Editor’s Note: Justin Watland is responding to a story written by EdSource and shared widely via various media outlets, including Plumas News. The article indicated that the California State University system didn’t adequately address violations of Title IX and used as an example Jason Hawkins, who was the head baseball coach at San Jose State and is now the vice principal/athletic director at Quincy High School (though currently on administrative leave).
My name is Justin Watland. I played for Coach Hawkins at San Jose State in the fall of 2017 until he resigned in the winter of that same year. These recent allegations that have come out about Coach Hawkins have had me puzzled. As these reports are not an accurate description of the Jason Hawkins that I know. In this letter I want to share what kind of role model Coach Hawkins was to me personally as well as the things I saw and heard from my peers during the investigation in 2017.
My first year at San Jose State began in August of 2017. The first day upon my arrival, I was having second thoughts about my choice (not because of Coach Hawkins or any of our staff, just because I wasn’t sure I would like San Jose). I went to Coach Hawkins that day and told him how I was feeling and that I may want to transfer. He appreciated my honesty and reassured me that I was right where I needed to be; and to this day I’m thankful he did. From that day on, I always felt comfortable around Coach Hawkins. He was not only an amazing coach, he was a mentor, role model, and today I consider him a great friend.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Coach Hawkins is leadership. I never played for a person that was more detailed in how he prepared his players for life, both on the field and off the field. We had every resource available to make us successful. He even went as far as hiring a mental coach to be a service to us. At the beginning of the semester we had to write down our goals and turn them in. He would look over each of our goals and they had to meet a specific standard, if they didn’t he would say “try again.” One of the goals I wrote the first time around was “I want to be the best pitcher in the mountain west.” Hawkins gave it back to me and said, “that’s great Justin, but how are you going to do this? What is going to separate you, what will make this attainable? Be more specific.” He then showed me how to make small goals that were attainable to ultimately lead to an overall goal. My point in sharing this is that Coach Hawkins went beyond being a baseball coach. He was a coach that was giving us the blueprint to be successful people in life.
That first fall was challenging. As everyone knows, the higher the level, the better your peers get; and for a lot of us, it was the first time that we had to compete to win a job. Coach Hawkins was tough but he was fair. Everything we got had to be earned, including what we were allowed to wear to practice and games. I saw it as a challenge and loved every bit of it. On the other hand, there were kids who would complain about Coach Hawk’s rules and wanted him out.
At some point in the Fall of 2017, I was talking to teammates at a gathering we had off-campus and I was told that there was an investigation going on against Coach Hawkins. There were multiple guys talking about getting questioned by the school about things he may have said to us as a group. I thought it was dumb because he never said or did anything that was inappropriate during my time with him at SJSU. After that night, since I was never questioned by the school, I forgot that it had ever been brought up. That was until Coach Hawkins resigned a few days after we came back from winter break.
I was devastated that he was stepping down. He was the guy who gave me the opportunity and if it weren’t for him, I would have gone somewhere else. I started reaching out to teammates to find out what happened and guys told me that he was not following our practice rules. I was upset that he was leaving, but I still wanted to make the best out of the opportunity he gave me so I stuck around and played the next two seasons at SJSU.
After Coach Hawkins left, he was never really brought up by guys on our team. Other than a few players who thought we would have played better under his leadership. Which is interesting, because if a guy was “sexually harassing” players and being “racist” towards players, you’d think it would be brought up again by guys in that clubhouse. But it never was.
So here is what I can tell you about my personal experience and the accusations made in this article:
1. Coach Hawkins never made racial or sexual jokes, comments, or anything of that nature in my presence.
2. The story regarding “pussy Pennies” was incorrectly reported. We would wear pink Pennies on our torso, not our spikes as stated in the article. And they were never referred to as “pussy pennies” (if they were referred to as that name, I never heard it). The intention behind those was to stay in the box and wear a pitch. Which if you don’t know baseball terms, it means take the free base when they’re given to you.
3. The pregame meetings we had were designed to loosen us up and relax before games. They most definitely never included Coach Hawkins telling racist or sexual jokes. And if it wasn’t funny to you, no one was pressuring you to laugh. One time he ate an orange with the peel on it.. I’m not sure if that offended someone.
4. There were multiple disgruntled players who were upset about their lack of playing time and they wanted Coach Hawkins gone so bad. I believe they would have said or done anything to get him fired. Unfortunately, they got their wish.
In summary, I stand by Coach Hawkins and vouch for him through my experience. I am saddened by these extreme measures taken by a he said/she said article with no physical evidence to back it up. I wish that the reporters would have asked me about my experience before this was published. In addition, with such serious allegations, SJSU should have done a better job in their investigation, as myself and many others were never interviewed. I don’t think that’s right. He’s a great coach, a great leader, a great family man, but most importantly a great person.