By Daniel Libit
“There are so many others who want to speak up, but are afraid to,” read the email sent August 9 to the University of New Mexico’s interim Athletic Director Janice Ruggiero and interim President Chaouki Abdallah.
The sender was Jadon Boatright, a junior cornerback on the UNM football team, who was supposed to be a key anchor to the Lobos’ defensive unit.
But now he was asserting himself into a different role: team informant.
He was writing to warn Bob Davie’s bosses that the coach who presented so gracefully in public was an entirely different creature behind the scenes. The proteus impression of Davie had emerged during some of the coach’s previous stops, but it had yet to surface in the Land of Enchantment. To be sure, just two weeks before, the Albuquerque Journal fawned over Davie’s “winning culture” in the ultimate A1 beat sweetener.
But according to Boatright, despite the Lobos’ dramatic on-field improvements, the team’s culture was in dire straits. So dire that something needed to be done.
“A lot of players said they would send a letter too,” Boatright said, “but they were scared of losing their eligibility on the team.” Instead, they urged him on, as did, he claims, a member of the coaching staff.
In his 1,200-word entreaty, Boatright offered to speak with Ruggiero and Abdallah, so long as they agreed to do so in confidence. He openly worried about “repercussions that might proceed” if Davie were to discover he was speaking out of school.
“I am dealing with a lot at the moment, as we all are, and maybe this will be a start for change,” Boatright wrote.
For the last six months, Boatright’s letter — or “The Letter”, as it has come to be known, with implied capitalization — has been the subject of much discussion around the university’s athletic department. This, despite the fact very few have actually glimpsed it. Even the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity, which started investigating player complaints against Davie last summer, never got ahold of a copy. (Although it heard a lot about The Letter from various witnesses.)
Boatright, for his part, has maintained his silence publicly and his identity as The Letter’s author has not previously been disclosed.
But in the wake of the university’s decision to suspend Davie for 30 days — a punishment the ex-player views as wholly insufficient — Boatright has decided to break his silence, providing NMFishbowl.com with a copy of The Letter and responding this past week to a series of questions over email and text message.
“I don’t understand the suspension and I don’t understand how Davie is still here,” Boatright said. “The accusations have been confirmed by several players and specifically by those who were involved…Bob Davie should not be the head football coach for UNM.”
Like Davie, Boatright is also still at UNM. Having quit the football team for good in August, the senior was allowed to stay on his athletic scholarship for the remainder of this school year. Boatright believes this decision was ultimately made by Abdallah.
Davie, who is now a week and a half into his suspension, did not respond to a request for comment sent to him and his attorney.
Boatright’s letter called to mind a cautionary note several outgoing Lobo football players wrote about Davie back in January 2013, which was subsequently leaked to the media. In that case, the authors remained anonymous. Boatright, however, signed his name.
“Now, I am not reaching out to you guys, just to make it seem like I am ‘tattle telling’ on (Davie),” Boatright wrote. “The main reason I am reaching out to you guys is due to how he speaks to his players and his coaching staff.”
(Neither Abdallah nor Ruggiero responded to requests for comment.)
According to Boatright, Davie would only truly mind his manners when UNM administrators stopped by. Boatright said that Davie even had a system in place, whereby football operations director Brian DeSpain, who is also Davie’s son-in-law, would alert the head coach whenever school officials were in close range. But these would be short-lived respites.
“I can’t tell you the number of times he has told players to ‘Shut the f*** [sic] up’ or has even grabbed players,” Boatright wrote. “I believe that someone needs to be at our practices the ENTIRE [sic] time.”
In an email response Tuesday, DeSpain called Boatright’s characterization “untrue.”
“I have never been asked, or had reason to, report when an administrator was at practice,” DeSpain said. “In addition, many of our practices are open to the public and portions of them are open to both print and news media. We have guests practically everyday ranging from fans to player’s and coach’s families to recruits to visiting coaches. There has never been anything to hide, as evidenced by three investigations that found no wrongdoing.”
In his letter to Abdallah and Ruggiero, Boatright noted an incident in which Davie was alleged to have provoked a physical altercation with another Lobo defensive back, SaQwan Edwards.
NMFishbowl.com previously reported that the incident took place during half-time of the Lobos’ 2012 home contest against Boise State. Davie, according to multiple eyewitnesses, became incensed at the sight of Edwards, who was injured and not dressed for play, either smiling or laughing while the team was trailing big. Both men eventually ended up on ground and Edwards had to eventually be pulled off the coach by other players. Multiple team sources said that, in the course of the altercation, Davie injured his hand so badly that he required surgery.
