David Eldredge ’81, the decorated coach who led Cornell’s polo teams for the last 33 years, has retired amid an investigation into claims of “potential past misconduct,” the University confirmed on Wednesday evening.
“Allegations of potential past misconduct by Mr. Eldredge have been brought to Cornell’s attention,” John Carberry, a Cornell spokesperson, said in a statement to The Sun. “They will be reviewed thoroughly, and all actions considered appropriate will be taken once that process is complete.”
Cornell declined to say what reported misconduct will be reviewed as part of its investigation, but the University looked into allegations against Eldredge more than a decade ago and briefly placed him on leave in 2007. That investigation followed complaints from players that Eldredge used a slur in a team meeting and drank from a beer while driving students, according to interviews with three former men’s polo players and a letter obtained by The Sun.
Reached at a barn across from his house on Wednesday night, Eldredge confirmed to The Sun that he was investigated in 2007 and said he had been cleared of any wrongdoing.
“Cleared, as in cleared, as in not guilty, as in cleared,” he said, wearing a Cornell polo hat and T-shirt. “I would not have been able to remain coach for the next 12 years had anything, you know, come of that.”
That investigation began on March 9, 2007 and concluded several months later, according to a letter Eldredge sent to former polo player Daniel Crespo ’08, in which the coach apologized for making an “offensive remark” at a team meeting.
Eldredge wrote that he was “instructed to not contact” Crespo until after Cornell’s investigation had ended.
“Because of that, it is only now, when the investigation is completed, that I am able to apologize to you for the offensive remark I made in a men’s varsity team meeting in the 2005-2006 Cornell Polo season,” Eldredge wrote in the letter, which was sent to Crespo sometime after the end of the 2007 spring semester.
Crespo told The Sun that during that meeting at the Oxley Equestrian Center in the fall of 2006, Eldredge used a racial slur while warning players not to confront referees during games.
Crespo said Eldredge’s “exact words were, ‘I don’t care if they [the referees] say something about your mother fucking a spic.’”
Another former player who was in the room for the meeting confirmed Eldredge’s use of the slur.
Crespo is the son of a Cuban man and an American woman and said he believed Eldredge’s remark was directed at him.
“There was nobody else who it could have been directed towards,” Crespo said.
In the letter, Eldredge wrote he used “an inflammatory trash talking remark as an example to illustrate the importance of restraint, even when provoked, as the appropriate response by a team member.
“I do understand the offensive nature of my comment,” Eldredge continued, adding that his “usage of this remark was a one time, regrettable use” and that he did not mean to direct it at Crespo “or anyone specifically.”
Cornell also investigated a claim from former men’s polo player Jesse Llop ’07 that Eldredge sipped from a beer can while driving him and three other players in April of 2007.
Llop said in an interview that after the team watched the men’s and women’s finals at the U.S. Polo Association national tournament in Lexington, Kentucky, Eldredge drove the players back to their hotel in a rented van. Llop said Eldredge steered the vehicle with his left hand and used his right to hold and drink from a Budweiser. Possessing an open alcoholic beverage as a passenger or driver has been illegal in Kentucky since at least 2000.
Asked about Llop’s claim, Eldredge said he was “cleared of everything,” adding: “that’s an encompassing statement.” He said Cornell handled the 2007 investigation and turned its findings over to the Athletics Department.
“There was an investigation upon me and I was cleared of everything,” he said, adding that the claims were “old, cleared news” and had nothing to do with his retirement.
Eldredge said “some opportunities have come up that have developed from my 33 years of being around polo and it’s a good time for me” to retire.
A friend of Eldredge, Phil Wilde ’73, told The Sun last week that the coach told him he was “being forced to retire.”
Llop said that within weeks of the tournament in Kentucky, he described what happened in a letter to Andy Noel, who has served as athletics director since 1998, and told Noel he was concerned by the coach’s behavior.
During Cornell’s 2007 investigation into Eldredge, the coach was placed on leave and Steve Kraus, an assistant polo coach who remains in that role, briefly served as interim coach.
“I was the coach on an interim basis at that time,” said Kraus, who is also a clinical sciences lecturer and a widely respected farrier who outfits horses with their shoes. “The only other official comment I have is that, aside from the mistaken use of the racial slur, those allegations were found to be false and there were a number of people out to get David then, and that appears to be the case now.”
Eldredge returned to coach the team in the fall of 2007.
Llop said Noel interviewed him twice about the Kentucky incident and became upset when he learned that Llop had discussed the incident with other teammates.
Noel’s assistant said he was not available for an interview on Wednesday, and Noel did not answer a detailed list of questions emailed on Wednesday evening.
Eldredge had been the coach of Cornell polo since 1985 and is the winningest coach in the history of Cornell Athletics. Under his leadership, the men’s and women’s teams won 988 games and 15 national championships.
Anthony Condo, a laboratory manager at the Center for Materials Research, is currently serving as interim coach of the men’s and women’s polo teams, The Sun previously reported.
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs ’19 contributed reporting to this article.