DEFIANCE, Ohio — Allegations of racism have been leveled against the head coach of the Defiance College wrestling team. In response, several wrestlers and an assistant coach want him to be let go from his job.
Six wrestlers for Defiance College have had enough. As the wrestlers and their assistant coach, Rudy Corpus, sat down to talk to WTOL 11, they said they wanted the head wrestling coach, Steve Swinson, to be removed from his position.
Corpus said at a tournament in January in Chicago, Muskingum University's bus broke down and the Defiance College team allowed them to use theirs to get back and forth to the hotel.
Corpus said Muskingum's team wanted to use the bus on their terms, but Coach Swinson was butting heads with the Muskingum coach about it.
Muskingum coach Rob Watson-Powell is African-American.
Corpus said Swinson made a racist remark regarding Watson-Powell to him. In an interview with WTOL 11, he recalled the interaction:
"He [Swinson] was complaining about how rude Rob was and turned around and looked at me and the Defiance College athletic trainer, and said, 'This doesn't surprise me because that's how all of those Black people are.' I turned around immediately, and I said, 'Dude, you can't say that. That's very, you know, very racist. It's disgraceful.'"
"He [Swinson] actually stated, 'I probably shouldn't say this,' And then he paused and then he said it [the remark]. So I think that's what made me upset most, out of everything, is he knew what he was saying was wrong before he stated it," Corpus said.
None of the wrestlers heard the comment Swinson allegedly made. But many of the wrestlers said they want Swinson to be fired or to resign or they will leave the school.
"I didn't think my coach would ever say something like that. It was definitely very shocking to me and most of us," sophomore wrestler Kliever Joseph said.
"These are my brothers, I thought that racist [comment], it just put it over the edge," freshman wrestler Jacob Scoville said. "I have no trust in him anymore and I basically told him that too. Like, 'If you're here, I'm not going to come back.'"
Corpus said Swinson's alleged comment was not an isolated incident.
"He has actually made other comments towards African-Americans," Corpus said.
Corpus said he followed Defiance College's non-discrimination policy and reported what Swinson allegedly said about the Muskingum University coach. The policy prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and several other factors.
Corpus said he demanded the administration fire Coach Swinson but that has not happened.
"They kind of just brushed it off like it was nothing," Corpus said. "They said since it wasn't what they could see as pattern behavior, and it only happened one time. And to me, one time is more than enough."
The wrestlers said they also want to hold Swinson accountable.
"It was not until after the captains had a captains meeting," Joseph said. "They told him he had to apologize because he didn't do it. And that's when he addressed it and apologized."
Defiance College issued a statement, saying in part that it is committed to a campus "free from discrimination and harassment" and offered to meet individually with every member of the team and also conducted "full team meetings" with and without coaches present.
The administration said they have no plans to fire Coach Swinson for what he allegedly said about the Muskingum coach.
The statement, representatives from Defiance College said the following:
"On February 1, 2023, the College was notified that a coach made a racially insensitive comment in the presence of other Defiance College employees. The comment was not made in front of students, and the College followed its policies and procedures to take appropriate action. The team has not, at any point in the season, forfeited a competition, and has canceled just one meet at the request of the student athletes, as they did not feel physically prepared to make weight or compete."
Officials said in the statement they would pursue an "informal" course of action in addressing the allegations.
"As an educational institution, our goal is to educate and help people learn and grow from their mistakes," the statement read. "Thus, per our policy, the conduct is being addressed through education and informal means to work with the team individually and collectively to rebuild relationships that have been hurt as a result of the comment made by the coach."
Since the college has indicated they will not let Swinson go, assistant coach Corpus submitted his resignation Tuesday, effective immediately. Corpus said he plans to sue Defiance College for encouraging a hostile environment for himself and the students.
Corpus said a total of nine wrestlers chose to go into the NCAA transfer portal to leave for another school and wrestle for another program. According to a Defiance Wrestling Roster for 2022-2023 found online, there are 15 wrestlers on the college's team.
"As a freshman, I actually wanted to make something out of myself. You actually need a coach to do that and stuff," Lesly Fleurissaint said.
Fleurissaint is a freshman wrestler who said he came from eight hours away in Maryland to be on the team.
"We have, like, an entire family as our team now. We don't want to leave and break that, but if Swinson is still here, it's kind of what's going to have to happen," wrestler Matthew Beard said.
WTOL 11 asked Defiance College administrators an additional time to respond to the allegations and why they are retaining coach Swinson.
A spokesperson said they won't comment beyond their statement because they cannot talk about matters pertaining to personnel.
We also asked at least two times if we could talk to Coach Swinson about the allegations against him.
The spokesperson said Swinson had no comment beyond the official statement issued by the college.
WTOL 11 has also placed calls to Coach Swinson's office and have yet to hear back.
The entire statement from Defiance College is available below:
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