Allegations of hateful remarks have roiled the Towson University rugby team, and a subsequent controversy led to the head coach’s resignation.
A spokesman for the university said the matter is still under review. He also confirmed that Tony De Cesare, who served as the head coach on a voluntary basis, had resigned June 4.
Efforts to reach De Cesare were unsuccessful. Junior Ethan Buda, who was the recipient of the alleged bias and has since quit the team, declined interview requests, referring to his earlier statements posted on social media.
Buda’s statement in early June read: “Through the irresponsibility and lack of effort shown by individuals of the coaching staff and members of the team, the Towson Men’s Rugby team has lost its devotion to inclusion and equality at every level within its program. However, players within this program brought these racist remarks and injustices that you have probably heard of in the past two days to light. ... The actions of a few do not represent the core essence and value of this organization.”
The turmoil surrounding the club sport came to light two weeks ago when the campus newspaper, The Towerlight, published an article on the team.
On June 2, De Cesare said, he received a text message about a post made on Facebook. The text was a screenshot of a message between two players that “contained the alleged hate speech and offensive language,” the coach said in a statement shared June 5 by the Towson Rugby Alumni Association’s Facebook account that has since been removed.
De Cesare said he called the player who sent the offending text, informed him that he would refer the matter to Jeff Kennan, the university’s club sports supervisor, and suggested he apologize to his teammates. The player agreed to make amends, according to the coach.
De Cesare then said he called the player who received the message and copied it to Facebook, which was Buda. The coach said he wanted to get context and sought to remind Buda that filing a formal hate speech report was a more recommended avenue than social media.
“The conversation became heated — I used expletives — and the player hung up before we reached any conclusions,” De Cesare wrote. “This player then quit the team and I wished him the best of luck moving forward.”
About 90 minutes later, De Cesare said, he learned there was another post on social media calling the player who sent the offending text a white supremacist and alleging that the coach was being complicit.
Senior Abdul Adaranijo, who went public about what he deemed leadership’s insufficient response, declined interview requests, referring to his earlier statements on social media.
In a subsequent phone conversation with the author of that social media post — Adaranijo — De Cesare denied any complicity, but rejected Adaranijo’s demands that the player who sent the initial text be removed from the team and publicly identified. The coach said he did not have the authority to remove a player and that it was inappropriate to make a comment before the university investigated.
The next day, De Cesare said, he reported the message to Student Conduct and Civility Education, noting the importance of following due process.
He resigned June 4.
“Yesterday [June 4], I resigned my post as Head Coach, the target of a sudden and vicious avalanche of online bullying and death threats,” De Cesare said, according to The Towerlight. “Why? Because I handled an alleged hate speech incident between two players exactly as Towson University instructs, through the proper channels.”
In a response posted on Facebook, Adaranijo disputed De Cesare’s account, contending that the coach made no mention to Buda about filing a formal report with the school rather than social media, but emphasized the importance of “resolving the issue within the club.” Adaranijo also wrote that Buda hung up on De Cesare because “he had enough of the verbal abuse from the coach” and that the coach texted Buda, “YOU NEED TO PICK UP THAT PHONE OR THIS ISNT GOING TO END WELL.”
Adaranijo denied asking De Cesare to remove the offending player or identify him. He wrote that he recommended that De Cesare make a statement publicly disassociating himself from the player’s words and showing support of Black players and their families.
“The leadership of this team has failed me, my family, and the Black players and families that have been a part of Towson Rugby,” said Adaranijo, according to The Towerlight.
Adaranijo said he was most angered that De Cesare appeared to take a harsher stance with Buda for calling out his teammate’s hate instead of reprimanding the offending player.
De Cesare told The Towerlight that he is not planning to take any legal action.
Buda said he has been encouraged by the messages and phone calls he has received from former players.
“I brought these remarks to light to show what Towson Rugby does not stand for,” he said. “When I called out against these remarks, I did not expect the entire club to suffer as a whole. However, it’s very disheartening when you learn the true colors of the individuals that are part of this so-called ‘family.’”
The university spokesman included a statement distributed June 4 and signed by Leah Cox, the vice president for inclusion and institutional equity, and Vernon Hurte, the vice president for student affairs.
“As an inclusive community resolved to help advance the global conversation around race, we know that hateful speech and conduct play a role in perpetuating systemic racism and fuel oppression,” the statement read. “Towson University denounces racist ideologies and stands against those who seek to destroy and damage our collective work to build an inclusive campus.”
The club sport’s president said the team would rebound from the recent incidents.
“A couple bad eggs don’t ruin the batch,” said Zach Wasilewski, who finished his junior year. “It’s ebbs and flows of life. Just like in life, you have low points and you have high points. We are Towson rugby, and we will make it through this, and we will come out stronger than ever and ready to face whatever adversity comes at us next.”
Wasilewski said De Cesare went through the channels organized by the school and said he understood some of Adaranijo’s points. He declined to comment on Buda’s decision to post the text messages on social media.