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We Still Have a Problem Here

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Three Minnesota players were charged with rape last April, with XXX details online courtesy the Minnesota Star-Tribune. Prosecutors had a woman flagging them down at Burger King at six in the morning, testimony of drinking contests gone wrong, at least one head knocked against a bathtub, cell phone cameras recording strategically-emitted bodily fluids, and, seemingly, a pretty good case against the players.

Then again, so did prosecutors of alleged mass rapes by Colorado football players and the notorious Duke lacrosse players, and of Kobe Bryant, and none of those more famous cases ever went to trial. For political/culture war reasons, Duke LaCrosse was cleared a thousand times over. Thinking we've seen way more smoke than fire on this front lately, I wrote this about the then-pending Minnesota case a little more than a year ago:

As of noon Monday, recent history tells us [the accused players] 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 [against] Bryant and Duke lacrosse and, depending on who you ask, Colorado football players -- or that they keep getting off for it?
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Jones: Fourth degree criminal sexual conduct = Victory.
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Last week, one of the players, cell phone star Dominic Jones, was convicted of a lesser charge of "unwanted sexual conduct" that probably won't include jail time. That's a conviction, for a change, even if the defendant himself said he considered the verdict a victory. As the student Minnesota Daily points out in a sympathetic catch-up, the three other Gophers arrested and named in the case never had charges filed against them, were kicked off the team and, in two cases, left the university altogether. Dominic Jones, the one player actually found guilty, still has his athletic scholarship and plans to finish his degree.

The same day that article appeared, the Daily Collegian in State College reported disgraced Penn State running back Austin Scott may sue prosecutors after his much-publicized sexual abuse charge was dropped last Friday, when a judge ruled prior allegations of rape by Scott's accuser would be admissable in court. Scott's lawyer specifically brought up the case of his old teammate, Scott Paxson, who had a similar sexual assault charge dropped in the same court in 2006, and who also threatened civil action, as evidence of "a terrible pattern of prosecutorial abuse."

There's only one other D-I football rape case I recall mentioning since I started SMQ in 2005 that did go to trial: against Navy quarterback Lamar Owens, who was court martialed for sexual assault in 2006. He was found not guilty. The Seattle Times' balleyhooed exposé on the evils of Washington football under Rick Neuheisel made every attempt to make Jerramy Stevens look guilty (no one who takes the paper's account at face value could reasonably disagree), but his case, too, never went to trial.

Newspapers will never -- probably should never -- stop publishing the names of anyone arrested or charged with a felon, but sometimes it seems they should include a disclaimer reminding readers that the accused are "innocent until proven guilty." Charges go away; huge black stains on a person's reputation do not. Again, something is wrong here: either athletes are being repeatedly falsely accused of rape, or they're repeatedly getting away with it. Or both.

Update [2008-4-22 14:49:49 by SMQ]: Another charge from last weekend:

Boston College suspended defensive end Brady Smith after he was charged with on-campus sexual assault and breaking and entering.

School spokesman Jack Dunn said the 20-year-old Finksburg, Md., resident is alleged to have committed the offenses either Saturday evening or early Sunday.

The Boston Herald reported Sunday that coach Jeff Jagodzinski had announced Smith was indefinitely suspended from the team for violating team rules. He did not elaborate.
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Breaking and entering would seem to eliminate the ambiguity associated with "date rape," but again, as they say in law school, IUPG.

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Hat tip on this week's Daily Collegian and Minnesota Daily stories to the Wizard of Odds, as usual.