The University of Texas has suspended its spirit team for six years after an investigation found that a student death could have been avoided if a team retreat marked by hazing had been better managed.
The dean of students’ office authorized the suspension of The Texas Cowboys on Wednesday, the Austin American-Statesmen reported. The Cowboys will be subject to a two-year probation following its reinstatement, and the team must have a university employee present at all future retreats or off-campus events.
According to a partially redacted copy of UT’s discipline report obtained by the newspaper, spirit team rookies were hazed at a retreat last year on a private ranch in Brown County.
“New members of the Cowboys were subjected to multiple forms of hazing, including physical brutality, physical activity, forced ingestion of unwanted substances, coerced consumption of alcohol and degradation,” the report said.
Some were forced to drink a gallon of milk and eat cat food, Spam, Tabasco sauce, minced garlic and whole onions, while one member was pressured to bite the head off a live hamster, it said. The university found that the group violated rules that prohibit hazing, alcohol misconduct and behavior threatening health or safety.
On Sept. 30, after the retreat ended, Nicholas Cumberland, 20, was riding back to Austin with other team members when their truck rolled over in Lampasas County. He was ejected from the pickup and died of his injuries a month later.
The accident that led to Cumberland’s death “could have been avoided had there been adequate risk management practices in place, such as providing transportation to all members and choosing a safer location, closer to campus,” the report said. UT officials did not find any indication of sleep deprivation, and multiple people said the driver of the pickup was not intoxicated.
This is the second time the Cowboys have received a severe penalty due to misconduct. In 1995, UT suspended the group for five years when a student drowned in the Colorado River after what school officials stated were hours of alcohol-fueled hazing.
Leaders of the Cowboys and the Cowboys Alumni Association didn’t respond to the newspaper’s requests for comment. The team has the choice to accept the sanction, appeal or ask for a formal hearing.