He called it story time.
But when former San Jose State University baseball coach Jason M. Hawkins gathered his team and staff around him for his pregame ritual during the 2017 season, the stories he told had nothing to do with what’s been called the thinking man’s game.
They had everything to do with sex.
Raunchy sex. Stories that degraded women and gay people, including individuals known by players and coaches who themselves sometimes became characters in Hawkins’ bawdy tales, the investigative report shows.
Stories that some players and coaches later told investigators made them deeply uncomfortable, but ones they nervously laughed at because Hawkins was the coach, the man who controlled their playing time, their scholarships, their futures.
Many of the players were unwilling listeners, investigators wrote, but believed they had no choice but to listen because of Hawkins’ power. They “were unsure what to do, so they would ‘just laugh,’” according to documents.
The investigation is just the latest in a string of sexual harassment and abuse cases involving California State University staff and administrators. This case, which remained out of public view until EdSource filed a Public Records Act request, details the finding of sexual and racial harassment and violations of the federal anti-discrimination law known as Title IX. Hawkins resigned from San Jose State in 2018 before any disciplinary action was taken. He went on to a community college volunteer post and his current job as the vice principal and athletic director at the high school in rural Plumas County in the northern Sierra Nevada.
Hawkins, 51, has moved around college and high school baseball coaching jobs in the West since 1995, according to Baseball-Reference.com. He was head coach at Occidental College in Los Angeles from 2009-2011 then moved to UC Santa Barbara as an assistant coach. Spokespersons at those schools wouldn’t discuss his employment history. He was at the University of Utah prior to San Jose State. A spokesperson there said he had a clear record at the school.
But at San Jose State he was found to have called a Black player the N-word, and also slurred Asians. He used racial stereotypes about Latinos and Blacks. He made players who moved their feet too much in the batter’s box put pink pennies on their spikes, calling them “pussy pennies.”
Investigators found that Hawkins violated CSU’s anti-discrimination policies that are based on Title IX.
The finding that Hawkins had committed both sexual and racial harassment at San Jose State appears to not have been considered when Hawkins moved on to two other athletic jobs at public schools.
Hawkins is now an assistant principal and the athletic director at Quincy Junior/Senior High School in Plumas County, a job he took a few months after resigning from San Jose State. He’s also served as a volunteer assistant baseball coach at Feather River Community College in Quincy since leaving San Jose State.
A San Jose State spokesperson told EdSource that the university’s personnel office had no record of receiving a request for a reference or employment check from the Plumas Unified School District about Hawkins.
Hawkins did not respond to emails and phone messages from EdSource. Plumas Unified Superintendent William Roderick said the district’s legal counsel advised him to decline to say whether the district is looking into Hawkins’ hiring or his conduct in San Jose.
Roderick, appointed superintendent earlier this year, said he is reviewing all district functions, including personnel practices, but said that review is not based on any revelation about Hawkins.
“There has not been any one specific incident that has prompted this,” he wrote in an email.
Plumas Unified is “committed to a safe and welcoming school environment for all students and staff and denounces any and all discrimination, harassment and retaliation,” he wrote in an email.
At Feather River College, where Hawkins is listed on the baseball team’s website as an assistant coach and has a school email address, district President Kevin Trutna was quick to say that Hawkins “was a part-time volunteer for the baseball team last season while attending a few home games. He has not participated in any practices or activities with the team this academic year.”
Trutna didn’t respond when asked by email if Hawkins would be allowed to volunteer for the team in the future.
A year of reckoning at CSU
The release of the report on Hawkins comes amidst a year of reckoning over Title IX cases of sexual harassment and abuse at the California State University System, the largest public university in the country, with nearly 500,000 students across 23 campuses.
In February, Chancellor Joseph I. Castro resigned amid an outcry over how he handled sexual harassment complaints against an administrator, Frank Lamas over a six-year period while Castro was president of Fresno State University.
Fresno State received “at least a dozen” harassment, bullying and retaliation complaints against Lamas, its vice president of student affairs, during Castro’s time as university president but Castro repeatedly failed to take disciplinary action, USA Today reported in February following a six-month investigation. Castro has said he couldn’t take action until a formal complaint was filed in 2019.
Castro became Fresno State president in 2013 and hired Lamas in 2014. They were described as friends by The Fresno Bee but Castro now insists they were only colleagues. “He was a colleague in the same way my other Vice Presidents were colleagues,” he told EdSource.
Castro resigned as chancellor on Feb. 17 with a $401,364 salary over the next year as part of an executive transition program that requires Castro to be available to the system’s trustees and executives. The CSU board launched an ongoing investigation into sexual harassment complaints at Fresno State University and Title IX practices across the system. “I have provided the investigator with documents showing that I followed CSU policies and procedures in handling this and all other matters,” Castro told EdSource.
More recently, CSU has released summary information about both management employees and nonmanagement employees who were disciplined for sexual harassment or racial discrimination over the past five years in response to requests from EdSource and other news organizations. Hawkins was listed among those cases.
San Jose State has also been caught up in scandal. The Mercury News reported in February that former school President Mary Papazian, had, when she took office in 2016, received an email stating that the school’s director of sports medicine, Scott Shaw, was inappropriately touching female athletes, but failed to act on the warning.
