Former Fordham Runner Accuses Track And Field Program of Perpetuating Racist Culture, Former Coach Thomas Dewey Denies Allegations

Jimmy Sullivan, Andrew Posadas

Former Fordham track and field runner Michael Petersen is accusing former Fordham track head coach Thomas Dewey and former team captain Ryan McGann of multiple racist incidents during the 2016-17 season, Petersen’s freshman year. Petersen transferred to Western University in London, Ontario, Canada after that year.

In a series of Instagram stories Tuesday night, Petersen wrote what he said occurred during the season. 

“The racist culture was from the men’s track and cross country seniors, many of which just blindly followed the men’s team captain (McGann),” Petersen said. 

He posted a photo of several men’s runners dressed as “Pilgrims and Indians.” He said the students were running through buildings on the Rose Hill campus chasing a turkey. However, he said neither he nor any of his Black, Puerto Rican or Pakistani teammates were considered “Pilgrims.” 

He went on to say that Dewey helped perpetuate this culture by delegating many tasks to the team’s seniors. In what Petersen describes as a “sick idea,” he said McGann assigned sprinters and a hybrid group mostly comprised of non-white athletes to pick up garbage after a meet. According to Petersen, the mostly white seniors oversaw the garbage pickup, and McGann “followed and harassed” Petersen to do more. At first, Petersen thought he was being hazed like his teammates, but he said he realized that his white teammates were not joining him. 

Dewey denied allegations that he helped foster this culture. He also says that the story about being forced to pick up the garbage alone is an exaggeration.

He’s full of s—, quite honestly,” Dewey said. “Ask anybody, how many times did you have to clean? I mean, that’s ridiculous. He just overstepped. If he was going to lie, maybe they shouldn’t have put the one thing.”

Dewey said that Petersen was set on leaving Fordham after his first year and in the transfer process, he gave a list of 18 schools and didn’t know all of them. According to Dewey, he also submitted a school called “Georgia Institute of Technology,” which wound up being Georgia Tech. Finally, Petersen transferred to Western University, which was not on his original list. The year after he transferred, Petersen talked to Dewey at a meet in Boston and, according to the coach, offered no sign that anything was wrong.

Well the next year,” Dewey says. “We had a meet in Boston, and who comes up but Michael? Comes up, sits down, talks to me, talks to the guys on the team, no problem. Then we saw him one other time after that. So that’s just to give you an idea, all of a sudden this horrendous thing.”

However, Petersen refutes that account of the conversation. He says he was only at the meet to compete for Western and he wanted to say hello to his former Fordham teammates. “I had that conversation with him and if he thought that was a great civil conversation then I don’t know what kinds of conversations he has on a day-to-day basis,” Petersen said.

Dewey also said that he was unaware of any issues on the team and deflected blame to his captains.

My thing, and I coached for 55 years, and this is why it’s really ticking me off,” he said. “Unblemished, and now we have this? Should I have been asking every week, guys, what’s going on with the captains? Are we alright? Yeah, maybe I should’ve. But I didn’t think there was any problem.

Another incident took place when the team attended a party later in the season. Petersen alleged McGann once again hazed him by giving him a Smirnoff Ice in a garbage bag and tried to force him to pick up the trash after the party, which Petersen describes as an “abuse of power.” However, as Petersen tells it, McGann viewed the incident as a “joke.” Petersen says that McGann “pushed the racist agenda to a point that I could not bear” and that the team’s other seniors “just followed the leader.”

McGann has not responded to several requests for comment.

Shortly after publishing his stories regarding McGann, Petersen then directed attention toward Dewey. He alleged that Dewey tried to make Petersen sign a contract to restrict him from transferring after he initially brought forward his issues. Petersen also said Dewey always reminded Petersen that he was paying his scholarship, a situation Petersen describes as “letting me know that he ‘owned me.’” Dewey retired before the 2019-20 school year after 39 years at the helm. 

Dewey responded to that comment in conversation with The Fordham Ram.

“Bottom-line, if you want to be mean, Fordham did own him,” Dewey said. “But that’s not what happened. He had to be reminded that we were paying his way and he wasn’t really interested in competing. How would you like it if some guy that you found out was sitting next to you at Fordham while you had to pay your whole way at Fordham, he was getting $35,000, $40,000 to not do anything. Would that piss you off?”

In an interview with The Ram, Petersen said that Dewey tried to instill fear in his runners. And according to the former Fordham track runner, part of that was reminding them who was responsible for their education.

“He always made everyone know that he was top dog,” he says. “He was a source of fear. He would use threats. Coach Dewey would always let you know that he had your scholarship and he was the one paying it and he would always threaten to hold you back from competitions.” Petersen also told us that keeping athletes out of competition is “oxymoronic” because coaches “should be promoting this urge to represent your school [and] represent yourself.” He also added that Dewey was “making people hate being on the team.”

Dewey said why he thinks Petersen would come forward with his claims.

“Quite honestly, some of the minorities use their color as an excuse, which is horrible,” he said. “You’re trying to make somebody better. You can’t turn around and tell me, for example, just the black kids had to pick up the garbage. That’s horses—. That’s never been the case.”

Petersen says that comments like these show who Dewey is.

Dewey’s abuse of power is very closely related to his racist ideals,” he says. “He might not see them as racist but his abuse of power and his excess abuse of power with minorities is wrong and I don’t think anybody should live through that stuff.”

Dewey said he thinks Petersen is trying to earn himself sympathy with his allegations.

Does he consider himself a slave?,” he said. “That’s using today’s happenings to get sympathy. I taught English and communications for 45 years, I understand what words mean. There was nothing in that “he owned me” other than the slave. That’s great. Well, if I owned him, then he probably owes us ¾ of a scholarship because he hardly ran.”

In an investigation into that season, The Ram found that Petersen competed in most of the team’s indoor events, including the 2017 Atlantic 10 Championship. He says he suffered an injured hamstring towards the end of the season but Dewey urged him to continue despite the risks involved.

He’s saying he wants my scholarship back, the fact that he has the audacity to say something that is baffling to me,” Petersen says. “That is crazy talk. I ran every single weekend for most of the season until I got injured. Once I got injured, I said, ‘no. I cannot run. This hamstring is hurt, it will only get worse.’ I had to go to another trainer, to another team, because the coaches wouldn’t believe me from what I said.”

Petersen’s allegations come after a week in which a new Instagram page called Black at Fordham (@blackatfordham) has aired stories publicly; included on that page are anonymous allegations that Fordham Men’s Soccer coach Carlo Acquista made several racist comments last season and that Fordham Swimming fostered a culture of racism under head coach Steve Potsklan. Petersen is the first Fordham athlete current or former to put his name to an accusation of this nature.

“Actually, I was going to stay anonymous but I think if we are looking for real change you should know who is responsible,” Petersen wrote.

The Ram is reaching out to more sources and will update this article as needed.