunday that led to the arrests of five players on the team. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

We don’t expect Cal Poly to produce championship-caliber athletic teams every season. It’s exciting when teams do well, and we hope they continue to do so, but Cal Poly’s reputation is built on academics and the success of its alumni — not on the number of trophies won.

We do expect Cal Poly to run a clean, safe and reliable sports program that fosters student athletes dedicated to their teams and respectful of the rules — both on the field and off.

It was a shock, then, to learn that five Cal Poly football players — including last year’s team MVP, Kristaan Sterling Ivory — were arrested in connection with an attempted armed robbery at a fraternity house.

Whether the suspects were after drugs, money or both is outrageous in and of itself. That one of them, Cameron Marcel Akins, 19, would bring a gun to the frat house — police aren’t saying whether the weapon was loaded — and then allegedly bite a police officer while resisting arrest elevates the seriousness of the act.

One of the fraternity members confronted by the armed suspect was so frightened that he was unable to speak. In a remarkably courageous move, another frat member, Forrest Baker, intervened at that point by offering to help the suspect find what he was after.

There’s still much we don’t know about the incident; at this point, we’re dealing with a lot of allegations that may or may not be proven, and it could take months or more for the case to work its way through the courts.

In the meantime, though, this will be a blot on Cal Poly’s football program, even on the university itself.

“Just by the arrest, nobody’s going to look at that and say anything positive about the situation,” football coach Tim Walsh said.

He’s right.

Cal Poly has a stellar reputation for many reasons, one of them being the safety and small-town appeal of the community. An incident like this one drives home the sad reality that — while some of us may still feel safe leaving our doors unlocked at night — San Luis Obispo is not exactly a crime-free haven.

Nor does it help that this was not a single isolated incident; as San Luis Obispo police Chief Steve Gesell noted, it’s similar to a crime that occurred in November. In that case, a former Cal Poly football player who had also been a student assistant coach was shot in the back during a robbery. Police determined that the two suspects were after Xanax, the prescription drug that was also mentioned in connection with last weekend’s incident.

Again, the allegation that Xanax may have been the motive for the recent robbery is just that: an allegation. However, we urge Cal Poly to investigate whether recreational drug use among student athletes is a problem and, if so, to crack down on it, as well as to review recruitment efforts and standards for athletes.

As demoralizing as this incident is for Cal Poly, for Mustang football fans and for the community, it’s also an opportunity for the university to send a strong message of commitment to the safety and well-being of students, above all else.

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