Among punished midshipmen, a sense of unequal treatment Academy: The star quarterback was allowed to graduate and is headed for the NFL. But three others who violated strict rules against fraternization suffered severe punishment.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When the football star began flirting with her, Felicia Harris admits she ignored the strict Naval Academy rules that ban dating between male and female midshipmen -- especially between seniors like him and freshmen like her.

But today, Harris wonders why she was expelled from the school she loved, while the man she had sex with, record-breaking quarterback Chris McCoy, received less serious punishment. After an investigation, he was allowed to graduate and is headed toward a career in the National Football League.

Harris was charged with having sexual relationships with two other midshipmen, sophomore Kevin McGlathery and junior Aaron Smith, during the 1997-1998 school year. They, too, have left the academy. They say they were treated unfairly, and have asked the secretary of the Navy to review their cases.

McGlathery, in his resignation letter dated May 11, wrote to the secretary: "The only differences between McCoy and the other three midshipmen are his accomplishments on the football field and his position in the media."

McCoy, who set a school record with 43 career touchdowns and, as co-captain, led the team to its first victory over Army in five years, is on temporary duty at the academy before heading to Surface Warfare Officers' School. He is seeking to have his five-year obligation to the Navy cut to two years, so he can play football with the Green Bay Packers.

He declined to discuss the academy's handling of his case, saying: "I just hope that everything works out for everybody involved and nobody gets hurt."

Academy spokesman Cmdr. Mike Brady, citing privacy concerns, declined to discuss the allegations that McCoy was given preferential treatment. He said only that each of the cases was "considered individually with its own circumstances."

Allegations of preferential treatment come as the academy ends its quietest year this decade. The school has struggled to distance itself from the tumultuous scandals of recent years, when midshipmen were charged with cheating on tests, stealing cars and selling drugs. And it continues to grapple with sexual harassment in its ranks.

Crossing the line

The midshipmen in this case all admitted to crossing the line drawn 22 years ago when women were admitted to the academy. Upperclassmen cannot date freshmen, called "plebes," and students cannot have sex on academy grounds, but each of the three males had a brief sexual relationship with the woman last fall.

McGlathery, 21, of Chicago, quit rather than be expelled. Smith, 22, of Silver Spring, was recommended for expulsion and now owes the Navy $67,000 -- the cost of his education at the academy. And Harris, 19, who graduated from Largo High School and lives in Mitchellville, was recommended for expulsion.

The expulsions await final approval from Navy Secretary John H. Dalton.

McCoy was found guilty of five "major" offenses under the academy's conduct code, including sexual misconduct and failing to maintain a professional relationship with a freshman. Each offense could result in expulsion.

He was put on probation, lost some of his liberty and privileges, and had to perform marching tours as punishment, but was allowed to graduate last month.

'Disparate treatment'

The other students were each found guilty of three major offenses. In a letter to the Navy secretary, Harris wrote that McCoy's "status as a high profile football quarterback may explain his disparate treatment."

Rumors about the incident had circulated for months, fueled by a March 3 e-mail message in which the brigade commander, the top midshipman, informed all 4,000 midshipmen that some had "engaged in sexual intercourse in Bancroft Hall." No information on the incidents was released publicly, but details were gleaned from internal memos, investigative reports and testimony from conduct hearings obtained by The Sun.

Harris dated the upperclassmen at different times last fall, most recently McCoy. All four were charged in January with violating academy rules, and all four confessed.

Academy commandant Adm. Gary Roughead, the equivalent of a dean of students, recommended expulsion for Harris, Smith and McGlathery -- but not McCoy. That recommendation was approved May 4 -- on the eve of final exams -- by Superintendent Adm. Charles R. Larson, who has retired.

Though Roughead would not comment, he said at a hearing in February that he chose to retain McCoy because the other three had sex in buildings on campus, called the "Yard." According to a transcript of the hearing, Roughead said his decision may "seem a little incongruous" and "could be criticized," but that he could not allow "sexual activity in [Bancroft] Hall or in the Yard. To me, this is the ship, OK, and that sort of activity just cannot go on."

Harris said she and McCoy drove to a hotel for sex, but sometimes cuddled and kissed at night in his car parked on academy grounds. "They overlooked that, really," she said.

Her parents, in letters to academy officials and in interviews, expressed dismay with the academy's decision to retain McCoy.

"We're not trying to say what she did wasn't wrong," said Harris' father, Curtis. "It was very wrong. It's embarrassing to her, her family and goes against the things we stand for.

"We just didn't feel that much punishment was warranted. She didn't break the law."

Harris' parents also were angry that the academy held hearings in February but didn't expel their daughter until just before final exams. Harris scored poorly on finals and may be too late to enroll in another school for the fall.

'Where is their honor?'

"That's just not fair. If you didn't want her here, put her out. Don't make her linger," Curtis Harris said. "They talk about honor. Where is their honor?"

Said Smith, who played varsity basketball: "If only I could have scored a few more points, maybe I'd still be there." Smith, who is working at a credit counseling agency, said he has no idea how he'll pay the $67,000 owed for his education.

But fraternization among midshipmen is nothing new, said Sharon Disher, author of "First Class," an account of her experience as part of the first class of female graduates in 1980. She, too, had a relationship with a senior when she was a plebe.

"Women can feel pressured and feel overpowered because it may be an upperclassman who's doing it to them," Disher said. "That's what happened to me."

Harris says she was flattered by her suitors' attention at a time when most upperclassmen insult or ignore plebes. "They started saying, 'Don't call me sir, call me Aaron, call me Kevin,' " she said. "And I think when Chris started talking to me I was just overwhelmed."

'But I don't hate him'

Harris acknowledges that an infatuation with a football star was no excuse to break the rule that says "upperclassmen will not date members of the [freshman] class at any time."

"If my behavior warranted separation [expulsion], I think Chris' behavior should warrant separation, too," she said. "But I don't hate him for getting me in trouble."

Harris initially appealed to Secretary Dalton in hopes that he might overturn her expulsion, but she has decided to move on and leave the Navy behind.

Smith also appealed and is hoping to be reinstated, but doesn't sound too hopeful.

"The past four years of my life have been all Navy," said Smith, who went to a Navy prep school for a year. "Now it's all gone."

Pub Date: 6/24/98

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
73°