Starkey: Penn State's gamble looks bad
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Incredibly, these questions again are being asked of a Penn State football coach in regard to a sex-crime case:
• What did he know?
• When did he know?
• What did he do about it?
The truly incredible part is that Penn State could have and absolutely should have avoided this in the wake of Bill O'Brien's impeccable tenure. Its newly formed Compensation Committee unanimously approved the hiring of James Franklin a mere 26 months after the Jerry Sandusky scandal, even though Franklin was coming from a Vanderbilt football program embroiled in an open rape case involving five former players.
If any school in the country ever needed to pass on Franklin for perception's sake, it was Penn State.
Its first rule in hiring future football coaches should have read something like this: STEER CLEAR OF ANYONE WITH EVEN THE POSSIBILITY OF A PERIPHERAL INVOLVEMENT IN A SEX-CRIME CASE.
In June 2013, four of Franklin's players at Vanderbilt were charged with raping an unconscious 21-year-old woman in a dormitory. A fifth player pleaded guilty to helping cover it up. Franklin dismissed all five from the team. Nashville's district attorney this past September cleared Franklin of any wrongdoing.
But that wasn't the end of the story. The case wasn't even scheduled to begin until this coming August. That left a lot of time for issues to arise. Penn State's risk was that Franklin's name could emerge in an unfavorable light as the case evolved.
And so it has. The defense team of one of the four accused ex-Vanderbilt players, Brandon Vandenburg, filed a motion Tuesday asking a judge to dismiss the case or reprimand prosecutors for destroying or failing to preserve evidence. Franklin is prominently mentioned in the motion.
The defense team alleges that pertinent text messages and phone calls were missing from Franklin's phone and those of two other coaches. They believe such evidence could help their client. There also is an allegation within the motion that Franklin communicated with the alleged victim before and after the alleged rape.
This obviously raises disturbing questions.
First, consider this item from the Tennessean's report on the motion: “Referring to records, the attorneys said the victim was contacted by Franklin and (assistant coach Dwight) Galt (now at Penn State) during a medical examination four days after the rape to explain ‘that they cared about her because she assisted them with recruiting.' ”
Assisted them with recruiting?
What does that mean?
The document alleges that Franklin had met with the woman and “called her in for a private meeting and told her he wanted her to get fifteen pretty girls together and form a team to assist with the recruiting even though he knew it was against the rules. He added that all the other colleges did it.”
One of Vandenburg's attorneys, retired judge Eugene Osko, told me Wednesday that his team has hard evidence that the “private meeting” occurred (and that it occurred some time before the incident).
“We didn't make it up,” Osko said.
But why include reports of Franklin's meetings with the woman?
“I think it shows there was an unusual relationship there,” Osko said, “and that communications between them would be beneficial to us.”
The defense team also remains highly interested in what it maintains are missing communications between Franklin and the alleged victim.
“There are text messages and communications between Coach Franklin and the alleged victim,” Osko said. “And we feel we're entitled to them to see what was discussed between them about the case.”
Another attorney on Vandenburg's team, Albert Perez Jr., told me Franklin “could possibly be subpoenaed if the evidence missing or destroyed magically appears.”
Franklin, in a statement released late Tuesday, denied any wrongdoing: “The allegations that I did something wrong are simply not true. I have cooperated fully with the authorities in this matter but, out of respect for the legal process, I am not able to comment any further.”
Let me be clear about something: The purpose in this writing is not to demonize or indict James Franklin. He might very well be innocent of even the slightest misconduct. The purpose is to reiterate that Penn State made an insane choice in the name of King Football, gambling that Franklin was 100 percent clear and that its already sullied name wouldn't be dragged into another sex-crime scandal — even on the periphery.
Here we are.
And as Osko said in parting: “This is going to go on a while.”
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at email@example.com.
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