The University of Texas has suspended the Texas Cowboys, the fellows who fire the cannon at football games, for six years following an investigation into the circumstances of the death of a new member during a group retreat back in September. The investigation found that the retreat included a lot of hazing, and found, separately, that inadequate “risk management practices” contributed to the single-vehicle accident that caused the member’s death.
On September 30, following a retreat on a private ranch in Brown County, members were packed into a pickup truck traveling through Lampass County, headed back toward campus, when the truck rolled over. 20-year-old new member Nicholas Cumberland was reportedly riding in the back of the pickup along with three other members, and was thrown during the accident, sustaining injuries that eventually caused his death four weeks later. UT apparently found that neither intoxication nor sleep deprivation contributed to the accident, but over the course of their investigation they uncovered a lot of very reckless and cruel and stupid hazing. Per an Austin American-Statesman report:
“New members of the Cowboys were subjected to multiple forms of hazing, including physical brutality, physical activity, forced ingestion of unwanted substances, coerced consumption of alcohol and degradation,” the report said.
During the retreat, the members were coerced to chug a gallon of milk and eat cat food, Spam, Tabasco sauce, minced garlic and whole onions, the document said. One member was coerced into biting the head off of a live hamster. Other hazing included paddling with sticks, forced calisthenics and so-called Oklahoma drills, in which two people run directly at each other in a confined space.
Cumberland had apparently been paddled violently enough that his parents observed “marks [on] his back side” from the hazing in the hospital four weeks later, shortly before he died.
Hard as this may be to believe, underage alcohol consumption is “part of the culture” of a men’s organization whose fame is earned by dressing its members like bull riders and firing a cannon at University of Texas football games. Turns out this is the second time the Cowboys have been shut down by the university following revelations of hazing surrounding the death of a young member. In 1995, during a long-term probation period related to earlier hazing incidents, the university canceled the Cowboys’ registration as a student organization for five years when an investigation determined that the death by drowning of a 19-year-old member was due to “alcohol-fueled hazing.”
Sophomore Gabriel B. Higgins’ blood alcohol level was found to be 0.21 percent, more than twice the legal limit for driving in Texas, where the drinking age is 21.
Higgins died during an initiation held April 29 along the Colorado River for the Texas Cowboys, a fund-raising and spirit-boosting group. His disappearance in the river wasn’t reported until nine hours later, authorities said.
Hey, since we’re already here, here’s the 2018 recruiting video for the Texas Cowboys, featuring former head football coach Mack Brown, current head coach Tom Herman, and university president Greg Fenves, who is seen here touting “the leadership and the integrity of the Texas Cowboys” just a couple weeks before Cumberland’s death:
Under the conditions laid out by the university, the group will reportedly remain under probation for two years after the end of its six-year suspension, and will be required to take a university-employed chaperone on all future retreats. The Cowboys have the option of appealing the punishment; in the meantime, the cannon the Cowboys fire—it’s called “Smokey”—is apparently owned by the University of Texas, which means continuing the game-day tradition will mean finding a more upstanding group of students to handle the job.