The university eventually settled legal claims among Shaw’s victims for $3.3 million, and the U.S. Department of Justice required the school to pay another $1.6 million to victims, the newspaper reported.
The document released about Hawkins’ Title IX case shows further problems in the baseball program under Hawkins that led to an NCAA investigation of his program and a $5,000 fine levied on the school.
As Title IX investigators began their investigation into the workplace grievance filed by the assistant baseball coach, they received information that Hawkins had been conducting more team practices than the NCAA allows. A separate investigation was started that ran parallel to the one looking into the claims of sexual harassment.
The Hawkins Title IX case was different from others in the CSU system in that both the person being investigated and nearly all the witnesses interviewed were male. (The baseball team’s trainer that season was a woman who told investigators she heard some of Hawkins’ crass remarks).
That the baseball players were willing to cooperate in an investigation of their coach could demonstrate “a cultural change,” said Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, known as FIRE.
College students are not willing to accept that these comments are just jokes, and when they are offended by this conduct, they’re reporting it, Cohn said.
Investigators talk to Hawkins and 32 others
The investigation of Hawkins began on July 31, 2018, when an assistant coach Hawkins had hired the year before filed a workplace grievance against him. The assistant coach, whose name is redacted in the documents, told investigators he had doubts about Hawkins, but that he needed work. “He knew that Hawkins ‘tended to drink and cuss’, which is not what he was used to, and although he was concerned, he decided to accept the position. He stated jobs which paid well with benefits are difficult to find, and he felt this was an excellent opportunity to be near his family,” an investigator wrote.
Over a little more than two months, a pair of investigators assigned to the coach’s complaint interviewed 33 people involved with the team, including Hawkins.
A Black player who had hit a home run told them that Hawkins yelled “that’s my N-word)” after the ball cleared the fence.
The player “stated he was shocked by the comment and felt he had no choice but to tell (Hawkins) it was ‘all good’ because he wanted to play,” an investigator wrote.
Hawkins at first denied to investigators that he used the slur which is deeply offensive to Black people, according to the document but then changed his story and said he did but meant it in “a playful way.”
Hawkins told investigators he “believed this action was okay because the player had done something positive and additionally, the player did not object.” Hawkins “admitted that he did not use this term toward any of the other players on the team who are non-African American,” investigators wrote. Hawkins was “in a position of power and should not assume because there was not an objection to the behavior that the player agreed to the terminology,” an investigator wrote.
Investigators also found that Hawkins slurred Asians on the team when he used the phrase “chink in the armor” to describe a team weakness “and looked directly at the Asian team members and laughed,” an investigator wrote.
The witnesses described his behavior as obviously singling out the Asian players on the team by an exaggerated look toward them and then laughing. The term “chink” is considered a racist term referring to individuals of Chinese descent,” an investigator wrote.
Hawkins also tried to explain away the pink pennies he made players put on their spikes, claiming it was to remind them to remember women who had suffered breast cancer. It was not meant to degrade the players, he claimed. But Hawkins’ players told investigators the pink pennies were clearly meant to degrade the players as weak.
Then there was story time.
He’d gather the team in a semicircle with the coaches standing behind him.
Hawkins told investigators that he wanted to loosen up the players before games, to make them laugh, to bond them together. He claimed he was trying to be funny, according to the documents.
Pitching and hitting, he told the players, investigators found, was like touching a woman’s sex organs. “You need to have some feel,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins admitted to investigators that he trawled the internet for sex jokes to tell the players. Sometimes he would make himself the protagonist. Other times he’d make one of the players the butt of the joke, naming them. He talked too about people having sex with animals, the report said.
“The student-athletes believed it was inappropriate for (Hawkins) to speak in a sexual way,” according to the report.
“I felt uncomfortable when he said the jokes, but I never talked to the coach,” one player told the San Jose State investigators.
“The jokes were foul and unnecessary,” another player said.
A different player said he was upset when Hawkins inserted “my significant other” into a joke.
As the season wore on, investigators were told, story time became more unpopular.
“Some of the student-athletes indicated they could tell the assistant coaches were not in favor of the jokes by their behavior and facial expressions,” investigators wrote. “They stated the coaches would look away, put their heads down or not attend the pre-game story time.”
CSU adopts new rules on references
Hawkins was placed on administrative leave at San Jose State on Dec. 23, 2017.
Title IX violations are determined on a preponderance of the evidence, meaning investigators must decide if the facts show that it is more likely than not that the allegations are true. The investigators in his case found that Hawkins committed both sexual and racial harassment.
No decision on how to discipline him was made before he resigned on Feb. 12, 2018, just days before that year’s baseball season was scheduled to begin. San Jose State issued a news release announcing the resignation but giving no reason behind it. Players and coaches who gave statements to investigators either declined to comment when contacted by EdSource or could not be reached.
Hawkins was hired by the Plumas Unified School District six months later.
It is not clear what Plumas officials knew about why he left an NCAA Division I baseball program after one season for a small rural school district.
Earlier this year, CSU trustees changed the system’s rules on giving references for employees who have resigned when facing Title IX charges as part of the fallout from the Castro and Lamas scandal.
Under the new policy, “CSU will not provide positive reference letters, either verbal or written, to any employee that engaged in significant misconduct, is under investigation, or had their retirement benefits rescinded because of misconduct.”
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