The Texas Cowboys released a statement Wednesday night in response to hazing allegations surrounding the events leading up to Nicky Cumberland’s death, saying no hazing or alcohol was related to the fatal car crash. The Cumberland family issued a response to The Daily Texan early Thursday morning.
Cumberland died last fall after sustaining fatal injuries in a car crash on the way back from the Cowboys’ annual initiation retreat, in the early morning of Sept. 30. The crash occurred at 5:43 a.m. when police said the driver fell asleep at the wheel.
“Immediately following the accident that claimed Nicky’s life, our judiciary board launched a third-party investigation,” William Furst, foreman of Texas Cowboys, said in the statement. “No alcohol or any form of hazing contributed in any way to the accident. At the retreat, no member was forced to stay up, nor were they intentionally deprived of sleep.”
The Cowboys said in the statement that members were allowed to sleep, however many Cowboys made the choice to stay up late to bond with one another. Before the group left that morning, Cowboys leadership checked the driver to ensure he “had not consumed alcohol and (was) alert,” the statement said.
“Unfortunately, the leadership did not check to ensure that all passengers of those vehicles were wearing seatbelts,” the Cowboys said. “The fateful decision of these members to not wear seatbelts that morning haunts us as an organization.”
Cumberland, along with three of the five other passengers, were not wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash, according to the crash report. During the vehicle's rollover, Cumberland was ejected.
The Cumberland family said the Cowboys’ statement contained half-truths, was missing key information and created “an illusion of accountability.” The Cumberlands went on to emphasize the role of sleep deprivation in the accident, calling the Cowboys' comments on the matter “subterfuge.”
“Nicky’s death was caused because the driver fell asleep,” their statement said. “The driver fell asleep because he was sleep deprived; he was exhausted and did not have enough sleep to embark upon a long drive. The Cowboys campfire went beyond 3 am, and he was permitted to drive around 4am without sufficient sleep.”
The Cumberlands also commented on the Cowboys’ “third party investigation.”
“Within one day of the fatal accident that took Nicky’s life, their lawyers were on the mission to protect the organization,” the Cumberland’s statement said. “Our family remained in the dark of any legal actions taken by The Cowboys after the accident. We were never contacted by anybody conducting their internal “judiciary” actions to ask what evidence we might possess.”
Following their son’s death, the Cumberland family requested an investigation into allegations of hazing at the retreat, including sleep deprivation and alcohol, physical and animal abuse. The Cumberland family said they were told by Cowboys who attended the retreat that hazing occurred before the crash. University and University Texas Police Department investigations are still ongoing.
While the Cowboys denied that hazing was connected to the accident, the statement said “there were some activities perpetuated by a few individuals (at the retreat) that did not reflect the organization which we strive to be.” According to the statement, the individuals involved have been suspended or expelled from the Cowboys.
Furst, who was recently selected as Foreman, said the Cowboys condemn the actions of these individuals, saying they did not align with Cowboy standards.
“As foreman of the Texas Cowboys, I can confidently say that we are all ashamed of the way that some of our members acted on the night of our fall retreat,” the Cowboys’ statement said.
However, the Cumberland family said suspending or expelling a few members is not a sufficient attempt at reform.
“Throwing a few of the young men under the bus by dismissing them from the Cowboys creates the deceptive optical illusion that the abhorrent actions were atypical and did not occur in prior years, and that the remainder of the organization did not stand by and acquiesce or turn a blind eye,” the Cumberland's statement said.
The Cowboys’ statement said the accident has “changed (the Cowboys) as individuals and as an organization” and they hope to “salvage some good from this horrific tragedy.”
Some members who were directly involved in the crash are now in leadership roles with the Cowboys. The organization also plans to “enact a campus-wide campaign in order to educate students on the importance of wearing seatbelts and practicing safe driving” and “take an active role as leaders on campus to abolish hazing.”
In the Cowboys’ statement, Furst said the Cowboys “agreed not to adopt a ‘code of silence’” upon learning of their judiciary board’s investigation.
“Our members have been upfront and truthful about the events that occurred that night throughout both the third-party investigation, as well as The University’s investigation,” the Cowboys’ statement said.
However, the Cumberland family said the Cowboys did not properly honor state and UT policy on hazing.
“Not one person came forward to report the prohibited and unlawful activities that occurred to the UT Administration,” the Cumberland’s statement said. “It wasn’t until we requested an investigation that anyone spoke to authorities. That’s a major part of the Code of Silence. Honoring the prohibition on the Code of Silence doesn’t simply mean to speak once caught.”
“The truth is that without the senseless death of my amazing son none of this would have come to light,” the Cumberland's statement said. “The sad truth is that if Nicky had not been killed most likely the same kinds of unacceptable hazing behavior would continue with the new crop of young men each year.”
The Cowboys’ statement expresses their “goal to act as role models within our community” and how this “aspiration matters now more than ever.”
However, the Cumberland family responded by saying the Cowboys’ response “does not honor Nicky’s legacy.”
“The whitewash response by the Cowboys illustrates why The Cowboys currently cannot be trusted to provide the uncomfortable unvarnished truth and do not deserve to represent The University in its current form or to continue to use The University’s property,” the Cumberland’s statement said. “The response highlights the precise reasons behind some of the reforms we have demanded.”
The Cowboys said this has been “a devastating year” which has “forever mark(ed) our time at The University.”
“While it pales in comparison to the pain his family continues to experience, our organization is still reeling with the loss of our friend and brother, Nicky Cumberland,” the Cowboys’ statement said. “This has been an experience which no student, parent, or friend should ever have to endure.”