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Evangelical college football players face arrest over hazing incident

Wheaton College (Sarah Pulliam Bailey/The Post)

Several football players at an evangelical college outside Chicago are facing arrest over actions that took place during the alleged hazing of a freshman teammate in March 2016, according to a stunning report published by the Chicago Tribune on Monday.

A DuPage County judge signed arrest warrants late Monday afternoon for five football players at Wheaton College who were charged with aggravated battery, mob action and unlawful restraint, according to the Tribune.

The five players allegedly tackled and duct taped a freshman in his dorm before carrying him roughly to a vehicle, according to the Tribune, which said it obtained documents describing the victim’s statements to investigators after the Wheaton police department declined this year to release reports under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. As the football players transported the victim to an off-campus park, they played “Middle Eastern music” and uttered slurs against Muslims, according to the contents of the documents described by the Tribune. (All Wheaton students sign a required statement of faith called a Community Covenant espousing evangelical beliefs and standards.)

The student suffered muscle tears in both shoulders, and has undergone multiple surgeries for his injuries, according to the Tribune. He reportedly left the school and is now attending a college in Indiana.

College administrators learned about the incident shortly after it happened from coaches and other team members, according to a statement the school sent to The Post. It declined to share details of the investigation, citing federal student privacy protections. The statement said college leaders immediately launched an internal investigation and its trustees have launched a campuswide review of its current anti-hazing policy.

The five players who were charged were ordered to perform community service, and write an eight-page essay reflecting on their behavior, the Tribune reported, and all are still listed on the football team’s roster. A spokeswoman for the college said that following charges, the players were “deemed inactive for practice or competition by the college’s administration and coaching staff.”

The students being sought on arrest warrants are 21-year-old Kyler Kregal of Grand Rapids, Mich.; 22-year-old James Cooksey, of Jacksonville, Fla.; 21-year-old Benjamin Pettway, of Lookout Mountain, Ga.; 22-year-old Samuel TeBos, of Allendale, Mich.; and 21-year-old Noah Spielman, of Columbus, Ohio. Spielman is the son a former son of former NFL player Chris Spielman, who is a football analyst for Fox Sports.

Calls to Cooksey and Kregel were not answered. Pettway did not respond to a voice mail request for comment. Attempts to reach Spielman and TeBos were unsuccessful. Calls to Mike Swider, the head coach of the football team, were not answered.

“Campus is pretty shell-shocked,” Luke Goodman, a senior who knows one of the players, told The Post.

The reports of anti-Muslim behavior during the course of the incident came within months of college leaders clashing with a professor over Muslim-Christian relations. Former political science professor Larycia Hawkins, who wore a hijab in support of Muslims, wrote on Facebook that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Her comment went viral and outraged conservative alumni, and she eventually left the college and became a visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.

Just months later, according to the documents obtained by the Tribune, the assault of the student took place.

“Oh my gosh,” Hawkins said, as she considered the timeline of events.

“The ignorance of well-educated students,” she said while taking a deep breath, “it’s so reprehensible.”

Christian Simpson, a black student who played one season of football, left the team this year partially because of negative comments the football players made about “affirmative action and race relations.” He said that while the extent of the physical aggression he witnessed was “locker room talk,” he wasn’t surprised that this allegedly happened.

“I guess it’s that macho-ness on men’s sports team,” Simpson, who is a senior, told The Post. “You wanna make someone else look worse than you at some time, so you can make yourself look better.”

Wheaton is an elite evangelical college located in a suburban enclave of Chicago. Its students are held to specific moral standards, signing a statement that they will not drink or smoke or engage in sex outside marriage.

However, the school has been no stranger to controversy. In spring 2015, several football players were involved in a skit featuring KKK costumes and Confederate flags. Though the players insisted that the skit was a parody and pointed out that black players participated, they later apologized.

Another Christian institution, Baylor University, was involved in a high-profile scandal that emerged in 2016 after 19 football players were accused of violence against women, including four instances of gang rape. Baylor’s athletic director at the time, Ian McCaw, was hired at Liberty University in late 2016.

The story has been updated to clarify the circumstances around Larycia Hawkins leaving Wheaton College. It has also been updated to include the names of students who were charged.

Freelancer Kim Bellware contributed to this report.