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Smoke In Minnesota, But Fire? For a Change?

I don't know if I'm the first person to look at the Minnesota rape allegations in light of the infamous Duke lacrosse scandal, but listen to the accused players' lawyers in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune during their release Monday from the Hennepin County Jail:

"These are not very credible allegations. They're all good kids, great students," [E.J. Jones' lawyer Jeff DeGree] said.

Jones offered a DNA sample to investigators, DeGree said. Joseph Tamburino, who is representing Massey, said he didn't know whether his client gave a DNA sample. The attorneys declined to discuss whether the players knew the woman.

"Keith Massey is innocent," Tamburino said. "I don't think there was a crime."

DeGree said Jones will try to "live his life as normally as possible, go back to school and, I think, he'll soon be back on the football team. He's very, very upset and wants to put it behind him."Ultimately, these are 19-, 20-year-old kids, and I don't know where they go to get their reputations back," DeGree said. "They're not the kind of guys a coach worries about on Friday night."

These are, of course, very forward-thinking defense lawyers and therefore, like a coach publicly assessing an opponent before a game or any politician any time, not to be trusted. How much easier it for them to claim innocence in this situation, though, with the three most recent high profile allegations of rape against athletes - Colorado football, Kobe Bryant and Duke lacrosse - have all ended in dropped charges and tacit public exoneration of the accused?

Sociologically, the undisclosed details of the case in Minnesota are bound to make it somewhat different than the Bryant or Duke scandals, both of which offered a possible financial motive for the accuser and the latter cast in a racial pall that hasn't shown itself in the current, hazy cloud in the immediate aftermath of the arrests. Charges may still be forthcoming - I have a little secondhand experience with bail figures, and $100,000 is serious, potential-flight-risk kind of money. There was "enough probable cause," whatever it was, to arrest the players. The wait may be for lab tests, which, if the backlog in Minnesota's crime lab or labs is anywhere in the ballpark of Mississippi's, could take weeks or months. "Released," especially when it's due to legal time restraints, is nothing like "not guilty."

Keith Massey and lawyer Joe Tamburino want no part of this. (The Minnesota Daily)
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But Daniels, Jones and Massey are still in school - "These student-athletes are innocent until proven guilty and continue to be students of the University of Minnesota and attend classes...[t]hey have relocated to off-campus housing until the completion of the investigation," according to a university spokesman - and will be hard to keep off the field if no charges are filed by the start of practice in the summer. We have no idea who the girl is, only that she's 18 and not affiliated with the university. As of noon Monday, recent history tells us they should be most concerned long term with just what their lawyers claimed: their reputations.

Is that okay? In this specific case, maybe, depending on the innocence or guilt of each accused individual. But in what might be called "major" rape allegations, those with a great deal of national attention and usually involving a group of athletes, the verdict has wound up consistently "not guilty" in the past half-decade without the commencement of a single trial. Which is the larger problem: that athletes are continually drug through the dirt by false rape accusations - what I gauge as the default public sentiment sans charges on Bryant and Duke lacrosse and, depending on who you ask, Colorado football players - or that they keep getting off for it?