UPDATE: Two Auburn Football Players Accused Of Harassing Female Veteran And Her Service Dog On Campus

Reports began swirling yesterday that two Auburn Football players, Dontavius Russell and Andrew Williams, harassed a female veteran and her service dog on the Auburn campus. The female vet who was allegedly called out and threatened by the two Auburn Football players also suffers from PTSD, and was sent into a crippling panic after she was singled out on campus by the two players.

UPDATE: It appears the media, myself included, all jumped to conclusions and was initially misled regarding the circumstances of this incident. Jump to the end of the post for clarification.

Fansided’s Lightly Buzzed first broke news of the story yesterday afternoon, citing reports of two players (later identified as Russell and Williams), catcalling a student on campus as she walked with her service dog, and after being asked to please leave her alone the two became hostile, triggering the vet’s PTSD. As the service dog was trained to do it led her away from the conflict.

The two players who incited the conflict were also named in this Facebook post:

Lightly BUzzed was also able to track down the victim’s sister and speak with her:

We spoke to Crystal Stoddard the accuser’s sister and she said it’s more than PTSD. “”She has PTSD, but it’s caused by MST which is Military Sexual Trauma. We won’t go into the details of what happened, but anything can make her relive that trauma. When those players were yelling at her and using those names it was like she was reliving the trauma not just what was happening then.”

The sister of the victim also took to Facebook to discuss the actions of this pair of Auburn Football players:

And reporter Elizabeth White of Columbus, Georgia’s WTVM was given an exclusive account of the day’s incident:

EXCLUSIVE: Auburn University student says Head Football Coach Gus Malzahn and the Assistant Athletic Director for Football, David Gunn, have both called to apologize to her for the way she was treated by two AU football players Tuesday morning. A source within the AU Athletic Department confirms with WTVM the two phone calls were made to the student by Coach Malzahn and Gunn.

Elizabeth White spoke with 25 year old Ashley Ozyurt tonight. She says she uses a service dog to help her cope with PTSD, brought on by her being sexually assaulted while she was in the military from the ages of 21 to 23. Ozyurt wants to be clear, she is not a combat veteran and she never deployed.

Ozyurt tells News Leader 9 she was on her way to class, inside Hayley Center when she was harassed by two AU football players. Her story was posted by Service Dog Memes on Facebook and has received numerous comments and shares. Her comments regarding the incident are posted below.
(Warning, strong language used)

“At 10:30am today I walked into the Halley Center on my way to class. As I was walking I heard people behind me whistling and making kissing noises at my service dog. I ignored it like I usually do for about 10 feet and they didn’t not stop. I turned around and said to two Auburn University football players “Please don’t distract my service dog.”

Player number (WTVM has removed player’s number until player’s name can be confirmed) moved towards me and proceeded to yell, “What do you want? HUH? Whats wrong with you, nobody’s bothering YOU. What are you gonna do? HUH?” I opened my mouth but no words could escape. My hyperventilating only seemed to fuel their verbal assault. When I didn’t speak, my service dog began to drag me away from the situation, one of them yelled, “THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT BITCH!
At that point, in front of dozens of people, my PTSD took over and I withered to a crying mess. I went to the nearest safe place, the Office of Accessibility and reported the student’s football numbers that they were wearing their FB sweat suits and backpacks. the main attacker, and his hype man. (WTVM has removed the player numbers until we can confirm player identities) I attempted to attend my first class, but after 30 minutes of crying and humiliating myself further, I knew I needed to get home.
I have never had a negative experience like this, ever! Especially on Auburn’s campus where I have been accepted and treated like family until now. In fact, I have commented many times Auburn on how the campus is a safe place for everyone. It is no longer a safe place for me. I am hurt, angered, and very humiliated. I expected more from my university’s athletes.”

Elizabeth will be interviewing Ozyurt tomorrow morning. She’s also reached out to Auburn University and the AU Athletic Department to find out what AU leaders plan on doing about the allegations. AU’s Director of Communications, Mike Clardy, released this statement late tonight.

“Auburn University condemns any behavior that is demeaning to those with disabilities. We’re investigating the reports and will take all appropriate action once all the facts are known.”
– Mike Clardy
Director, University Communications
Ozyurt tells WTVM, Coach Malzahn told her during their phone call, the situation would be dealt with.

On the one hand I’m willing to give these kids the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t know she was a veteran, but on the other hand that doesn’t matter at all. The fact of the matter is that these ambassadors of their university sat on campus harassing students as they walked past, which is completely inexcusable. Now that these kid’s entire worlds are crashing down around them, what is Coach Gus Malzahn and the University to do?

Do they get kicked out of school for this? Seems unlikely.

Should they get kicked out of school for this? I’m not a policy maker, so I won’t answer that question.

Should they be forced to endure very, very, extremely long hours of community service working with organizations treating disabled veterans and vets suffering from PTSD? Yes, yes they should. This is the only punishment I can see in which these two players will actually learn anything meaningful from this ordeal. Let them see firsthand what it’s like for a person suffering from trauma to navigate the world, and maybe they’ll gain some measure of empathy and humility.

UPDATE: Regarding the incident between two Auburn Football players and Ashley Ozyurt, several statements have been released providing clarification, and illuminating how we the media jumped to conclusions regarding this entire incident.

From AL.com:

The Auburn athletics department released a statement Monday night to try to clear up any lingering confusion. The statement said that “neither of the student-athletes did anything with disrespectful intent.” It said that Russell “had no involvement in the interaction whatsoever” as he was walking to class and that Williams tried to get the dog’s attention and “didn’t understand the purpose of the dog or realize that the student was a disabled veteran.”

Williams offered this apology in the statement: “I want to take this opportunity to apologize for raising my voice. I was startled and totally misunderstood the situation. My mother and father who raised me both served in the military. I have tremendous respect for veterans. In the past week, I’ve learned a lot more about the role of service dogs for veterans and now better understand her courage to attend Auburn.”

There’s a lesson to be learned here from jumping to conclusions regarding athletes, as nowadays the perception of collegiate football players is ‘guilty until proven innocent’. If you need any proof of this look no further than the New York Times sending two reporters to spend an ENTIRE semester on the Florida Statue University campus only to eventually report on two athletes being involved in a car accident (hit-and-run where the students later returned to accept responsibility).

For more on this story you can head on over to Fansided’s Lightly Buzzed.