“I hope they will have the decency to clear my name with the same publicity with which they now have besmirched it.” — Micheal Corleone to the Senate Committee in “The Godfather: Part II”
Wednesday morning, accusations of battery upon a pregnant woman by Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois exploded across the sports media. Another case of a major college football player beating on his girlfriend.
Or so it seemed.
Hours later, the investigation was dropped with much less media fanfare.
Francois and the alleged victim told police what were described as “dramatically different” versions of the incident. There were no independent witnesses. There was no arrest. Case closed.
I had a similar situation happen to me during my playing days at FSU. It left me with a busted window in my dorm room, my car messed up, my house messed up, I got hit and had a cop tell me he was glad I used restraint or I’d be going to jail. Nothing happened to the woman.
I’m not bitter. She’s moved on and does great things, but the cop telling me he was waiting for me to make a bad decision was mind-boggling.
I had a teammate not too long before that get arrested. The arrest report shows he didn’t hit the woman; instead, he grabbed her wrist to prevent from getting hit himself.
I’ve had teammates accused of rape go through the worst trials of their lives. They’re painted as gangsters and monsters during the trial because of where they come from. When they were acquitted, it was not front page news like the accusation; acquittals seemingly are buried by the newspapers, websites and TV and radio stations that cover sports full-time.
When I Google those names these many years later, the first stories that pop up are the accusations. You can only find the acquittal stories if you dig.
The hypocrisy of expectations for major college football players annoys me. It’s not going away anytime soon, either.
Everybody preaches at these young men about the opportunity they have, even folks with zero clue what it’s like to be in their shoes. They can’t fathom the scrutiny that comes with each step they take. Former athletes get in on the act, as well, talking about “back in my day” and how today’s football student-athlete has to be more responsible.
The same folks will tell you to stay away from girls and parties or any of the other joys that come with college life. In the same breath, they call players arrogant, stuck up and weird for not embracing what everyone considers “the best times of your life” because athletes are paranoid that someone is trying to set them up to be on TMZ.
We always hear about the bad. When an athlete at Major U finds trouble, it’s heavily publicized. It stings because a few moments paint the entire athletic world as filled with punks who need a lesson on humility.
Except when the media gets it wrong. Then, it’s “turn to the next hot story.” Nobody spends the same amount of time clearing the player’s name or investigating what actually happened.
In these cases, fans and media often seek the narrative that fits their level of comfort — typically the lie that small-town local and campus police departments go above and beyond to protect star student-athletes.
That just isn’t true. I experienced that for myself, as I’ve described.
Here’s a reality you’ve probably never considered. These athletes won’t always be athletes and most eventually head into the “real” world looking for jobs. Potential employers Google the young men before interviews ever occur, and while dozens of stories exist about accusations and charges potentially be filed for domestic abuse, assault, drug possession or other alleged crimes, the few stories that may exist exonerating the young men are buried in the search results.
This occurs in the corporate world and even on the college landscape.
There is a recent head coach at an FCS school I know who was almost not hired for a dream job because of misinformation about a domestic violence case in which a police report was filed; the case eventually dismissed due to insufficient evidence. The accuser moved on with her life while the accused, who never has shown any glimpses of the behavior he was accused of before or after, has to answer for the charges and deal with the after-effects for years.
I’m not naive. I’ve had turd teammates. I know players who’ve gone through these situations who were far from clean. I’ve had kids I know personally who admitted wrongdoing and are taking every step in their power to correct those wrongs.
We live in a time where we view being an athlete, college or pro, as a privilege, and we hold those athletes to a higher standard. That standard is often higher than the one we hold their coaches or even public servants to.
I don’t want athletes to be treated different. I want them to be treated the same.
I think moments like this, when domestic violence accusations are in the news, should be used as opportunities to teach young people – men and women – how to handle conflict resolution, to teach them to be aware of the lasting impact of their poor decisions.
I’m “pro-player” in most situations. I am also a firm believer in right is right, and wrong is wrong. I know how tough their positions in these situations can be. I’ve been there.
I don’t like any young person at any school getting in trouble. Will I make jokes? Yes. But I can’t just write about someone’s downfall without having full clarity on the situation, which is why I didn’t immediately write anything when Francois’ name popped up in the news Wednesday. I’m not that hard-pressed for clicks and I think it should be the media’s job to cover all aspects of the story equally – the accusations and the dropping of chargers, if that’s the case – as in all of these situations there is a lesson.
The reason I’m writing this is because of the misinformation put out and the unwillingness to show the rights and the wrongs. In Francois’ situation, what got lost in the story of another “athlete hitting his girlfriend” was that Francois is the one who called the police. He actually might’ve been the victim in all this.
We don’t know all the facts. But someone’s life was permanently impacted and a determination of character was made upon him by millions without even knowing what actually happened.
As a man with a daughter, a mother, a sister and plenty of women whom I hold dear, I pray never to be put in these situations. Some people I know have been put in these situations and I was beyond angry.
I also have a son who I cherish. My son likely will follow my path in athletics, or at least try. I pray he will make sound decisions.
As someone who deals with athletes of all ages, genders and backgrounds on a daily basis, I know he’ll make mistakes. But I want him to learn from them and not be afraid to live life because he feels folks are out to get him.
I just believe in “innocent until proven guilty,” no matter what. I don’t believe one’s ability to run fast, hit hard or throw far should deny you your inalienable rights. I don’t believe athletes or celebs should get preferential treatment. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe they should be held to a high standard; I just don’t believe it should be higher than anyone else.
The culture of violence against women on college campuses needs to change, but we need to be careful not to sweep the innocent up with the guilty in our efforts to get there.
Article First Appeared On Gridiron Now: http://gridironnow.com/media-double-standard-exposed-case-deondre-francois