An abuser, an anti-Semite, a liar. All of those words define Mel Pearson. And yet, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel allows another word to describe Pearson:
In doing so, Michigan is proving it cares more about winning hockey games than protecting the well-being of women and student-athletes within its hockey program. Because, frankly, there is no other justification for keeping Pearson at the helm of the Michigan hockey program.
On Tuesday, MLive released WilmerHale’s damning 68-page report that details the level of misconduct Pearson allowed and sends shivers down the spine. Every page reveals more and more harm committed by Pearson and his sidekick, former director of hockey operations Rick Bancroft.
When former Michigan goaltender Strauss Mann came forward with complaints about the team’s culture, Pearson forced him out of the program. Mann was heading into his senior year at Stephen M. Ross School of Business, just two semesters away from a degree that sources tell The Daily would have meant a great deal to him and his family. When ice hockey sports information director Kristy McNeil scheduled interviews with the media late one week in February 2021, Pearson allegedly screamed at her, causing her to break down and cry at work. When volunteer director of player development Steve Shields tried to protect student athletes by confronting the abuser, Pearson revoked his building access and fired him from his volunteer position.
And all of that is just a sliver of the damage Pearson caused. It doesn’t cover how he let Bancroft harass, bully and play mind games with female employees. It doesn’t cover how he threw players who tested positive for COVID-19 in a van and “snuck (them) out of North Dakota” in a last-ditch attempt to keep his team in the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t cover how he loomed over Mann even after the player left the program, attempting to sabotage his professional career — sending text messages feigning positivity and support over his time with the Wolverines — by getting in his head before important games.
The report found that people were scared — and sources tell The Daily that people still are scared — of Pearson, while he remains in his position of power and has yet to face any ramifications.
And those details disclosed in the report are not new information to the Athletic Department — they sat on Manuel’s desk since May 5 while no action was taken to fire Pearson, even when his contract with Michigan expired in rather bizarre fashion on May 1.
What kind of coach can keep his job after systematically degrading women who work for him? What kind of coach can keep his job after he makes dozens of hockey players — one of the toughest groups of athletes there is — afraid to speak against abuse because they think they’ll be the next victim? What kind of coach can lie during an investigation and keep their job?
A Michigan coach? A “gatekeeper” of Michigan hockey’s tradition? A so-called Michigan Man? Surely not.
Manuel allows Pearson to hold one of the most prestigious coaching jobs on campus three months after the WilmerHale report was placed on his desk. He permits the face of the Michigan hockey program to be the snarling, narcissistic mugshot of someone who puts his agenda ahead of others’ well-being.
The hockey world talks about the toxicity of its culture and often stresses how change needs to be made. Michigan hockey now finds itself added to an unseemly list of recent examples as to why that is the case. It sits alongside organizations like the Chicago Blackhawks, who failed Kyle Beach, and Hockey Canada, which has failed so many women. Pearson can be grouped with figures like former Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and former Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters — those responsible for the rot endemic within the game. If Manuel does not fire him, he will be too.
For the victims of past abuses who never got justice, for the current players and staff who were “scared shitless” for two years because Pearson loomed with the potential to strike at any time, for the future generation of hockey players and the sake of women in sports, Pearson must be removed from his position.
Because if he isn’t, the list of abuses — and the number of victims — will only grow.
Earegood can be reached on Twitter @ConnorEaregood and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.