MISSOULA, Mont. - The University of Montana is in the national spotlight as a high-profile trial looms.
Former Congressman Pat Williams, now a member of the Montana Board of Regents, is weighing in on athletic recruiting. Williams was quoted by ESPN and an article published by the New York Times centered around the rape trial of a former UM Grizzly football quarterback.
"We've had sex assaults, vandalism, beatings by football players," Williams told the New York Times, and he goes on to say, "The University has recruited thugs for its football team, and this thuggery has got to stop."
Williams spoke with our news partners at Newstalk KGVO Radio, and he told them he stands by those statements he made, just not in correlation with the Jordan Johnson trial. He says he was talking about athletic recruiting at a whole.
"We need a better recruiting system because the current recruiting system is letting in too many thugs and that has to stop," Williams told KGVO.
NBC Montana reached out to UM Athletic Director Kent Haslam. Haslam called from the UM Grizzly basketball game tonight to share his disappointment in Williams' remarks.
Haslam told us, "That is not what we are about. Character is a top priority. We want to recruit great students first to become student athletes. It's unfortunate because it just doesn't reflect what we stand for."
"For the University of Montana, and the athletic department in particular, it's a matter of focusing forward, learning from the past, getting better, focusing on the positive. We have just got so many things to celebrate and it gives us a chance to really stress the great things our student athletes are doing in the classroom and the community and the fields and courts," Haslam continued.
Haslam also directed the community to a response letter released by the Board of Regents stating that Williams is entitled to his individual opinion, but that it does not reflect the opinion of the board as a whole.
Angela McLean released a statement on behalf of the Board of Regents Thursday saying, "We as a board do not agree with the statements made. Each board member is entitled to his own opinions and these comments do not reflect that board as a whole."