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Outside the Lines: The Rules

BROADCAST OF SUNDAY, October 22, 2000
Anchor- Bob Ley
Guests -Robert McClinton, criminal attorney;
Mick McCabe,columnist Detroit Free Press
Keith Harrison,professor, University of Michigan
Reported by - Lisa Salters
Coordinating producer- Jonathan Ebinger

Outside The Lines - When Sexual Assault Involves Athletes, What are the Rules?

Bob Ley, host- Before a certain basketball coach made the phrase popular, zero tolerance stood for something else, a firm and unyielding policy in America's schools in this case against weapons and drugs.

Strict enforcement has led to stories -- you've surely heard of them -- of students suspended for carrying pen knives or aspirin, discipline that may seem harsh, but dispensed in the name of protecting students. In other words, rules are rules.

But when high school athletes are charged with crimes, it turns out there often are no rules, just the best judgment of the parties involved, even when the charge is rape. This is a story where the argument to allow athletes charged with a felony to play includes not only their constitutional rights but their opportunity to win a college scholarship, where the local school board's decision is based not only on what's best for students but how best to stay out of court.

This is a school that was enjoying an undefeated football season and must now balance that school spirit against the trauma of serious criminal charges and the perception of how one town has interpreted the rules. Lisa Salters has our report.

Lisa Salters, ESPN correspondent- For the Panthers of River Rouge High School, the excitement that comes along with any playoff football game was overshadowed this Friday by a cloud of controversy. Just outside of Detroit, this is a town that treasures its high school teams.

But its football team -- specifically, four players -- has drawn nationwide attention and has caused such heartache here, not for their performance on the field, but for their alleged actions off it.

The rift in this small community began five weeks ago when four of River Rouge's starters, all 17-year-old seniors, were accused of raping a 14-year-old freshman cheerleader. According to court records, the alleged victim claims the four teenagers took her to one of the boy's homes and gang raped her, holding her down while each took his turn. Earlier this month, the boys were arrested and charged as adults.

Unidentified male- We charge each of you with four counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree.

Salters- It is what happened next that has created such controversy in River Rouge. While the alleged victim is now being home schooled, the four teenagers who were released on bail were first placed in an alternative school and barred from playing football.

But their families took the school district to court, arguing that the boys were being denied due process. The circuit court judge agreed.

Wayne County (MI) Judge- It is a part of our responsibility not only to protect their safety but their constitutional and statutory rights. And this court will order the immediate return of the children to the general school population at River Rouge High School.

Salters - Attorneys for the defendants also successfully argued that the school district is not obliged to punish students for actions that allegedly took place off school property.

Gerald Evelyn, Defendant's attorney- If you engage in some disruptive activity at school, if there was something that would cause them to affect the school environment, then maybe there should be some sanctions. But they've been accused of doing something that took place away from school that had nothing to do with their being students at all. And for that reason, they should not have their student privileges taken away from them.

Salters- But the judge's ruling has been read differently by attorneys for both sides.

Evelyn- My interpretation of the testimony of the principal at our hearing was that the reason that they were not playing football was because the young men were in the alternative program. You're not allowed those privileges. Once they were returned to regular school, it made sense to me that they would be able to play.

Salters- It is your understanding that the school, if the school wanted to, could keep them from playing football now?

Evelyn- Well, I think that would have to be a school board decision at this point because I think that there's been legal actions instituted by us. And I think that the school board would have to intervene to do that. I don't think the school could do it.

Salters- But according to the River Rouge School Board, its hands in the matter are tied.

Charles Wycoff, Attorney for River Rouge School District- The order basically states that they're entitled to be returned to the regular educational program with all of the rights and privileges that are attendant to them.

Salters- Another concern for the school board, litigation against the school district by the four defendants, who have also claimed that denying them the opportunity to play football would put their college futures in jeopardy.

Evelyn- These young men I think have an opportunity to get a scholarship. My client has been recruited by a number of Division One schools.

They come from families that can't afford to pay for an education. And to have this opportunity taken away from them, if they go to trial and they're found not guilty and they have their opportunities to get scholarships taken away from them, that wouldn't be fair. That's not an American thing to do.

Wycoff- I suspect if you were to go down to the county clerk's office, you would probably find a standing room only line of people filing lawsuits. And some of them have merit. And some of them don't.

And I think liability is a major concern for any public entity in existence today because it's something that anybody can do at any time.

Salters- With that in mind, the River Rouge School Board voted unanimously to allow the four teenagers to suit up for the remainder of the season.

Unidentified female- They're old enough. They're not babies. They know right from wrong. No, they shouldn't play.

Unidentified male- I would let them play until it was proven. If it was proven, then I wouldn't.

