Utah State players walk out on final game to protest 'inequality' and 'prejudicial issues' around program

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(Paul Nisely/SN Illustration)

Utah State's game against Colorado State on Saturday is off after Aggies players voted Friday to sit out the game in response to USU president Noelle Cockett allegedly disparaging interim coach Frank Maile's religious views and an alleged racial incident in 2019 involving an equipment manager.

Utah State announced the game's cancellation after a report by Stadium's Brett McMurphy detailing the players' protest. The university also said it would meet with players to "hear their concerns."

The walkout was spurred by a Zoom meeting Tuesday between the players' leadership council, Cockett and athletic director John Hartwell to discuss the program's coaching search, McMurphy reported. Maile replaced the fired Gary Andersen after an 0-3 start to the season. Utah State was 1-2 under Maile.

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In the meeting, Cockett voiced concern about Maile's "religious and cultural background," according to a statement players obtained by McMurphy. Maile is a member of the Church of Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church), according to McMurphy. Players then defended Maile. Sources told KSL.com that the call was not recorded.

McMurphy reported that a majority of players said Thursday in an anonymous poll that they were concerned by Cockett's comments. The team then took a walkout vote at a meeting Friday.

The players, in their statement, said they opted out of playing "due to ongoing inequality and prejudicial issues between the players, coaches, and the USU administration."

"I am devastated that my comments were interpreted as bias against anyone’s religious background," Cockett said in USU's statement. "Throughout my professional career and, especially, as president of USU, I have welcomed the opportunity to meet directly and often with students about their experiences. 

"Regardless of how difficult the conversations might be in the coming days, I remain committed to giving our students a voice."

Cockett did not offer details about what she said in the meeting. Hartwell was not quoted in the statement.

Players said in their statement that the team's equipment manager used racial slur against a Black player in December 2019. The university investigated the incident and "the administration concluded he would continue to be employed," the players claimed. Utah State said in its statement Friday night that the university "took disciplinary action" against a "USU Athletics employee."

Utah State reportedly hired Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson on Thursday to replace Maile. The university has not announced the hire.

"We want our message to be clear that this has nothing to do with the hiring of Coach Blake Anderson, the recently named head coach of the program. We are sure he is an excellent coach; we look forward to meeting him and his staff. We are highlighting the ongoing problems of inequality and want to create a better future for the community of Logan and Utah State University," the players said in the statement posted by McMurphy.

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