University President Frederick Slabach said in a news conference Thursday morning that head coach Mike Jeffcoat was fired because of the email he sent to the Colorado athlete as well as an unspecified NAIA rule violation.
"The comments Mike Jeffcoat made are in no way a reflection of our university or its values," Slabach said. "We do not tolerate discrimination."
Because of an ongoing investigation, Slabach did not provide any details about the alleged rule violation, only saying it was related to the eligibility of players and not any kind of discrimination.
Gavin Bell, a senior at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, expressed interest in attending Texas Wesleyan University in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and joining the school's baseball program, but was rejected in an email from Jeffcoat.
That email read: "Thanks for the interest in our program. Unfortunately, we are not recruiting players from the state of Colorado. In the past, players have had trouble passing our drug test. We have made a decision to not take a chance on Student-athletes from your state. You can thank your liberal politicians. Best of Luck wherever you decide to play."
On Friday, Denver7 obtained a statement from the former coach via his attorney, Coby Wooten. The full statement is below:
Mike Jeffcoat is, at his core, a baseball coach. He has eaten, breathed and slept baseball since he was five years old playing t-ball. From his time as a pitcher for the Texas Rangers through his 17 years of building a baseball team for Texas Wesleyan University, he has thought about little else, resulting in a long history of success as a player and college coach.
Mr. Jeffcoat does not have a political agenda. He has a baseball agenda. As a coach, he was extremely frustrated by having lost good players to failed drug tests. In his frustration, he made a political comment in an email.
We all make and hear political comments on a daily basis—at work, in the classroom, in public forums, in private conversations. Some of it we agree with. Some of it we don’t. But in this country, it’s free speech. Free speech is protected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment doesn’t require the speech to be “politically correct” or life affirming for the recipient. “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear” (George Orwell).
The reactionary firing of Mr. Jeffcoat by Texas Wesleyan University was done out of fear, which is a terrible reason to take away someone’s career. Mr. Jeffcoat was a dedicated and loyal employee for the University for over 17 years and was summarily fired because the University has no tolerance for mild political commentary.
Instead of firing Mr. Jeffcoat, the University could have allowed him to explain his frustration in attempting to recruit good players from states where marijuana is legal, yet disqualifying players with marijuana in their drug screens (which violates the University’s student athlete drug policy).
The University could have generated a public discussion about the role of marijuana and marijuana legislation in today’s sports. The University could have taken a leadership role and acknowledged that there is room for a wide variety of opinions on the subject—some aligned with Mr. Jeffcoat and some in opposition. That is what we call a healthy debate. There is a vast difference between “discrimination” (where the law says you can’t treat people differently based on race, national origin, age, gender, religion or disability) and political commentary. When our universities set out to silence political commentary, we, as a nation, are in trouble.
Texas Wesleyan's baseball program currently has at least one member from Colorado on its roster.