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West Point rugby team disbanded over 'inappropriate' emails

Punishment includes 'respect rehabilitation'

Jun. 2, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
The West Point men's rugby club, shown playing last season, was disbanded in May and some of this season's players were disciplined after an investigation.
The West Point men's rugby club, shown playing last season, was disbanded in May and some of this season's players were disciplined after an investigation. (Mike Strasser / West Point Public Affairs)
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Leaders at the U.S. Military Academy have temporarily disbanded the men’s rugby team over an “inappropriate” email chain that “would suggest a hostile team environment or a culture of disrespect towards women,” according to a statement from the school.

An investigator at the school concluded in May that there was no “evidence of sexual assault” or of “inappropriate pictures of cadets,” West Point officials said. But the investigation found that members of the team violated several tenets of the Cadet Disciplinary Code.

The cadets were ordered to complete an “intense respect rehabilitation program,” which involved self-assessments, reflective journals and role-model interviews, supervised by a mentor. Cadets on the team have since graduated, the statement reads; 15 members of the team were in the class of 2013.

“An extensive legal review was conducted and found no legal objection to the investigation,” the academy’s statement reads. “The intent of this program was not only to punish the offenders but to address the cultural issues with their actions and the incompatibility of these actions to the Army Values.”

A West Point spokesman said the school’s office of the staff judge advocate reviewed the report.

Lt. Col. Webster Wright, chief West Point spokesman, said it’s not clear how long the team will be suspended. An investigation into “the atmosphere of the team” is ongoing, which he said precluded officials from discussing the case.

The cadets were punished under the Cadet Disciplinary Code after the school’s leadership became aware of the emails in April and launched a 15-6 investigation. The investigation looked into “the culture of the Men’s Cadet Rugby Team, any actions or behaviors that would suggest a hostile team environment or culture of disrespect towards women, or any other potentially inappropriate conduct/culture.”

The suspension of the team was first reported by Rugby magazine and the blog Best Defense days after a noncommissioned officer at the academy was charged with filming cadets in the bathroom and shower without their permission.

At the school’s commencement May 25, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the cadets that sexual harassment and assault in the military are a “profound betrayal” that “must be stamped out.”

“We are all accountable and responsible for ensuring that this happens,” he said. “We cannot fail the Army or America. We cannot fail each other, and we cannot fail the men and women that we lead.”

On May 20, the team’s Facebook page said the team would not be participating in an upcoming tournament in Philadelphia “due to unforeseen circumstances.”

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