Afterwards, sources say, Edwards threatened to quit.
In the letter, Boatright said that Davie went to Edwards’ home after the game, and asked what he could offer in exchange for Edwards to stay on the team and keep quiet about the fight. Edwards, who came in to the program as a wide receiver, asked to move to defensive back.
“I heard that from a few of the players who had been there when it initially happened,” Boatright told NMFishbowl.com. “It also made sense because he had never played DB before and started that next season at corner and throughout the rest of his tenure.”
Reached by phone Tuesday, Edwards provided only a terse explanation for how his position switch came about. “I chose to go to defensive back, and that is all I am going to say about that,” he told NMFishbowl.com.
Although the player’s name is redacted, several references to the Davie-Edwards fight appear in the OEO report. Ultimately, the university made no determination as to whether this allegation was credible.
In the spring of 2014, Edwards was arrested and jailed after being accused, along with Lobo running back Crusoe Gongbay, of sexually assaulting a female student. Neither player was ultimately prosecuted for a crime, although UNM later settled a Title IX lawsuit filed by the accuser. Edwards was suspended from the team following his arrest, but was reinstated that summer. Boatright started at corner in six of the team’s first seven games that season, but eventually Edwards bumped him from that first team. After the season, Edwards was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Oakland Raiders.
Boatright wanted to exit the program, as well. He wrote in his letter that, following his relatively successful sophomore season, he made numerous requests of Davie to grant him a scholarship release. Boatright claimed that Davie repeatedly denied him. Finally, after 2015 spring practice, Boatright simply quit the team and returned back home to Texas.
Initially, Davie told the Albuquerque Journal that Boatright had left because of “academic issues.” Two weeks later, the paper reported that Davie phoned Journal football beat writer Rick Wright to clarify that Boatright had actually left because he was unhappy.
Boatright claims it was only because he called Davie, threatening to spill the beans about the Edwards fight, that the coach consented to correct the record about his own departure.
“(Davie) told me to wait a day or two before I (followed through on the threat) and to read the newspaper that Monday,” Boatright told NMFishbowl.com. “A new article came out saying ‘Boatright leaves under his own circumstances and not because of academic reasons’…That should have been the first article. Obviously, (Davie) had something to hide.”
Back in Texas, Boatright took community college classes and worked a couple of different jobs. He would later tell the Journal that, in the ensuing months, a number of his former Lobo teammates reached out to him, imploring him to give UNM a second chance. Boatright specifically cited the entreaties from Markel Byrd, the former Lobo safety, who was killed in a car accident that winter driving home to California. Boatright told the Journal that he had reached out to Davie about returning to the program just before Byrd died.
After missing four games with a turf toe injury, Boatright split time as the starting left cornerback during the 2016 season.
Given the lack of returning veterans in the Lobos’ defensive backfield, it seemed likely that the senior-to-be was primed for a leading role heading into the 2017 campaign. Despite that, Boatright says he couldn’t stomach playing for Davie any more and again asked for his release. This time, Boatright said, Davie told him that if he wanted the release, he would have to go to court for it.
“I came back last season and told myself that I would just deal with it these last two years, but now coming up on my last year nothing has changed and I am starting to get really down again,” Boatright wrote in the letter. “I honestly do not plan on playing this last year and just want to go to school and get my degree.”
Boatright insisted that he was hardly alone in his cherry-and-silver blues.
“I am not usually the one to feel the need to reach out to someone,” he wrote, “but I without a doubt feel like something needs to be done and I will not be the only one to reach out to you guys as it continues.”
Though he didn’t know it at the time, several of Boatright’s teammates had already voiced concerns about Davie during athlete exit interviews conducted three months prior. Their comments to faculty members of UNM’s Athletic Council had triggered the initial investigation by OEO. A month after Boatright’s letter, UNM hired former federal Judge Bruce Black to conduct a parallel investigation into allegations that fell outside of OEO’s Title IX purview.
One of the key matters that Black initially set about was whether Davie or other coaches interfered with the athlete drug-testing process. Boatright raised this concern in his letter to Abdallah and Ruggiero, claiming that “numerous” football players had been allowed to skip team drug tests after admitting to coaches that they might fail. Boatright also alleged two teammates had been allowed to play in a game against Colorado State after being caught smoking marijuana in the team hotel the night before.
