Editorial

Innocent Until Proven Guilty? Not for College Athletes Like Caleb Brantley

I’m fed up with how we handle any kind of assault allegations against college athletes. Last year, Seth wrote an article discussing how one false rape accusation is one too many. I completely agree with that sentiment. Unfortunately, demonizing college athletes because of mere allegations is something we do very well these days. Former Florida defensive tackle and current NFL Draft prospect Caleb Brantley is the latest example.

If you search Brantley’s name on Twitter, you’ll find countless people condemning him. Judging by their tweets, most of these people haven’t even read about what happened. But the jury members for the court of public opinion don’t care about the story; they just care about the headline.

Let me break it down for you.

Early on April 13, Caleb Brantley was involved in an assault. The original police report did not name Brantley as an aggressor or recommend any charges be brought against him. It instead told a story that painted Brantley to be a victim, responding to a woman following him and hitting him in the face.

Our lives went on and most of us forgot this story even existed.

On April 21, Gainesville Police Department filed its report with the State Attorney’s office. After interviewing more witnesses, police say Brantley used force “clearly out of retaliation and not self-defense.” Because of that, Gainesville Police Department recommended a charge of “misdemeanor battery” for Brantley.

On April 23, the victim’s lawyer released a statement saying that the original police report from April 13 was falsified. Gainesville spokesperson Ben Tobias says that claim is “a bold allegation and is simply absurd.” In response, the victim’s attorney issued a statement clarifying that they are not accusing the police department of falsifying the report. Instead, they are just saying it was falsified somewhere by someone along the way.

As of April 24, State Attorney Bill Cervone said that he doesn’t believe his office will decide whether to bring charges against Brantley before the NFL Draft on Thursday.

This may not matter, as the court of public opinion has already convicted Brantley of battery. His draft stock has plummeted, and people are making rash judgments against him.

I’m sure many athletes get away with things they wouldn’t get away with as regular students. But, I’m not sure Brantley would be one of those incidences. Why? First, there is too much conflicting information in this story. Also, the victim tweeted, “Caleb Brantley will pay,” on the morning of April 13. That sounds more like a bitter woman (aligning with Brantley’s version of events) than a traumatized victim of a battery.

While I am in no position to assert that Caleb Brantley is innocent (or guilty), this case did give me pause. The narrative from Brantley’s side of things is that the woman felt insulted by Brantley rejecting her, and she punched him in the mouth. As a reaction, he pushed her away with his right arm. His attorneys say that Brantley had not been drinking and was only there to give someone a ride home. Additionally, they claim there is a video in which one of the women’s friends thanks and apologizes to some of Brantley’s friends as the women were leaving.

There is clearly doubt and conflicting information in this story, yet Brantley is already guilty in most people’s eyes. A jury would have to decide he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but the public doesn’t have the same standards. These accusations will likely cost him millions of dollars, even if he is never charged with battery in this case.

Aside from this, Brantley was cited for one non-violent offense in his time at Florida. He has worked hard and played very well. He has been working specifically to support his family. But because this woman wants to make Brantley pay, that’s what will happen.

As a woman and a victim of an assault, I usually tend to empathize with the victims in these cases. But something in this case still seems off to me. And the fact that her accusation, regardless of the conflicting information, has so much power to ruin his future just isn’t right.

We all allow this to happen, though. Fans decide whether athletes are guilty instead of letting the police and the judicial system see things through. We are to blame as much as this woman is, for hurting Brantley’s draft stock.

Every time a woman accuses an athlete, we rush to judgment and assume his guilt. This ruined a former Auburn player’s college football career, even though the woman later admitted to falsifying her claims. She falsified assault claims because she was upset with him at the time. Similar claims may ruin Caleb Brantley’s professional football career even if he is never charged or convicted.

What can I say? Welcome to America, where we don’t need evidence to prove an athlete is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” We just need accusations from a headline.

Follow Kristen on Twitter @KristenBotica or email her at kristen [dot] botica [at] campuspressbox [dot] com.

Featured image from Flickr user Chris Gilmore.

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Kristen may have been born in Florida, but she was raised in Tennessee as a Volunteers fan. By her own choosing, she went back to her state of birth and became a college student in The Swamp. Her allegiance to both the Florida Gators and the Tennessee Volunteers often confuses those around her and sometimes even confuses Kristen herself. The one thing these teams do have in common is being a part of the most dominant conference in college football, the SEC. It's safe to say Kristen is one of the most enthusiastic SEC fans you'll ever meet.