Sooner or later the truth always comes out. In the case of the University of Vermont’s blockbuster Hockey Hazing Scandal, “later” has arrived, five long months after the seamy and sordid tale hit the front page and went national.
It’s been five dark and torturous months for the hockey pucks, their coach and the university. Five months of public ridicule and private torment. Five months of bright-light national exposure, from The New York Times to ESPN to Sports Illustrated and the network news shows. Five months in which the UVM’s men’s hockey program was dragged through the muck and crowned “poster child” for the newly discovered, cutting-edge scourge of amateur athletics — hazing.
In fact, the UVM story was so big, the Gannett newspaper chain announced in April, The Burlington Free Press won a first-place “Best of Gannett” award in the “Public Service” category for its coverage of the scandal.
Last December when Corey LaTulippe, the star actor in this drama, filed his lawsuit, the Freeps went full-throttle with Pearl Harbor-size headlines and balls-to-the-walls saturation coverage. (The Gannett award, by the way, includes a $4000 prize. Congratulations! But for some reason, the Freeps has yet to announce its award to its readers. Shy?)
But sooner or later the truth does get out. We live, thank god, in an open and democratic society where, under the law, the rights of the accuser do not outweigh the rights of the accused.
Under the media, however, it is a different story. For Universitas Viridis Montis, the last five months have been nothing less than a gargantuan public-relations disaster.
But the end is now in sight. In the wake of LaTulippe’s recent sworn deposition, in which he admitted to lies and deception in his previous claims, we can no longer imagine the case ever going before a jury.
Two weeks ago, Corey LaTulippe, a 19-year-old former wannabe UVM goalie, and his co-star hockey mom, Brenda LaTulippe, had to go one-on-one under oath in pretrial depositions with UVM’s Grand Inquisitor — Ritchie Berger.
Berger, a UVM grad, is one of Vermont’s premier trial attorneys. His batting average at the fine art of getting lying sons-of-bitches to crumble and confess has earned him the nickname, “The Terminator.”
Last December, the LaTulippes decided to go after a pot of gold to cover the “severe emotional distress, depression, sleeplessness, fatigue, anxiety, fear and distraction from sports and academics” Corey had allegedly endured while trying out for the hockey team.
But this month, the LaTulippes ran into one very big roadblock — the truth.
You see, Corey lied. He lied in his lawsuit and he lied to the attorney general. He admitted that under oath. And the picture unveiled in the depositions is not the one many had of an innocent young victim cruelly bullied by older, veteran players. Far from it.
Rather, the testimony tells a story of revenge and greed. A story of a pampered, selfish and self-centered young man determined to make a coach, a hockey program and a university pay a stiff price for standing in the way of his boyhood dream to be a star goalie at UVM.
As Mr. Berger said way back last fall, Corey LaTulippe “was simply the fourth-best goalie on a team that was going to keep three goalies. The bottom line is, if he was capable of making the team on his own merits, you wouldn’t be seeing this lawsuit.”
Based on the depositions, that was and is a true statement.
Berger’s two-day grilling also exposed to the light of day LaTulippe’s less-than-honorable character traits. It’s a dirty job; but Corey and his attorneys, Gail Westgate and Mary Kehoe, long ago set the bar at curb level.
Last December, Ms. Kehoe insisted to Seven Days, “There’s absolutely not one exaggeration in the 14-page complaint” filed in federal court on Corey’s behalf.
This week, she’s not returning our phone calls.
Today, everybody knows that LaTulippe’s lawsuit is rife with exaggeration and loaded with lies.
For example, according to the transcript of his deposition, Corey was never “forced” by older teammates to use a fake ID to go out drinking at downtown watering holes. He went happily and of his own free will. Like most teenagers, he was no stranger to the world of adult beverages. His mom even let him drink at home with his friends.
And Corey wasn’t “forced” to turn over his credit card to Captain Kevin Karlander to pay for a team rafting trip in Maine, as he claimed. He did so voluntarily. He was reimbursed for the charge. The stuff about being “forced,” he just made up. Hey, it sure sounded good, didn’t it?
And no upperclassman ever told Corey he was going to have to have sexual intercourse with a sheep as part of his initiation. Yes, some teased him by saying “Ba-a-a, b-a-a-a” as they skated by at practice, but it was nothing more than plain and stupid teasing.
And one day after he was cut by Coach Mike Gilligan, Corey’s nametag and equipment had not been removed from his locker, as he claimed in the complaint. In fact, he admitted under oath, he subsequently swiped his UVM goalie equipment and took it with him to play junior hockey in Rochester, N.Y.. Nice.
