Anyone who plays for Mike Leach knows the rules. Don't abuse women. Don't use illegal drugs. Don't steal.
Break one of those rules, and you're kicked off the football team.
As soon as Leach arrived as Washington State University's head football coach in 2012, he made it obvious he wasn't kidding around. He kicked three potential starters off the team before he ever coached a game. One player had been arrested for theft, one for possession of marijuana (before it was legal in Washington), and one for assault following an altercation at a fraternity party.
But now, four years later, after a fight involving football players at an off-campus party weeks ago left one WSU student concussed and another with a broken jaw, the victims are calling for the same kind of accountability, fearing that the incident will be forgotten. It may not involve hitting women, using drugs or stealing, but multiple witnesses at the party say the behavior of a small group of players caused the fight, and that it was those players dealing the blows.
Leach has said he doesn't anticipate kicking anyone off the team at this point. That worries Susana Senent, the mother of one victim.
"I don't want the school to hide this and not hold the people who did this responsible," she says.
Pullman police say they're investigating. Police Cmdr. Chris Tennant says a handful of players were at the party, and a few of those players are persons of interest. But so far — nearly three weeks later — no arrests have been made.
Leach answered a series of questions about the fight from Spokesman-Review and Seattle Times reporters who cover WSU football regularly. He declined repeated Inlander interview requests for this story through athletic department spokesman Bill Stevens, who said via email, "[Leach] has commented on the issue and until the legal process is complete does not plan to comment further."
Alex Rodriguez wore his Cougs jersey the night he says WSU football players smashed his jaw. Now, Rodriguez speaks through gritted teeth, with the wires he'll wear for weeks keeping his mouth shut and the metal plates he'll have for the rest of his life keeping his face together.
The senior has made it to every WSU football home game since his freshman year. He says that'll change if the people who did this to him aren't reprimanded.
The fight happened the final weekend of July, when Rodriguez and his roommates threw a house party to celebrate the end of WSU's summer session. By about 1:15 am, he says there were up to 80 people there.
It was around this time that Rodriguez's roommate, who spoke on the condition that he was not named in this article, says a group of football players kept lighting fireworks in the middle of the crowd and wouldn't stop when asked. The roommate went to Rodriguez and told him about the fireworks and how the group had started pulling wood off the side of the house.
The roommate remembers that Rodriguez flickered the lights and shouted for everyone to get out. The next thing the roommate remembers is waking up with a concussion and EMTs standing over him.
Rodriguez remembers what happened clearly. As soon as he told everyone to leave, he says a firework was "thrown" at him. He looked to his right and saw his roommate get clocked by a man with a sleeve tattoo, red shorts and a black sleeveless shirt — a moment that happened to be captured on a cellphone video.
Witnesses say they know who that person is, and that he's a football player. One of those witnesses is Pedro Diaz, who fought back during the brawl. He described it as "a bunch of people throwing fists everywhere." One connected with Diaz.
Rodriguez got hit before he could make it over to his fallen roommate. Rodriguez fell to the ground and says he was kicked repeatedly by at least two people, snapping his lower jaw in two. He wasn't sure who it was at the time, only that they were big — more than 200 pounds. He was later told by several eyewitnesses that these people also were football players.
"I don't think it can even be called a fight," Rodriguez says. "I just got my ass kicked."
'WE EVALUATE FACTS'
Tennant, with the Pullman police, says they have a "pretty good handle" on what happened that night. Somebody (he wouldn't identify who) set off fireworks. The guys in charge yelled for everyone to get out. A few other guys, who he again did not identify, didn't like the way they were being told to leave. A fight ensued.
He says a few players were part of it. There were five or six players there, but he doesn't think all of them were "actively involved in criminal activity." The injuries to Rodriguez and his roommate are serious enough to constitute felony assault, he says.
Tennant says that police met with football administrators, who asked if police could get the investigation "wrapped up ASAP so it doesn't affect play."
Leach, according to the transcript from the Spokesman-Review, said the whole situation has been overblown, and that members of the media are seeing how many times they can "write sentences with a football player in it and still sound like a sentence."
"We evaluate facts. We don't leave it to the outside to evaluate the facts," he said. "We evaluate the facts with the help of law enforcement."
Leach called the initial stories recounting the incident "ridiculously inaccurate reflections of the events that night," but he didn't point out specifics when asked by reporters. He described that night as a series of skirmishes, and said "football players were in the room when the room erupted." He said he was disappointed they didn't get out sooner.
He said the bigger question, not "did a football player punch somebody," is how an environment of underage drinking and fighting was created. (Police say there's no evidence of underage drinking, and it's not being investigated.)
Leach said the team would cooperate with police.
"I just don't want anything that's unwarranted. I mean, nobody does a better job of addressing, taking care of players and using team discipline than our staff," Leach told reporters.
Senent, Rodriguez's mother, still says it is "unbelievable" that no arrests have been made. She's concerned that police will never make an arrest, or wait until after the football season is over.
Pullman police Sgt. Jake Opgenorth said the investigation is actually going "pretty quick" considering the amount of witnesses. But Senent is not convinced.
"I don't want a slap on the wrist. This is a broken jaw, this is a very serious injury," she says. "They could have killed my son."
SEEING BOTH SIDES
Rodriguez says he has backup plans should police fail to arrest anyone and should the football team enact no further discipline. He says he's been told that WSU's Division of Student Affairs will conduct its own investigation. That would be separate from any other investigation and could result in suspension or expulsion, whether a student is a football player or not.
Rodriguez has seen the reaction of people on social media who don't want to believe that members of their favorite team did anything wrong. He says he doesn't care when people accuse him of trying to sabotage the team. He's had enough support on the other side.
"I'm a big sports fan too, especially for the NFL. If I see something that happens, I'm like, 'Why would you do that, dude? I hope he doesn't get kicked out,'" Rodriguez says. "But from a more personal perspective, I now have a new sense of what it's like to be that person on the other end of that." ♦