James Franklin has received overwhelming praise in his first days as Penn State football coach, but the decision to hire him has some number of people irked. Several national sports columnists and some small section of the fanbase have raised hell about Franklin’s ties to a legal situation at Vanderbilt in which four of his players are accused of raping an unconscious student. One College of Communications professor even launched a petition — to no avail, obviously — to let the search committee know she found the hiring of Franklin to be “appalling.”
These folks believe that, even though Franklin hasn’t been charged or accused of any wrongdoing by a named source, Penn State shouldn’t have hired him, especially considering what transpired in November 2011. This idea was dismissed by an official from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), an organization with a mission of eliminating all forms of sexual violence and advocating for the rights and needs of victims of sexual assault.
PCAR Vice President of Public Relations Kristen Houser said in an interview with PennLive that the June 2013 incident, in which four Vanderbilt players are alleged to have raped a Vanderbilt student while she was unconscious in a dorm, should not be held against Franklin. While the players were immediately kicked off the team, a Buzzfeed article from September, which cites an anonymous source, alleges that Franklin instructed a player to delete footage of the incident from his phone — a claim Franklin denies, nor one that has been corroborated by any other source.
Houser reasoned that there is no need to condemn Franklin because the Nashville District Attorney’s Office cleared Franklin of any wrongdoing. Nashville Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman said at the time that despite allegations, there was no evidence whatsoever that Franklin was involved in a cover-up or did anything inappropriate.
“The district attorney has publicly stated he [Franklin] was not involved in a cover-up, based on their investigation… So there’s not even reason to speculate about that at this point,” Houser said.
Based on her experience working with Penn State over the years, Houser said she believes all issues were properly vetted before Franklin was hired. Penn State’s Athletic Integrity Officer Julie Del Giorno was on the flight Wednesday to interview Franklin. Houser also credits Franklin’s decision to swiftly kick all players off the team that were involved in the rape incident.
“Any coach could be in his shoes because you can’t really screen for that (sexual violence) when you’re recruiting players or hiring coaches,” Houser said. “But now he might come here especially motivated and with a real good understanding about the importance of coaches stressing appropriate behaviors with their players on the field and off… And about how as teammates, they have to be accountable to each other for what they’re doing.”
Other criticism involving Franklin revolves around a quip he made on a radio show about hiring assistant coaches with hot wives. Although Hosuer felt the comments were inappropriate, she feels he deserves the benefit of the doubt. She said she respected the way Franklin responded, sincerely apologizing and letting it known his comments were intended as a joke.
“Unfortunately, sports culture has a lot of room in it for those kinds of jokes, there’s a lot of people who make them, and everybody could do better,” Houser said.