Tweet leads to Lehigh suspension

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Lehigh's top receiver has been suspended for Saturday's FCS quarterfinal at North Dakota State for forwarding a Twitter message that included a racial slur against members of the Towson University football team.

The Division I Football Championship committee announced Thursday that it had also reprimanded junior Ryan Spadola of Howell, N.J.

The committee said in a statement that Spadola used "an inappropriate and repugnant racial reference" in retweeting the offending message, which had been sent to him by a friend before last week's 40-38 win over Towson.

"The football committee was very disappointed with the unsportsmanlike action taken by the student-athlete," said committee chairman Jim O'Day, athletic director at Montana. "This was a very unfortunate incident, but racially insensitive characterizations are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The offensive language of this nature by Mr. Spadola, whether intentional or not, was unsportsmanlike and discredited the championship overall."

Spadola issued a written apology in which he asked the offended parties for forgiveness.

"At the time I received and forwarded the tweet, I didn't stop to think about how this could be offensive," he wrote. "In hindsight, I recognize that it was clearly inappropriate. I would never do anything intentionally harm or berate others regardless of ethnicity. Everyone who knows me knows that to be true."

Lehigh athletic director Joe Sterrett said Spadola is an outstanding student and respected member of the team.

"The suspension delivers a clear message that this is not acceptable behavior within college athletics," Sterrett said.

As a result of the incident, Sterrett said, Lehigh is holding a series of campus discussions on derogatory racial language and its impact.

Spadola is a key figure in the No. 4 passing offense in the Football Championship Subdivision. He set a school record with 96 receptions this season, and his 1,614 yards are a Patriot League record. He has scored 11 touchdowns.

The winner between sixth-ranked and unseeded Lehigh (11-1) and the fourth-ranked and No. 2-seeded Bison (11-1) will play either Georgia Southern or Maine in next week's semifinals.

A Towson spokesman said Friday that athletic director Mike Waddell had no comment.