Sex Charges Cast a Pall on a Montana College Town
Students are back in their classrooms this week, the heat of summer has cooled and new chalk lines have been placed on the football field as the University of Montana Grizzlies and their devoted fans prepare for the opening kickoff on Saturday.
Susan Hay Patrick is one Grizzly fan who, disturbed by a series of allegations of sexual assault by football players, will not be at the season’s first game on Saturday. “It’s my way of having it not be business as usual.”
But as the season gets under way, some longtime fans in this mountain-ringed college town are wrestling with their feelings in the wake of a series of allegations of sexual assaults by football players that were either unreported or minimized, and the most serious of which remain unresolved.
Susan Hay Patrick, chief executive of the Missoula United Way, is a Grizzly supporter who will not be in the stands. “The magic has not gone away for me,” she said in an interview. “But I want to stand with the people for whom the magic has gone away. It’s my way of having it not be business as usual.”
There is no professional football team anywhere near Montana, and for many in this city of 67,000 and beyond, the Grizzlies are the team. Fans pour into Missoula from hundreds of miles away, from around the state and beyond, to watch the games in the scenic 25,000-seat stadium that sits beneath the grassy flank of Mount Sentinel.
The Grizzlies, in the Big Sky Conference, won a national championship in 2001, and are perennial playoff contenders in the Football Championship Subdivision. Last year they were in the semifinals.
And then the sky fell, as stories started emerging at the end of last year. One student told the police that in December 2010, she was drinking and passed out. She awoke to find herself being assaulted by four football players. Later three other football players were implicated in two separate sexual assaults. The police investigated all of the allegations but did not press charges