Is Yale’s quarterback guilty until proven innocent?

Eric McErlain Sports Blogger
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Late last week, the editors here at The Daily Caller linked to a New York Times story concerning Yale University quarterback Patrick Witt and his decision to withdraw his Rhodes scholarship application.

According to the story by Times reporter Richard Perez-Pena, Witt withdrew not because of a scheduling conflict between his Rhodes interview and Yale’s annual clash with Harvard, but because his candidacy had unraveled after an anonymous individual had contacted the Rhodes Foundation and informed them that Witt had been accused of sexually assaulting a female classmate.

The story came as quite a bombshell, as Yale had touted Witt’s decision to the national media as an old-time example of an athlete putting the best interest of the team over his own. But in no time at all, the Times’s story had altered the narrative, and it wasn’t long before Witt was being vilified across the nation as an example of everything that’s wrong with big-time college football.

Then again, it wasn’t long before a couple of threads in the original story started to fray. Leading the charge over at Minding the Campus was Brooklyn College professor K.C. Johnson. It was Johnson who in 2006 stood as the lone voice of reason as The Times almost succeeded in helping Durham, North Carolina prosecutor Mike Nifong railroad three Duke University lacrosse players who had been accused of rape. Those students were ultimately exonerated in part due to Johnson’s work at his blog, Durham in Wonderland, even as a good portion of Duke’s faculty prepared to erect a gallows and skip with the bother of an actual trial.

In a series of three posts (click here, here and here), Johnson has forcefully argued that The Times is up to its old tricks again, this time by painting Witt as a potential rapist without presenting any evidence to back up what to this day remains an anonymous accusation. After reading Johnson’s posts and much of the coverage of the Witt story, it becomes awfully clear that even an institution like Yale University is painfully ill-equipped to adjudicate allegations of sexual assault, and its attempts to do so are doomed to trample on the rights of both the accuser as well as the accused, to say nothing of any notion of justice.

Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.