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Examining the Matt Patricia mess in Detroit

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Long before the #MeToo movement found its way to the Motor City through Matt Patricia, it had already hit the NFL in a significant fashion, one that resulted in Jerry Richardson putting the Carolina Panthers up for sale after allegations of sexually suggestive language and behavior emerged against the only former player who rose to the power of majority ownership.

The latest issue isn’t about the powerful preying on others, however, it’s about the immaturity of youth coming back to haunt somehow who has risen to power, at least allegedly.

What the new Detroit Lions head coach has been accused of carries with it the potential to be exponentially worse for the league.

Patricia, now 43, finds himself in the middle of a scandal that began over two decades ago when he was a young man on spring break in Texas. The Detroit Free Press unearthed court records that reveal Patricia was actually indicted on an aggravated sexual assault charge in 1996, although he was never prosecuted when the alleged victim declined to move forward.

The case itself involved allegations that Patricia and a former college teammate at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute sexually assaulted a college student in a hotel room before the charges were ultimately dropped.

Patricia, the former defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick in New England who is embarking on his first opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL, quickly claimed he was “falsely accused” back in the Lone Star State all those years ago when the news surfaced.

“As someone who was falsely accused of this very serious charge over 22 years ago, and never given the opportunity to defend myself and clear my name, I find it incredibly unfair, disappointing, and frustrating that this story would resurface now with the only purpose being to damage my character and reputation,” Patricia said in a statement released to and other media outlets. “I firmly maintain my innocence, as I have always done.”

It’s a tricky situation for everyone involved here because it’s not quite that simple.

The allegations themselves are abhorrent and both the Lions and Patriots knew nothing about the incident.

According to the Brownsville (Texas) Herald at the time, the alleged victim was a college student on spring break at South Padre Island who met Patricia and his friend on the beach. Later, the two men were accused of bursting into a hotel room before taking turns assaulting her.

A trial was scheduled for January of 1997 when things fell apart from the prosecution’s standpoint when the woman declined to testify saying she didn’t want to “face the pressure and stress of a trial.”

That’s hardly a recanting of the allegations, however, so there is always going to be some whispers because the tipping point in most of these types of cases is consent.

What is known is that the Lions were taken completed off guard by the story bubbling back to the surface. Owner Martha Firestone Ford, team president Rod Wood and general manager Bob Quinn issued a joint statement, claiming their due diligence did not uncover the issue.

For now, at least, the organization is standing behind Patricia:

“We have spoken to Coach Patricia about this at length as well as the attorney who represented him at the time. Based on everything we have learned, we believe and have accepted Coach Patricia’s explanation and we will continue to support him,” the statement read.

The Pats and Belichick, who employed Patricia for years, also chimed in nothing they were in the dark but continued to vouch for his character as well.

“The New England Patriots were not aware of the matter which recently came to light,” Belichick said in a statement. “For 14 years in our organization, Matt conducted himself with great integrity and is known to be an outstanding coach, person and family man. We have always been confident in Matt’s character and recommended him highly to become the head coach of the Detroit Lions.”

So where do we go from here?

Recent history says that will turn on just how vocal the opposition becomes especially when it comes to the NFL, which will be investigating the matter. If the heat is turned up to a significant degree, the Lions will point to the moral clause in every NFL contract and argue that Patricia should have made them aware he was once indicted even though that is outside the lines when it comes to federal employment law.

Convicted, yes, you must make any potential employer aware of a past transgression but as any criminal defense attorney worth his or her salt will tell you, the prosecution could indict a ham sandwich in most instances, so expecting someone to offer up that kind of information over two decades down the line is unfair.

That’s not going to stop this train, however. The Free Press obtained records that indicate the case was built on the back of five witnesses — a nurse, doctor, police detective, police officer and college friend of the alleged victim — and it’s being revisited by the NFL, at least in a cursory fashion.

“We will review the matter with the club to understand the allegations and what the club has learned,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

Meanwhile, Wood has been forced to explain the organization “followed the law” when hiring Patricia.

“There’s been a lot of criticism of people interviewing and questions that were asked that are inappropriate, at the combine and et cetera. And we’re not one of those teams that are going to do those kind of things, whether it’s a player, a coach or an employee,” Wood explained to ESPN. “We’re following the rules, and I’d rather follow the rules and maybe end up where I’m at, although we’re not happy to be dealing with this, there’s no doubt about that.”

This is now a cost-benefit, public-relations analysis for both the Lions and the league and make no mistake if the Detroit brass had any inkling this was a part of Patricia’s past, the coach’s resume would have been straight to the circular file.

A civilized society, however, should always respect due process over social-media mobs, no matter the passion and altruism of the latter.

And that should be where the GPS is pointed here. Like it or not the 22-year-old Patricia was accused of something and ultimately cleared due to a lack of evidence tied directly to the alleged victim bowing out of the proceedings. Furthermore the Fair Credit Reporting Act in our country “does not allow felony arrests that did not result in convictions beyond seven years old to be considered in possible employment.”

It’s not a perfect system but it’s the best one we have and certainly better than any investigation the league or social activism can engage in two decades after the fact.

It is fair, however, to expect Patricia to be on a zero-tolerance policy moving forward although I would argue that extends to any coach or executive in the NFL when it comes to sexual harassment or violence and really, any adult male across the country.

“I would never condone any of the behavior that was alleged and will always respect and protect the rights of anyone who has been harassed or is the victim of violence,” Patricia claimed. “My priorities remain the same — to move forward and strive to be the best coach, teacher, and man that I can possibly be.”

That’s all Patricia can do now and he also might consider winning immediately because no coach in recorded history has been on a hotter seat before ever taking the field for his first game.

Written by John McMullen

-John McMullen is a national NFL columnist for and the NFL Insider for ESPN South Jersey. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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