Two Michigan State Players Guilty of Poor Judgment, Possibly More?Posted by rtmsf on September 29th, 2010
We’ve blathered on and on about this before, but year after year it never fails to amaze. Anecdotally at least, it seems that the months of August and September every single year are marked with college basketball players filling up the police blotters. Why can’t guys stick to getting ready for the upcoming hoops season rather than involving themselves in all sorts of other nonsense? Our theory is that players get back to school and have nothing going on for the first time in quite a while. Summer camp and international team obligations are over. Individual workouts won’t start for another month, and the formal start of practice a month after that. The demands of classwork haven’t really kicked in yet. The weather is still hot, and guys are looking to cut loose.
In other words, all of the pieces of the common aphorism that “idle hands are the devil’s playthings” are in place, and just as consistently as sundresses on the quad in August, players around the nation cannot seem to avoid the early fall tendency to put themselves in situations where trouble finds them. We’re not being accusatory here — we fully allow and understand that players are often victims of false accusations and overzealous police and prosecutors as a result of their local celebrity — but that’s why they need to be careful to stay out of risky situations. And yet, year after year, they don’t.
The latest and greatest case comes from Michigan State. You know, Tom Izzo’s superb program that has been to the last two Final Fours and is an odds-on favorite to reach a third next April. According to a report released today by the Michigan Messenger, two high-profile (unnamed) MSU players were accused of a serious sexual assault in a dorm on the night of August 29-30. The details of both the police report, much of which was corroborated by the alleged victim and one of the two players, paint a horrific picture.
Once in the room, the three started playing basketball using a mini-hoop. When the victim missed a basket, one of the men told her she had to remove an article of clothing. The victim agreed and removed her t-shirt because she had a tank top on underneath. At this point, the victim says, the players began to deliberately miss baskets until they were stripped “completely naked.” One of the men allegedly blocked the doorway to the room, while the other “cornered” the victim in the room. “[The victim] explained to [detectives] that the body language of [the players] suggested she was not free to leave,” the report says. “[Redacted] was blocking any escape path to the exit of the dorm room. [The victim] stated that after [redacted] approached the door he turned the lights in the room off and the room went completely dark. At this point, the sexual assault began. The victim told police the players penetrated her in various positions. The victim told detectives the players allegedly asked her “how does that feel?” and “how do you want it?” The victim says she told the players she didn’t want it and gave “other indicators she was not a willing participant.” The victim told police that the players pinned her down, but at one point she freed her arms momentarily and struck one of the players in the face. The player was on top of her and in response to her hitting him, he allegedly said, “Don’t. Just relax. C’mon,” as he continued to assault her, the report says.
A search warrant executed the next day at the dorm room turned up DNA evidence and other items supporting the victim’s story. In a classic Prisoner’s Dilemma scenario, one of the two players decided to speak with police while the other declined. Unsurprisingly, the talker threw his silent teammate under the bus, suggesting in testimony that “he understood how the woman believed she was not welcome to leave the room, in part because she kept referencing that the two were “bigger” than her.” He went on to say that he had stopped sexual activity when the victim had requested he do so, but the other player continued to “coax” her into further relations, an allegation that she later corroborated as well. There was enough evidence here for the Michigan State Police Department to recommend to the DA’s office that both players be charged with the most serious sexual assault crime on the books in Michigan — Criminal Sexual Conduct 1 (punishable by up to life imprisonment).
So given everything we’ve heard that went into the police report, we should expect the names to come out and charges to be filed any day now, right? Wrong. Prosecutors ultimately have discretion as to which cases they want to pursue, and a number of factors fairly and unfairly go into those decisions — availability of evidence, witness cooperation, fear of retribution, political pandering, etc. But according to Ingham County District Attorney Stuart Dunnings, III, (an Amherst College and Michigan Law School grad, by the way), his sexual crime unit team along with the victim came to a mutual decision after considering the evidence to not prosecute here (keeping in mind that the DA holds the decision-making capability, not the victim).
There’s only one problem, though. The victim herself is calling BS on that decision. Again, according to the Messenger report, the victim says that she felt browbeaten by prosecutors in a “hypothetical interrogation” about the incident, and if we can believe her side of it here, represents a shameless example of “blame the victim” hypocrisy that women’s advocacy groups have spent decades trying to overcome. Her quote on the decision by Dunnings’ office to not pursue charges is telling:
I worry about what would happen if [charges] didn’t go through and having to deal with all the publicity and everything that goes with pursuing charges. But also I am angry. It’s just that everybody looks at them as heroes and they’re so excited for basketball season that [the players] get off without anybody caring. They haven’t even been punished.
Needless to say, there are myriad unanswered questions here. Do we believe the victim’s stories — the first one about the incident itself, and the second about the visit with prosecutors that allegedly left her in tears? What about the players — remember, the police report stated that one player sold out his teammate — is that enough evidence for us to believe that something bad and nonconsensual went down in that dorm room in late August? If so, and if no charges from the DA are forthcoming, how do MSU and Tom Izzo handle it? Isn’t it possible (or, probable) that with the kind of evidence already indicting the two players, they could face serious problems with the university’s code of conduct and/or judicial board? And how will this affect the chemistry of Izzo’s team — a squad that has already lost Chris Allen to discipline problems, Korie Lucious to an injury (he is expected back, however), and is now dealing with two knuckleheads, who, at minimum, are guilty of poor judgment?
No matter what the answers to these questions turn out to be, we’ll be sure to keep an eye on it. We’d hate to see another Duke LAX scandal destroy people’s lives, but we don’t have a good feeling about this one, do you?