And would you believe the young man who brought the “Elephant Walk” to national attention already had a well-established reputation for displaying what he called his “elephant nut” to young women? That’s what he called his grotesquely swollen testicle, the result of an errant slapshot. Yes, Corey LaTulippe was a reputed flasher long before he hit the UVM campus. He’s admitted that now. He testified he thought women found it “funny” when he would expose his genitals to them. He even admitted to whipping out his wee-wee to two girls he’d just met in a Montréal bar. What a funny guy!
And get this. Brenda, the hockey mom, testified she was aware of her son’s penchant for flashing. Asked if she thought that could be potentially damaging to young ladies, she answered, “possibly.”
“Did you ever tell Corey to stop it?” asked Berger.
“No,” she replied.
But most disturbing of all is the fact it sure looks like Corey LaTulippe eagerly participated in the infamous October 1 “Big Night” freshman initiation at Captain Karlander’s Colchester Avenue residence, in order to guarantee he would have the necessary evidence to base a lawsuit on. After all, he was lawyered up at the time. His actions reek of what one defense lawyer in the case referred to as a “set-up.”
Brenda LaTulippe testified that her son “was fearful for his life” over attending the initiation party. But he also told her to keep her mouth shut about it. She did. So did his lawyers.
And Corey testified he didn’t dare tell his father about it, because he knew his father would surely have put a stop to it, even if he had to call the Burlington Police Department.
If Corey truly “feared for his life” at the initiation party, why didn’t he, his mother or his lawyer alert UVM about it? Had the athletic department been tipped off about the party, you can bet dollars to doughnuts they would have nipped it in the bud.
And Corey also kept quiet about the “Big Party” after it happened. At least he kept quiet until the fateful day almost two weeks later, when Coach Gilligan informed him he wasn’t going to make the team.
Corey’s reaction? Anger at the coach. He just couldn’t accept that he wasn’t good enough. Quickly, within a day, he made plans to try out for a junior team in Rochester, N.Y. and he kissed UVM goodbye. He also decided to sue the university.
A few days later, his lawyers were demanding a $350,000 payoff from UVM in return for Corey’s cooperation in the university’s investigation of hazing. They now had what they considered the smoking-gun evidence of the “Big Night” initiation party — the drinking, the puking, the strippers, the Elephant Walk. Corey, his mom and their lawyers had dollar signs in their eyes. Big balloons. Dreams of easy money.
Four months ago in this space, based on the evidence available at the time, yours truly called for the professional heads of four UVM administrators in the chain of command, from the coach to the university president. The evidence was clear that two university-sanctioned investigations — one internal and one external — failed to uncover the truth about the hockey team’s prohibited acts. The hockey pucks hung together like a team dedicated to a common goal — covering their butts. They lied to the coach. They lied to the athletic director. They lied to the outside lawyers brought in to find the truth.
Their lying cost them the season and the lifelong memories that would have gone with it. It cost them the respect of the fans. And, most regrettably, it parked a dark cloud over the head of a very decent and dedicated coach who’s put his heart and soul into taking UVM hockey to the highest level of collegiate competition — the NCAA Final Four.
Today, in light of Corey LaTulippe’s admissions of deceit and dishonesty, yours truly wishes to retract our earlier view that college officials should have been dismissed over the matter. They were not perfect, but they certainly made the effort. Like most people, we believed LaTulippe to be an honest victim. He was neither.
Rather, it’s the character and integrity of one person in particular that stands tall in our view — Mike Gilligan.
Even when he broke the news to Corey that he wasn’t going to make the team, Gilligan’s first concern was for the kid’s future. The coach offered LaTulippe three options: He could “red-shirt” a year and have the shoulder repaired; he could stay in school and practice once a week with the varsity; or he could sign on with the local junior team, play lots of hockey and remain a student. Even in the intervening months, when the you-know-what hit the fan and the Coach’s butt was on the line, not once — not once — did Mike Gilligan have an unkind word to say about Corey LaTulippe.
This week hockey fans round the world are glued to their television sets watching the semi-finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs — the international World Series of ice hockey. And hockey fans around the world will marvel at the amazing moves and classy style of a certain forward on the Philadelphia Flyers. And they’ll remark about the courageous play of a certain defenseman on the Colorado Avalanche, the one playing with a faceguard to protect his broken jaw.
John LeClair is the premier power forward on the ice today. Aaron Miller has become the most reliable cog in the Colorado defense. Some will remember them from their younger years as boys becoming men under the guidance of Mike Gilligan. The classy play of LeClair and Miller on the world stage today is, at least in part, a reflection of the quality education they received in Coach Gilligan’s class up at the Gut.
The UVM hockey pucks will be back on the Gutterson ice come fall. Gilligan will be behind the bench. And if ever there was a season when a team had something to prove, this will be the one. Adversity they say, builds character.