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Tennessee Coaches Speak On Culture in Joint Press Conference

Seeing all 16 coaches on stage speaking on the culture says more than any individual statement.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

In the midst of ongoing questions surrounding a federal sexual assault lawsuit and the culture on Tennessee's campus, today all 16 Vol head coaches were together at a unique joint press conference.  You rarely, if ever, publicly see every head coach at any university in the same place at the same time, let alone speaking to a situation like this one.

The press conference lasted right at an hour.  The coaches did much of what you would expect:  support the university and each other, praise the vast majority of their athletes, and share their belief that the culture on campus is good.  I thought they did a fair job communicating this belief while leaving room for the truth that things can always improve; rowing coach Lisa Glenn shared this idea particularly well:

This is similar to what Butch Jones said at an impromptu press gathering before the LSU basketball game on Saturday, where his statements can seem blunt in print but, if you listen to the audio, his tone is much more appropriate.

Some of the reaction to the joint presser is about what didn't happen:  Dave Hart wasn't there (he was out of town, today was the best day that worked for coaches' schedules), details of how allegations are handled weren't discussed, not enough comparison to other schools, etc.  There are certainly some things these coaches wouldn't or couldn't address, whether because of the lawsuit or because of the things the lawsuit speaks to that happen above them on the university's chain of command.

But if one of the concerns is deliberate indifference, having this press conference at all was a good step.

It cannot be, of course, the only or last step.  If the point of this was to say, "We're good, nothing to see here," then it will ultimately make things worse for the next victim, as a question late in the press conference alluded to.  But that wasn't the overall sense I got from watching it.

All of the coaches spent time today sharing how it wasn't a first step either.  I'm for increased transparency in the educational component with all Tennessee athletes, not just for the additional accountability but because it also allows the university to tell more of the good stories that are out there, stories these coaches know more than any of us.  There was always going to be a bit of, "damned if you do..." with this presser:  have it and you catch some heat for what you didn't say.  But don't have it, and you catch heat for allowing an ongoing culture conversation to take place without your voice.

My initial takeaway here is more to note the presence of that voice - that this joint presser happened at all - than any individual statement that was made in it.  The statements were generally what you would expect:

But the visual of all 16 coaches together speaking to the culture?  That's not deliberate indifference.  Tennessee's presence in the conversation helps validate it, and hopefully continues to drive it forward.

I also kind of appreciated that Dave Hart wasn't there for that visual:  that this wasn't a forced gathering led by their boss, but something a little more organic.

Make no mistake, those issues higher up the chain need to be addressed as well, and Dave Hart's voice is an important one in this conversation.  But I'm totally fine with that voice being separate from what we saw today.

The presser also drifted into some of the issues in the combining of the men's and women's athletic departments.  There were a couple of noteworthy statements in that regard:

There's a good conversation to be had about the ways these two issues bump against each other, both impacting the overall culture.

I still have no idea if Tennessee should settle the lawsuit or if they'll win or lose if they don't.  But in the ongoing effort to make the culture on campus healthier, this joint presser is good if it serves to further the culture conversation and not shut it down.

For more on how you can help prevent sexual assault, check out It's On Us, which has partnered with, among others, the NCAA, SEC, and SB Nation.