Patrick Witt was suppose to be the answer to Penn State. A transfer from Nebraska to Yale, he had stellar GPA, football record, and character. The only problem was that the final interview for the Rhodes Scholarship fell on the very day of the Harvard-Yale game. He chose to play that game, making him even more admired.
During the fall, Witt had been lionized as the hero of a badly needed feel-good sports saga — the “perfect antidote,” one newspaper said, to the allegations of child sexual abuse at Penn State. Bloomberg News described his as a Hamlet-like choice. A glowing NBC Nightly News profile called him “an extraordinary individual.” On ESPN, Witt said he would pray on the decision.
“We have become a society tied to numbers,” Jeff Jacobs, a sports columnist, wrote in The Hartford Courant. “Yes, you need a scoreboard to determine a winner. You need a GPA to measure academic achievement. This is no argument against competition, not at all. Rather it is an argument on behalf of something that cannot be measured by numbers. And that’s character.”
But now the choice to play the games seems, according to the New York Times, to have been born of a his Rhodes candidacy being withdrawn. Yale had endorsed him, then passed along allegations of sexual misconduct, and then given the opportunity to re-endorse him declined effectively destroying any chance he had.
On Nov. 13, Patrick J. Witt, Yale University’s star quarterback, announced that he had withdrawn his Rhodes scholarship application and would instead play against Harvard six days later, at the very time of the required Rhodes interview. His apparent choice of team fealty over individual honor capped weeks of admiring national attention on this accomplished student and his quandary.
But Witt was no longer a contender for the Rhodes, a rare honor reserved for those who excel in academics, activities and character. Several days earlier, according to people involved on both sides of the process, the Rhodes Trust had learned through unofficial channels that a fellow student had accused Witt of sexual assault. The Rhodes Trust informed Yale and Witt that his candidacy was suspended unless the university decided to re-endorse it.
Witt’s accuser has not gone to the police, nor filed what Yale considers a formal complaint. The New York Times has not spoken with her and does not know her name.
Yale no doubt has been stung in the past by not doing enough about blatant sexual harassment, including the fraternity hazing first reported here on GMP. But I find the reporting of this incident troubling and all too reminiscent of the Duke Lacrosse fiasco.
Let me be absolutely clear: I have no idea whether or not this guy committed sexual assault. But by their own admission neither does the New York Times and nothing here gives any real evidence of whether not Yale does either.
I am sure Witt isn’t the Hamlet character that the media wanted to make him out to be. But do we have to make him out to be a rapist without the benefit of a judge and jury. In fact, without even a witness?
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