The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

GIBBS: Derek Mason cannot sit idly and ‘let our messengers handle the message’

It’s been roughly two months. With each passing day, head coach Derek Mason’s silence becomes more deafening.
Head+Coach+Derek+Mason+addresses+Malcolm+Turners+announcement+in+his+Tuesday+press+conference.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FHunter+Long%29
Hunter Long
Head Coach Derek Mason addresses Malcolm Turner’s announcement in his Tuesday press conference. (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long)

When I first learned of numerous accusations of sexual misconduct brought up against current and former members of the Vanderbilt football team, I waited. 

When June turned to July, I waited.

Somehow, by August I was still waiting—waiting for Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason to say something, anything, to address the disturbing culture that seems to run rampant throughout Vanderbilt football.

And I cannot wait any longer.

Mason has been dead silent for months. Finally, on Monday, I figured push would come to shove. Mason no longer had the option to keep to himself as he addressed the media in the first preseason press conference. Vanderbilt athletics was unable to divert attention from a brutal offseason that saw many truths, including the fact that a former player was allowed back on campus after his expulsion for sexual assault, come to light.

At long last, I thought, there would be some clarity on how Vanderbilt football has handled the situation and how they will prevent future instances of sexual misconduct.

And yet, I listened as Mason carefully dodged questions about his handling of the situation. There was no mention of any players’ names. There was no mention of repercussions. Instead, Mason mentioned an “action plan.” He also mentioned how the team is “going to be an advocate and an agent of change in 2020.”

Of course, he did so without mentioning what the “action plan” actually included. Or how, exactly, the football team is “going to be an advocate and an agent of change in 2020.”

“What I can tell you is that having been raised by a single mom and having two daughters myself, I’ve got a true passion for what lies in this,” Mason said. “We don’t tolerate sexual assault against women, we don’t tolerate violence against women. I believe for us it’s got to be more than just talking.”

One more time, for emphasis: “it’s got to be more than just talking.”

No shit.

Of course it should be more than just talking. Merely condemning sexual assault isn’t enough. In fact, we’ve already learned that it isn’t enough. Vanderbilt tried that in 2013 when multiple Vanderbilt football players were convicted in a rape trial, but seven years later a slew of new accusations were made against players of the same program.

So, in the same answer, when Derek Mason continued, “we talk to our guys about being actively involved in changing the narrative and the landscape,” why am I supposed to believe this is anything more than “talking”? (Spoiler: I don’t.)

Mason’s answer, much like Vanderbilt’s handling of the situation (athletic director Candice Storey Lee posted a nine tweet thread, followed by an email to the entire student body signed off by both Lee and Interim Chancellor Wente), made me sick to my stomach. It was disturbing. It was utterly inept. And frankly, it was bullshit.

If Mason is so comfortable talking to his team about sexual misconduct, why was he reluctant to talk to anyone else? In other words, why did two months just pass by without him making a comment? There was no acknowledgment of the allegations. There was no explanation of how they will prevent future acts of sexual misconduct. And again, there was certainly no mention of players being held accountable.

Months ago, I figured, at the very least, Mason would sign off on a joint statement. 

But that email, the one that said “we want to state unequivocally that we have zero tolerance for any acts that undermine the safety and well-being of any member of our community,” was signed off by Wente and Lee alone. The leader of the very men in question did not include his name on that email. 

Joe Rexrode of The Athletic reported that “two sources said Mason composed a statement expressing his determination to combat sexual assault in June but he was not allowed to release it.”

Itching to hear the truth, I asked Mason on Monday why he had been silent. And he all but confirmed Rexrode’s report.

“Really, I look at every situation and look at how we effectively as a group can handle everything we speak to,” he began. “I know I’ve spoken on a lot of topics. But in this case, I was encouraged to let our messengers handle the message that needed to be put out there. For me personally, I felt no different than their statements. Their statements were accurate, fair and true.”

OK, so Mason was denied the opportunity to address these allegations and was told to let “messengers handle the message that needed to be put out there.” To whoever thought that was a good idea, can you please explain why? 

It’s now August. We are roughly a month away from opening day and somehow, nothing has changed. Let’s address this before kickoff, shall we?

Let Mason say something. Develop a plan—real, actionable steps that can result in some form of change. Want a good place to start? Take a look at this petition, which has some very intriguing ideas from the Tracy Rule, to integrating Project Safe with athletics and more.

“We’re in August of 2020 and getting ready for a football season,” Mason concluded his answer.

The way I see it, we’re in August of 2020, and nothing has changed since 2013.

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About the Contributors
Simon Gibbs, Former Sports Editor
Simon Gibbs (‘21) is the former Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He has been on staff since the first semester of his freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Senior Writer and Deputy Sports Editor. Simon is also the host of VU Sports Wired on Vanderbilt Video Productions and The Hustler Sports 30 on VandyRadio. Simon has attended several events as credentialed media, including the 2019 NFL Draft, 2019 College Baseball World Series and the 2019 SEC Tournament. Outside of his Commodore coverage, Simon has had bylines published on NHL.com and NashvillePredators.com. When he's not writing, you can find Simon watching his hometown New York Mets, waiting for that next ring. For tips, comments or concerns, please reach out to: [email protected]    
Hunter Long, Former Multimedia Director
Hunter Long (’21) is from Austin, TX and double majored in molecular biology and medicine, health and society. He is an avid lover of film photography, good music and all things coffee. He can be reached at [email protected].    
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