The story was as inspiring as it was refreshing: A star quarterback at a top school, in line for a Rhodes scholarship, passes up a chance at an individual honor to lead his team in a rivalry game.
When Yale's Patrick Witt chose to skip his Rhodes scholarship interview in November to play against Harvard -- only a couple of weeks after the Penn State scandal broke -- it was a needed break from a year of sex, lies and cover-ups in college football.
And then it seemed that feel-good story was sullied by allegations of sex, lies, and cover-ups.
But now there's another question: Was there also an unfair rush to judgement?
The New York Times reports the Rhodes Trust learned Witt was accused of sexually assaulting another Yale student and asked Yale for another letter of endorsement. Witt suspended his candidacy for the prestigious honor the next day.
So was this noble act really a ruse?
There are issues with the Times' account, as outlined by The Washington Post. The Times never spoke to the accuser, and no police report was filed.
Witt has forcefully denied that the Rhodes process was suspended because of the assault allegation, and he hired a consulting firm that released a statement to Deadspin which read in part:
"Patrick's inclination to forego the Rhodes Scholarship in the event of an irreparable scheduling conflict is a longstanding matter of public record. For example, The New Haven Register article entitled 'Patrick Witt Places 'The Game' Over Rhodes Interview' was published before Patrick was notified of the initiation of any informal complaint process. That article quotes Patrick as follows: 'The commitment I made to this team I believe would come first and I would want to honor that. It wouldn't feel right letting them down for not being there for the Harvard/Yale game.'"
As for the woman in question, Witt's PR firm wrote she was someone their client "had known for many months prior and with whom he had engaged in an on-again, off-again relationship beginning in the spring of 2011 and ending about two months before the informal complaint was filed."
But that's Witt's side of the story, and Witt's side only.
Still, Witt's defense needs to be taken into account; he might have chosen the rivalry game independent of these developments. And remember the Duke lacrosse story for an example of when athletes at elite schools are blamed prematurely. Witt's situation wasn't helped by the recent dismissal of his head coach Tom Williams, for embellishing his own resume with a fabricated Rhodes application.
We will hear from Witt again -- he's now preparing for an NFL career -- and hopefully we'll get more clarity on what really happened. As for the accuser, we don't know if we'll ever get her side of the story. So this can't be labeled as he-said, she-said, as we don't really know what anyone has said.
But one thing is clear: the more a story exemplifies what we love about sports, the more vulnerable it is to morphing into the aspects of sports we regret.
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