Tennessee AD Dave Hart: 'I trust Butch Jones implicitly' amid allegations

ByMark Schlabach ESPN logo
Thursday, February 25, 2016

Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said Thursday that he trusts football coach Butch Jones "implicitly" after a federal court filing alleged that the coach told a former Volunteers player that he "betrayed the team" by helping a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by two of his teammates.

In an amended Title IX lawsuit filed against Tennessee on Wednesday, former Volunteers receiver Drae Bowles said Jones criticized him for helping the woman, and then later called back to apologize for calling him "a traitor."

Jones denied the allegation in a statement released by Tennessee on Wednesday night.

"I trust Butch Jones implicitly," Hart said Thursday during a news conference in Knoxville, Tennessee. "I know who he is and what his work ethic is. I know how he has represented this university."

Hart defended the Volunteers' athletics culture, even after the number of women who are suing the university for violating their Title IX rights and creating a "hostile sexual environment" increased to eight with Wednesday's amended filing.

"We have a great culture in our building," Hart said. "I'm proud of the culture we have here, but I also understand it is part of our responsibility to take a leadership role in what is a national problem. We know we're not perfect. We're far from it."

In a sworn statement included with the amended lawsuit, Bowles said he was punched in the mouth and bloodied by teammate Curt Maggitt as retribution for helping the woman. He also said he was confronted by teammates Geraldo Orta and Marlin Lane the next day.

University sources told ESPN's Chris Low that the student judicial affairs department, independent of the athletic department, investigated the Bowles assault/retaliation allegations in December 2014, and Bowles told judicial affairs officials at the time that Jones handled the matter properly. Bowles continued to practice with the team that season and dressed for the last three games, including the bowl game.

Bowles transferred to Tennessee-Chattanooga after the season.

In the statement released by Tennessee on Wednesday night, Jones refuted Bowles' allegation.

"To the contrary, I did all I could to assist the former student in question," Jones said. "During the course of the judicial process, campus officials, as well as the young man's own words, will clearly establish that I have done nothing wrong. I will fight all of these false attacks on my character, and I know that once this process has been completed, my reputation will be affirmed."

One of the two women added to the lawsuit says she was sexually assaulted by Volunteers wide receiver Von Pearson in April 2015. Pearson was not charged but was found to have violated the school's code of conduct, according to the lawsuit. The woman claims that the university mishandled her claims against Pearson, who ultimately was reinstated to the school and was allowed to rejoin the team, which he led in receiving this past season.

The other woman accuses defensive lineman Alexis Johnson of assault. He was arrested earlier this month after allegedly assaulting a woman in his apartment, and he was subsequently suspended from the team.

There have been several sexual assault complaints made against Tennessee student-athletes over the past four years, including the two previously mentioned in the suit, A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams,who were indicted on aggravated rape charges in February 2015 and have separate trial dates this summer.

"Well, obviously, we're concerned," Hart said. "I think one is too many."

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com's Chris Low was used in this report.

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