Former Fresno State Athletics Director Jim Bartko Dies during Surgery at Age 54
By Robert Kuwada
March 16, 2020
Jim Bartko, the former Fresno State athletics director and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a Catholic priest, died Monday while undergoing surgery after collapsing during a morning workout. He was 54.
Bartko, who was back at the University of Oregon as a senior adviser with the Alumni Association, had filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Diocese of Oakland under AB 218, the California Child Victims Act and recently published a book, “Boy in the Mirror,” detailing the abuse and its impact on his personal and professional life.
In his time at Fresno State he was an advocate for the Bulldogs’ student-athletes.
“We had a couple of good conversations,” former Fresno State football wideout Delvon Hardaway said. “The year we traveled to BYU, when I was first coming back from my ACL injury, my seat on the plane was right in front of him. Through the trips and things like that we started to have conversations with each other and I was telling him my situation. He always had words for me, to keep me motivated, keep me encouraged.
“He brought up different scenarios with guys he had been around that have had the situation, the same injury, and still overcome those things. I always appreciated him for that, just being able to open up with me. Being an athletics director of a big program like Fresno State, he didn’t necessarily have to do those things or be as open with the athletes, but he always kept it on a personal level with me. He was just a positive guy and always kept me encouraged and always had good things to say to me.”
Former Bulldogs football coach Tim DeRuyter stated on social media, “Tragic news about Jim Bartko. Huge heart. I feel for his fantastic family. RIP Jim.”
Hired by Fresno State in 2014, Bartko had pushed a transformative Bulldog Stadium renovation plan, hired coach Jeff Tedford, oversaw the return of a wrestling program and addition of women’s water polo, taking on an athletics department overburdened by 21 sports programs while dealing with insomnia and anxiety issues that went back to his childhood.
In a January 2017 story in The Fresno Bee, Bartko told his story of abuse as a child. He said he was molested more than 30 times over 40 years ago by a Catholic priest and basketball coach in Pinole, before his family moved to Modesto when he was in fifth grade. He graduated from Modesto’s Central Catholic High in 1983.
His tenure ended abruptly with a resignation in November 2017. He later filed a wrongful termination claim against the university, alleging that he was forced to resign after being subjected to a “whisper campaign” by university president Joseph Castro and other university officials.
Castro and others, according to the claim, told donors and prominent members of the community in the days leading up to Bartko’s resignation that he would be fired because he was an alcoholic and not doing his job.
Bartko sought $3 million in damages for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, defamation and breach of contract.
That suit was settled last year with the university fulfilling its obligation for the remainder of Bartko’s employment contract term. When Bartko left Fresno State, he was in the third year of a five-year contract worth $290,000 a year. The settlement was handled through the California State University risk management authority, its self-insurance program.
Fresno State offered condolences in a release: “We are deeply saddened to learn of Jim’s sudden passing, and extend our condolences to his family and many friends here in the Fresno community. May the memories of Jim provide solace to his loved ones.”
He had been back at Oregon since July 2018 – he had started his career there in 1989 working with the Duck Athletic Fund, and was an executive senior athletic director there when hired by Fresno State. He also was the athletics department’s primary liaison with Nike and instrumental to a number of projects including an expansion of Autzen Stadium and construction of Matthew Knight Arena and the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex, home to the Ducks’ football operations.
“Jim Bartko was an all-star in the University of Oregon athletic department for 25 years,” Nike co-founder and former chairman Phil Knight said in a release from the Oregon athletics department. “In the process he became a great friend. His passing leaves me in shock and deep sorrow.”
Bartko is survived by a son, A.J., and daughter, Danielle.