Stanford volleyball plans to make amends for drawing that 'tainted' its national championship

Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire

"I own it; we own it. It's not who we are as human beings," Stanford volleyball coach Kevin Hambly says.

When Stanford travels to Nebraska in September for a rematch of the 2018 NCAA volleyball national championship, the Cardinal will bring an olive branch to atone for a drawing of the Stanford tree.

Stanford, which will be making its first trip to Lincoln since 2014 in the first of a five-year home-and-away volleyball series, plans to perform community service in an effort to make amends for a viral incident that unfolded after the Cardinal won their second NCAA title in three years in December in Minneapolis.

The confetti was still on the court at Target Center when the NCAA Volleyball Twitter account posted a photo from the Cardinal locker room of players celebrating. In the background, a drawing on a whiteboard depicted the Stanford tree with a gun pointed at Herbie Husker, the Huskers mascot. Expletives were written alongside the cartoon.

"The team felt terrible about it; I felt terrible about it," said Stanford coach Kevin Hambly, who was notified by a Cardinal administrator while he was walking into a postgame party. "Teams do stuff in the locker room when they're bored. Some teams do Hangman; some teams play other games. It was entertainment, inappropriate as it was."

The tweet was deleted within minutes, but not before it was captured and retweeted thousands of times with commentary denouncing it for insensitivity. Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir issued an immediate apology.

The classic championship match, won in five sets by Stanford, was held just prior to holiday break, so the Cardinal did not fly back to Palo Alto, California, together. As soon as everyone returned to school, the players wrote an email apologizing.

"I wanted it to be in their own words," said Hambly, who also crafted his own. "It was a Google document that everybody signed."

Nebraska coach John Cook said the Huskers never talked about the whiteboard drawing as a team because his players also immediately left for break. Two days after Christmas, he had hip replacement surgery and he has been focused on recovering since the season ended. The Stanford-Nebraska series was agreed upon prior to last year's national championship.

"I would say it had no impact on our team," said Cook, who added he was appreciative of the Cardinal apologies and has already received a request from a local Boys & Girls Club that would like to be the benefactor of Stanford's offer to perform community service.

Hambly said the details of the community service will be private and include security detail because his players have been on the receiving end of a backlash of social media from Nebraska fans. Several Cardinal players received direct messages with threats, he said.

"Fans were directing messages to our athletes talking about physical harm, talking about sexual assault on grandparents and sisters and mothers," Hambly said. "That speaks to where we are with social media. I don't have any of it."

As upset as Hambly is about the attacks on the Cardinal, he said the incident forced him to re-examine everything around his program, including language.

"Players curse sometimes; we want to eliminate that," he said. "Athletes are under a microscope. Anything we do around our program is going to be scrutinized. We want to make sure everything around our program is as clean as possible."

And that means eliminating the ritual of drawing on the whiteboard.

"They'll figure out another way to entertain themselves. Maybe a dance party," Hambly said. "We had lots of down time and what we chose to do with it was not great. It was terrible, actually. The gun, it was insensitive. We embarrassed Stanford and our program."

Stanford and Nebraska have combined to win volleyball's past four national titles. The Cardinal return two-time espnW Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer and two-time Pac-12 Setter of the Year Jenna Gray as well as outside hitter Meghan McClure, whose kill clinched the 2018 national championship. Hambly is hoping to put the focus back on all the talent on the court.

"It tainted our championship," he said. "It's a bummer for the athletes and a bummer for the whole staff that we can't enjoy the championship. But you know what? We earned it by not cleaning up that stuff, by not making sure that those things weren't part of our program. I own it; we own it. It's not who we are as human beings."

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