Boatright contradicted the public assertions that Davie made about former running back Teriyon Gipson. In September 2016, KOB-TV reported that Gipson had been arrested in Texas, the previous winter, on gun possession and drug charges. Davie told reporters that he had only found out about the incident when the story broke in the Albuquerque press. But Boatright told Abdallah and Ruggiero that Davie had been aware of Gipson’s charges for months, and had permitted him to miss summer workouts so he could stay at home and take care of the charges.
“It was common knowledge on the team,” Boatright told NMFishbowl.com. “Gipson wasn’t with the team throughout all of summer workouts…Davie places a huge emphasis on being here during the summer for those and they are, in a way, mandatory. Gipson came back for fall camp and faced no type of punishment.”
In a Facebook message exchange Tuesday, Gipson disputed Boatright’s version of events, insisting that he was in Albuquerque that entire summer.
“Coach Davie was not aware of my arrest and no I was not allowed to skip workouts,” Gipson said. “I was disciplined but I am not going into details.”
He added: “I got arrested in January. How and what would the summer have anything to do with that?”
But another former Lobo player recalled that Gipson missed at least one session of the summer work-out schedule and that Davie had implied that there was an attenuating reason for his absence.
Boatright’s exodus from Loboland was made public at the end of this past August, roughly three weeks after he sent the letter to Abdallah and Ruggiero. According to the OEO report, Davie told school investigators that he had heard about the letter from five of his players, two of whom informed him in advance of Boatright sending it.
In the months that followed, Boatright said, he participated in several meetings with Ruggiero and Bruce Black, the former federal judge UNM initially hired to investigate the football program. Boatright says that he also remembers speaking to one OEO staffer in a meeting with Ruggiero, but doesn’t recall having ever received a formal request for an interview as part of the Title IX inquiry.
In the redacted OEO report, released earlier this month, Boatright is identified as “Player 11.” Several witnesses discussed Boatright’s letter with OEO, some of whom called into question the veracity of its allegations and the motivations of its author.
“Multiple witnesses reported believing Player 11 fabricated and/or exaggerated the complaints as a means to be able to keep his athletic scholarship without having to continue to participate in the football program,” the OEO report states.
Said Boatright: “I wouldn’t put someone’s job in jeopardy just to maintain a scholarship. I am able to attend school in Texas technically at no cost so it would make zero sense for me to just make everything up. There have also been several players that have confirmed what I have brought forward. If you look at Davie’s past, then none of this is that surprising to find out. People should be questioning Davie’s credibility at this point.”
Although he didn’t raise these issues in his letter, Boatright vouched this week for several of the claims of racial insensitivity that were addressed in the OEO report. Boatright said that he was standing “almost right by” Davie when the coach repeated the N-word back to a black player who uttered the word first. Boatright also said that Davie referred to former Sam Mabany, a native of Sudan, with a reference to the movie “Blood Diamond”; and that Davie once joked to a black player, who was sitting in a golf cart, “Don’t you know that’s a white man’s machine”?
NMFishbowl.com reported on all three alleged incidents in October, citing multiple team sources. In his interview with the OEO and a subsequent public statement, Davie vehemently denied each of them.
Beyond the specific than isolated inflammatory allegations, Boatright says it’s the day-to-day culture that mustn’t go overlooked.
“I understand that arguments happen and coaches get heated and go off every so often,” Boatright said. “That’s just football. However, Davie takes it to a whole other level and becomes highly disrespectful. It doesn’t matter if it’s a player, another coach, or a trainer. There’s been so many altercations that I have witnessed since being here that it’s almost impossible to keep track of them all.”
Since sending the letter, Boatright said that he has not had any contact with anyone on the football coaching staff, but that “several” players have reached out to thank him for raising the red flag.
“Davie puts on a front when he meets parents, new players, etc…,” Boatright said. “He is very good at it. It’s behind the scenes where people don’t get to see how he really is. It’s seriously one of the things that you have to witness in order to fully understand. I didn’t enjoy playing for Davie one bit and I’m sure there are several others who would express that as well. Davie is a mean person and there’s no other way to put it.”
Boatright, a psychology major, says that he is on track to graduate in the summer. In the letter, he wrote that he had promised his mom that he would obtain his degree from the University of New Mexico — and that this was a promise he wanted to keep.
“It’s been kind of rough while being here at UNM still,” Boatright said. “I feel as if my advisors and others who work closely with Davie hold it against me in a way.”
(Featured Image by Thearon W. Henderson / Getty)