COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. ― An investigation found roughly 30 players on the Air Force Academy’s lacrosse team were involved in hazing of freshmen cadets to varying degrees, the academy said in an email Wednesday.
And in a June 2 interview at the Colorado Springs-based academy, Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria said that a separate hazing investigation of the men’s swim team also “found enough evidence ... that we’re going to take action against some swimmers.”
“It’s so important that ... we expect [cadets] treat each other with respect and dignity,” Silveria said.
Both investigations, conducted by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, are now complete. The legal review of the lacrosse investigation is now complete, and recommended punishments and other actions were forwarded to the cadets’ commanders.
The swim team investigation is still undergoing a legal review.
Officials would not discuss the nature of the hazing or provide Air Force Times with copies of the investigations.
The academy last October announced coaches and players on the lacrosse team had been suspended as part of an investigation into unidentified misconduct.
In February, the school said it had removed 11 cadets from the men’s swim team, also due to misconduct.
Academy spokeswoman Lt. Col. Tracy Bunko said that the roughly 30 lacrosse players’ involvement ranged from simply being there while hazing took place, to encouraging hazing, to actively participating in hazing freshmen.
There are 52 players listed on the lacrosse team’s roster, including 17 freshmen and 35 sophomores, juniors and seniors, meaning that nearly all of the non-freshmen athletes on the team were at least there for the hazing.
Lacrosse “team rituals had crossed the line into hazing, in our minds,” Silveria said.
Silveria said that several of the cadets had been disciplined as a result. Some have been placed on probation, and some have been kicked off the team.
A few seniors on probation were not allowed to graduate with the rest of the class of 2018, Silveria said, while the academy evaluates whether they should be allowed to receive their commissions as officers in the Air Force.
“The probation periods allow USAFA leadership to closely evaluate each of these individuals and assess their character to determine whether they are prepared to lead in our Air Force,” Bunko said. “Because of the ongoing probation, those seniors were not allowed to graduate on time and will not graduate unless and until they complete their terms of probation.”
Bunko said that other members of the team were reinstated after “appropriate administrative actions, including probation and a period of suspension from the team.”
“Any allegation of misconduct is taken seriously, investigated, and those found to have taken part in hazing or allowed it to happen as a leader are held accountable,” Bunko said. “In both of these cases, we learned enough through the process of the investigations to remove some cadets from competition before the investigations were completed. Though this is separate from the discipline process, it reminds them that competing for the academy is a privilege.”
Bunko said that for privacy reasons, the academy could not discuss the terms of the cadets’ probation, or reveal how many did not graduate.
Bunko also said the academy could not discuss what actions were taken against lacrosse coaches for privacy reasons. The Colorado Springs Gazette reported in April that the academy had disciplined coaches.
As for the swim team, Silveria said the swim team investigation has just finished and is now being reviewed by Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Kristin Goodwin. Goodwin will decide what actions to take, Silveria said, or will push other decisions up to his level in the case of more severe punishments.
Bunko said that, like some seniors on the lacrosse team, seniors on the swim team who allegedly hazed younger cadets also were not allowed to graduate on time.
The academy’s legal staff and chain of command will review their cases, she said, and decide if they will be allowed to graduate and receive their commissions as second lieutenants.
Silveria said that he took swift action to stop swimmers from representing the academy when the investigation was launched.
“I actually stopped some of those swimmers in the middle of a swim meet, and took them away from the swim meet, because that’s what our values represent,” Silveria said. “It’s a privilege to wear Air Force on your jersey or your swim cap.”
As a result of this investigation, Silveria has banned an unofficial men’s swim team organization called Phi-K-S, which he said was part of the misconduct that took place.
“As we got through this investigation, it became clear to me that that was part of this, that was part of the conduct of the swim team, that they were somehow using that as a reason for how, why they were conducting themselves [in that way],” Silveria said. “And so I banned that here at the academy, banned it from the swim team.”
Witnesses interviewed as part of a separate swim team investigation into alleged misconduct, conducted in 2016, called Phi-K-S a “pseudo-fraternity.”
Witnesses told investigators then that some male swimmers got tattoos of the organization’s letters, which stood for “pull, kick, swim.”
Air Force Times obtained materials on that investigation last year via the Freedom of Information Act, but did not report on it because the allegations of misconduct were not substantiated.
The academy has had serious problems with its athletic department in recent years.
A 2014 investigation by the Colorado Springs Gazette found evidence of drug use, sexual assault, and other misconduct in the athletic department in 2010 and 2011.
In 2016, the Pentagon inspector general found the academy didn’t adequately investigate allegations of sexual assault and other misconduct by football players.
And a commander-directed investigation, also obtained by Air Force Times via FOIA last year, found a rash of hazing and other juvenile behavior on the men’s gymnastics team that led to punishments for the coach and some cadets in 2014.
In response to the most recent misconduct investigations, the academy in March said it would hire an outside firm to review its athletic teams and their practices.
Silveria said the academy is close to selecting which company will review the athletic department’s culture and climate. The academy wants to choose a firm that has done similar reviews in other athletic and academic institutions, and that is familiar with NCAA rules.
“I didn’t want to use a normal tool such as a [commander-directed investigation] or the [inspector general],” Silveria said. “I wanted to use someone with expertise in an athletic department. I don’t know if there is a broader problem of a culture within the athletic department, but I’m gonna find out from a third party” if there is.
When asked if he was afraid there is something rotten with the athletic culture in the school, Silveria said that he is prepared to act if the review finds more problems.
“I’m not afraid, because whatever we find, I’m ready to take action,” Silveria said.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.