Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Matt Patricia Situation

First impressions can often be lasting ones. New NFL Detroit Lions Head Coach Matt Patricia, who has barely been on the job for three months, is battling to make sure that his public persona remains the bearded wunderkind coaching phenom rarely found without a pencil behind his ear and not the fraternity guy who skated on rape charges two decades ago.

Patricia, who left the New England Patriots to take the Detroit Lions job, found himself having to explain his 1996 indictment on rape charges and why he had never communicated that to his employers in New England or Detroit. The Detroit News did some digging into Patricia's past and discovered this information.

She told police they met on a Texas beach, fellow college students visiting South Padre Island during spring break 1996. She was a 21-year-old college student at a large university; they were two football players and Theta Chi fraternity brothers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York. On the evening of March 15, 1996, the woman told police that two men burst into the upscale hotel room where she was sleeping and took turns violently sexually assaulting her, according to court records and a news account at the time. 

They were arrested, charged and later indicted by a grand jury on one count of aggravated sexual assault — but they never stood trial and were not convicted.  One of the indicted men was 21-year-old Matt Patricia, who was hired as the head coach of the National Football League’s Detroit Lions in February. 
The other, his friend and captain of RPI’s football team, Greg Dietrich, 22. Although both men have gone on to successful careers, the relevance of even old and untried charges raises questions for the Lions at the height of the “Me Too” movement, which has brought new scrutiny to sexual misconduct allegations.

The indictment remained an untold part of Patricia’s past during his rise in the coaching ranks, and the Lions said it eluded them during a background check that only searched for criminal convictions. When approached by The Detroit News, team president Rod Wood initially said “I don’t know anything about this” — but hours later said his review of the situation only reinforced the team’s decision to hire Patricia. “I am very comfortable with the process of interviewing and employing Matt,” Wood said. “I will tell you with 1,000-percent certainty that everything I’ve learned confirmed what I already knew about the man and would have no way changed our decision to make him our head coach.” 

Many details of the alleged attack are unclear. The police report was discarded, and several figures involved said they could not recall the case — not the police chief, lieutenant, grand jury forewoman, prosecutor, assistant prosecutor or defense attorneys. 

The woman who identified Patricia and Dietrich to police as the perpetrators did not respond to multiple attempts to contact her over several weeks. The News has a general policy against identifying alleged victims of sexual assaults. She ultimately concluded that she would not testify, court records show. “Victim does not feel she can face the pressures or stress of a trial,” reads a hand-written note above the signature of Cameron County Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Reynolds-Church in the Jan. 28, 1997, motion to dismiss the case. 

In a live press conference Patricia was quick to push back on any "I'm a rapist" or "I made some mistakes" narrative with an full throated unequivocal defense of his innocence.

“I'm here to defend my honor and clear my name,” Patricia said. “Twenty-two years ago, I was falsely accused of something very serious — very serious allegations. There were claims made about me that never happened. I'm thankful, on one level, that the process worked and the case was dismissed. At the same time, I was never given the opportunity to defend myself or to allow pushback and the truth to clear my name.”

“I lived with the mental torture of a situation where facts could be completely ignored or misrepresented, with disregard for the consequence or pain it would create for another person,” he said. “I find it unfair and upsetting that someone would bring this claim up over two decades later for the sole purpose of hurting my family, my friends and this organization, with the intention of damaging my character and credibility. I was innocent then, and I am innocent now. Let me be clear: My priorities remain the same, to move forward and strive to be the best coach, teacher and man that I can possibly be.”

The NFL is looking into the situation. It is difficult to understand how neither the Lions nor Patricia's former employer, the New England Patriots, evidently knew nothing about this. Patricia was apparently the long term beneficiary of a don't ask, don't tell policy at least with regards to NFL management/supervisors. On the other hand It seems like if any current NFL player spits on the sidewalk there will be people calling for investigations, fines, and suspensions. 

Still, regardless of skin color or job status or sex or sexuality or ethnicity I think it is extremely important that everyone is considered and treated as innocent until proven guilty. Patricia was not in the NFL when the alleged incident took place. He was never tried or convicted. Unless there is an admission or other evidence I do not think the Lions or the NFL should fire or suspend Patricia.

What's your take?

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