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Assessing James Franklin’s Liability (Without the Smarm)

There’s a certain segment of the national sports media that is best described as moralizing smarm; more broadly, there’s a group of columnists that assert a moral superiority over other people (usually sports figures) and use their large audience to incite anger. There’s no responsible nuance or grey area to these people — everything is in black or white, and their hubris is off the charts. An athlete is suspected of using drugs? Write a column. A coach gets caught cheating on his wife? Write a column. Another sportswriter gives his Baseball Hall of Fame vote away to a blog to bring attention to a ridiculous and ass-backwards process? There’s a column for that, too. And most of all, if anyone crosses the street the wrong way in State College, the columns come marching out, one by one, to twist the knife just one more time in Penn State’s collective wound on a national stage.

Such was the case on Thursday when the James Franklin’s hire became imminent, as USA Today’s Christine Brennan, CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, and ESPN’s Keith Olbermann all came out against Franklin because of a rape incident at Vanderbilt under him and, well, they got to take a few more pitiful right hooks at the Penn State punching bag (don’t click on those links if you don’t want to reward the blowhards with pageviews). None of these national writers had much to say when the allegations came out last fall, but now that Penn State is involved, they all miraculously have an opinion.

So, yes, a terrible incident did happen at Vanderbilt last year when Franklin was the coach, and now that he’s our coach, it’s worth knowing about. But rather than write some slipshod column based on half-truths and conjecture — or create a borderline libelous petition  — let’s focus on the facts of the matter and what is known. All case details, unless otherwise noted, are alleged by the prosecution and have not yet been tried in court.

  • On June 23, 2013 in the early morning hours, four Vanderbilt players are alleged to have raped a Vanderbilt student while she was unconscious in a dorm.
  • All four are charged with five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery and await trial after pleading not guilty.
  • The woman was out with one of the players, whom she was dating, at a bar, and he brought her back to his room. She passed out on the way back to the room, and the three other players joined the couple in the dorm room and are charged with sexually assaulting her.
  • One of the players texted a picture of the unconscious woman being sodomized with an object to a fifth player, and said that he was on cocaine. Pictures of the incident were sent to three other non-players.
  • That fifth player showed up to help, found the woman “not fully clothed in the hallway” and helped move her into a dorm room.
  • When the woman awoke, she did not know what happened to her. She would not know until the District Attorney showed her photos and video of the incident.
  • That fifth player sent a series of text messages to the abusers urging them to delete videos from their phones of the incident and to keep quiet about it.
  • The fifth player was charged and pled guilty to helping the four players cover it up. In return, he will avoid a felony record and jail time, as long as he testifies against his former teammates.
  • All five players were suspended from the team. Of the four charged with rape, three were redshirts, one was a recent transfer, and none played active roles on the team. The fifth player, who already pled guilty, was starting wide receiver Chris Boyd.
  • One of the players threw a towel over the security camera in the hallway, which showed the players going in and out of the room frequently.
  • Two other non-players are charged with tampering with evidence.
  • Buzzfeed published a story in September that cites an anonymous source close to the defendants, who claims Franklin saw video of the incident and urged the player to delete it. A source close to one of the defendants said he believes that Franklin encouraged a player to delete a video of the incident after the player showed it to Franklin.“I’m 99.9 percent sure that Franklin saw the video,” the source said. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if the public finds this out soon.”
  • Four months later, Buzzfeed is the only outlet that has reported this and the public has not, as it predicted, found out.
  • Nashville Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman cleared Franklin of any wrongdoing. From Thurman: “There’s been allegations about Coach Franklin. We just wanted to state clearly that there’s no evidence whatsoever where Coach Franklin was involved in any way in the cover-up or has done anything inappropriate. He’s cooperated with us.”
  • From Franklin’s attorney, Hal Hardin:“One of the most difficult things that any person can go through is to be the victim of rumors, unfounded rumors, and know that you’re innocent. Some folks probably owe him an apology for spreading those rumors, but he has weathered it like the true champion he is.”
  • The defense said last month they hope to subpoena Franklin. “We want to make sure if he takes a job outside of Nashville we can compel him as a witness if we desire him to be one,” said Defense attorney Fletcher Long.

So, interpret that information as you wish. Penn State’s Athletic Integrity Officer Julie Del Giorno — whose department, at least, had a hand in firing the best fencing coach in the country over a ball of tape — was on the flight Wednesday to see Franklin, along with other senior Penn State administrators. Del Giorno doesn’t play games, and I have confidence that the usually over-cautious Penn State vetted Franklin with extreme scrutiny. I’m not willing to believe one anonymous Buzzfeed source over the District Attorney, especially when it comes to destroying a man’s career.

I will concede — that last bullet point about a potential subpoena is, at least, worth being a cautious about. It could end up being a huge distraction and headache if Penn State’s head coach is subpoenaed in a rape trial. However, I have confidence that if Penn State thought that was a substantial threat they wouldn’t have moved forward with this hire. Until I am informed otherwise, that is what we must believe.

It’s also at least worth mentioning one other Franklin snafu that is is getting tossed around since his Penn State started talking to him. In 2012, Franklin made a quip on a radio show about hiring assistant coaches with hot wives.

“I’ve been saying it for a long time, I will not hire an assistant until I see his wife.  If she looks the part and she’s a D1 recruit, then you got a chance to get hired. That’s part of the deal.  There’s a very strong correlation between having the confidence, going up and talking to a women, and being quick on your feet and having some personality and confidence and being articulate and confident, than it is walking into a high school and recruiting a kid and selling him.”

Franklin apologized swiftly after that comment, which was, in my estimation, clearly intended to be a lighthearted joke.

Now, with all that out of the way, let’s celebrate the next era of Penn State football.

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About the Author

Kevin Horne

Kevin Horne was the editor of Onward State from 2012-2014 and currently holds the position of Managing Editor Emeritus, which is a fake title he made up. He graduated from Penn State with degrees journalism and political science in 2014 and is currently seeking his J.D. at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A third generation Penn Stater from Williamsport, Pa., Kevin is also the president of the graduate student government. Email: [email protected]


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