DQ— Brent Sass won the Iditarod in 2022. He is shown here at the finish line, waving at Iditarod fans on Front Street in Nome.

Musher Brent Sass disqualified from Iditarod, Burke Jr. withdraws from Iditarod after being reinstated

Amidst a flurry of decisions dealing with two mushers accused of running afoul of a personal conduct rule, the Iditarod Trail Committee on Thursday night disqualified musher Brent Sass from this year’s race and on Friday reinstated musher Eddie Burke Jr. to be eligible to run in the race, reversing its Monday decision to a disqualify Burke.

ITC disqualifies Brent SassI
The Iditarod Trail Committee’s board convened in a special meeting on Thursday, Feb. 22 and unanimously voted to disqualify Brent Sass from competing in the 2024 Iditarod. A press release that was sent out late at night quoted the personal conduct rule, Rule 53, without saying how Sass violated the rule.
However, a letter from Brent Sass to ITC sent a few weeks ago makes it reasonable to believe that sexual misconduct allegations were at the center of the ITC’s considerations.
On Friday, Feb. 16 the ITC had sent out a communication to mushers that stated “the ITC Board decided we must notify all of you that we have been informed of a number of accusations being made within our community concerning violence and abuse against women.” The text further says that the ITC board condemns such behavior and cannot tolerate such conduct. “Violence and abuse against women is highly unacceptable and inappropriate.” However, the context for such a statement was not made immediately clear.
But since last week, more information came to light.
Late last fall, allegations of sexual misconduct by Brent Sass have been raised by a Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates – Alaska letter written by the organization’s state director Rose O’Hara-Jolley. O’Hara-Jolley wrote that over a timespan of six years “multiple survivors who wish to remain anonymous” have reported to the organization that they have been “raped and sexually and physically assaulted by Brent Sass.”
The letter was sent to several sled dog race organizations.
Before the Kuskoskwim 300 race, which takes place in January in Bethel, the race organizers asked Sass to withdraw and he did. Asked for a statement by the Nugget, the Kuskokwim 300 race organization said it was informed of a number of allegations against Brent Sass, which included a first-hand account from a survivor who accused him of rape.
“After weeks of consideration and ongoing receipt of additional allegations against Mr. Sass, our board decided unanimously in December to request that Sass voluntarily withdraw from the race, which he did,” K300 Race Director Paul Basile last week told the Nugget. “Since then, we have continued to be approached by survivors and advocates with additional first and fsecondhand accounts alleging acts of sexual, physical and emotional abuse by Sass.”
The Yukon Quest Alaska received the letter as well and opted to let Sass race, but not without dissent in the board’s ranks.
Chatanika musher and former YQ Alaska board member Jodi Bailey resigned from the board over its inaction connected to the accusations. “I received screenshots of the letters from concerned mushers who were wondering what the Quest was going to do,” Bailey said in an interview with the Nugget. In a conversation with the board president, the gist was that the YQ Alaska was not going to do anything to further investigate. According to Bailey, no special board meeting was held. “I went to our regularly scheduled board meeting where it became apparent that the board had no intention of taking this letter seriously, or even having any consideration of how our response would reflect on us and the race,” Bailey said.
That is when she decided she could no longer be a part of the YQ Alaska board.
In addition to the Planned Parenthood letter and the assertions by the K300 to have ample reason to not allow Sass to race, other evidence percolated to the surface.
In early February a signed and notarized affidavit of a woman who claimed sexual abuse a decade ago detailed instances of sexual abuse by Sass.
A former handler who worked for Sass for a very brief period of time in 2014 talked to the Nugget and although she was not sexually abused, she reported a toxic environment, sub-par dog care especially for puppies, and verbal abuse by Sass,
The Associated Press reported that Anchorage attorney Caitlin Shortell said in a statement on Friday, “More than one Alaskan has sought legal advice and representation from our law firm based on their reports of sexual assault by a dog musher who was disqualified today by the Iditarod.” On Friday only one musher was disqualified.
The Nugget reached out to Sass, who categorically denied any wrongdoing. “All the accusations are completely false and have zero bases [sic] in truth, they are made up by people that are trying to ruin my reputation and end my career,” Sass said in a communication with the Nugget last week.
“I have a lawyer and am prepared to respond if the time comes. I strongly urge you to not publish anything about these false accusations that have no real people behind them and no way to be collaborated,” Sass stated.
After the Iditarod disqualified Sass, the musher posted on his Wild and Free Facebook page the letter he had sent to ITC saying that he refused to withdraw from the race and that “all of the accusations against me are completely false and have been fabricated to try and ruin my reputation and end my career.”
He pointed out that two weeks before the race, “with thousands of dollars invested I cannot afford to back out” and that he has “way too many sponsors, family and friends that have supported my kennel and my career this season. Let alone the 120k+ fans that are eagerly awaiting to watch me race in this year’s Iditarod,” he wrote to ITC.
“I, along with my whole family, would like to thank all of my sponsors, my fans and the races that have supported me this season and the last 18 years of racing. I am beyond disappointed with the decision the Iditarod has reached to disqualify me,” Sass wrote.

Reversal and withdrawal of Eddie Burke Jr.
The ITC did not refer to a court case, but as of last week Monday, Feb. 19 when the ITC board made the decision to disqualify Burke, domestic violence charges against him were pending in court, stemming from a 2022 incident involving a violent altercation with his then-girlfriend. After much publicity around Burke’s disqualification, on Thursday, Feb. 22 the Alaska Department of Law withdrew the two-year-old case. According to Patty Sullivan, a spokesperson with the department, the victim declined to participate in the prosecution. “After a thorough review of the evidence in this investigation, the Department of Law determined that it would be unable to prove the assault charges beyond a reasonable doubt to a trial jury,” Sullivan wrote in an email to the Nugget. Asked about the timing of the decision, Sullivan said the dismissal date was based on the timing of court proceedings.
On Friday, Feb. 23, the ITC issued a press release saying that Burke was reinstated to run this year’s Iditarod as “additional information was provided to the board.”
Burke said in a post on social media that he greatly appreciated the Iditarod’s decision to reinstate him for the 2024 race. “I regret that I did not inform the Iditarod of the now dismissed allegations against me in a timely fashion, putting the race at risk. I am committed to the Iditarod’s strong condemnation of violence and abuse against women, recognizing, as the Iditarod does, that these are significant ongoing issues in Alaska.”
Burke has maintained his innocence throughout this process, but said he should have informed the race of the allegations against him sooner.
While Burke was reinstated, he announced on Facebook that “Due to recent events, I made the decision to lease out my race team to six individual mushers, competing in this years [sic] Iditarod.”
The Iditarod begins with the ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday, March 2, with a field of 38 mushers on the startline. The next day the mushers and their teams will start from Willow to travel the Iditarod trail to Nome.

 

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