Unidentified female- They are rapists. And they shouldn't even be in school, much less on the football team. This girl is at home suffering. And they're out there enjoying themselves. And it's not right.

Mildred Gaddis, host of WCHG's "Inside Detroit"- Welcome back to "Inside Detroit." 9-47 on this Friday. I'm Mildred Gaddis taking a look at the River Rouge High School situation.

Salters- The differences of opinion extend far beyond the football field. On local talk radio, the River Rouge scandal has ignited heated debates for the past month.

Unidentified male caller- I'm not doubting whether or not they did it. That's not the point. The point is, if they did, and if the evidence is there, then the prosecutors should be moving, not sitting but moving.

Gaddis- They're back in school. They're playing football. They played one game, and they've got another one tonight.

Harold, I'm glad you called. You're on the air.

Unidentified male caller- The coach dropped the ball on this one because...

Gaddis- And coaches have barred athletes for far less crimes than that.

Salters- Though the River Rouge Panthers lost their game on Friday night, the debate continues in this community. The four young men are accused not just of a despicable crime, but of bringing shame upon this entire town.

One attorney here said it's a tragedy that is just beginning to unfold. Whether the story is true or untrue, he said, you have to feel badly for everyone involved.

For Outside The Lines, I'm Lisa Salters in River Rouge, Michigan.

Ley- The loss for River Rouge on Friday night 35 to nothing came in the first round of the state playoffs. After opening the year with eight consecutive victories, the team ended the season eight-and-two.

When we continue, I'll talk with an attorney who says the decision to allow the charged players to play is legally correct, a local columnist who is disturbed by more than the fact the young men were playing, and a professor who is concerned about the privileges extended to athletes.

Ley- Should athletes charge with felonies be allowed to play? We are joined this morning by Robert McClinton, who is a criminal defense attorney focusing on juvenile law. He joins us from Detroit.

Mick McCabe is a reporter and a columnist for the "Detroit Free Press." And he also joins us from Detroit.

C. Keith Harrison is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, where he is the founder and director of the Paul Robeson Center for Academic and Athletic Prowess. He joins us from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Robert, let me begin with you if I could. Why do you believe the decision to allow these young men to play is the legally correct decision?

Robert McClinton, defense attorney- I think basically what we have here is a situation where young men are accused of a crime that did not happen on school grounds or during school time or on school property. And therefore, the school has no jurisdiction in terms of limiting their ability to get an education.

It would be different if this happened like in the bathroom or something like that. But to say that I cannot do something at midnight and then be kicked out of school I think is ridiculous because what we start doing then is we start limiting people's ability to do anything. I mean, should we say that because they've been accused of a crime they can no longer go to the church that they went to, they can't go to restaurants, they can't go to sporting events or anything else simply because they committed the crimes?

Ley- Even for a violent felony, you're saying.

McClinton- Even for a violent felony. Again, our constitution says people are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

And even though we have to protect all citizens, we have to allow people to continue their main activities until they've been found responsible.

Ley- OK, Mick McCabe, you've heard the case for allowing the young men to play. You've also heard the voices in River Rouge on both sides of this issue, a number of people saying let them play.

Mick McCabe, "Detroit Free Press"- No, they shouldn't play at all. First of all, high school athletics is a privilege and not a right. Coaches make decisions all the time, who can play, who starts, who gets cut. These boys are supposed to be role models for the community.

They have absolutely no right. They lost all the rights when they committed that rape, or allegedly committed the rape.

Ley- All right, Keith, so then where do their rights go against the privilege of playing high school football and their constitutional rights? How do you slice the issue?

C. Keith Harrison, University of Michigan Kinesiology professor- I think this is a situation, Bob, we can truly look at both sides of the issue. I agree with Robert. We have no choice but to go by the law and due process.

We don't have policies for individuals or groups that are involved in extracurricular activities that they're penalized if they get accused of a crime. I think the healthy thing about this situation, if anything positive can come out of it, is we can begin a discourse on if we should have those policies. If an individual is in the glee club or in the band, should they be penalized if they're accused of a crime? We have to remember they have not been found guilty yet.

McClinton- Who made them role models? I mean, these people aren't role models. They are high school students who are playing football.

I think our society has gotten carried away with this so-called, quote, unquote, role model situation. And if you want to talk about that, then aren't they really pretty much following the other role models that they have in college sports...

McCabe- Right, absolutely, yes.

McClinton- ... and professional football?

McCabe- We have a lot of problems with professional and college athletes. And they think they're above the law. And where do you think it starts? It starts right here in the high school athletics where these kids are almost looked upon as gods by kids in their community.

And they're charged in court with committing a crime like this. And they are allowed to play. This is how it begins. This is how kids think that they're above the law.

McClinton- You can't -- but that's what society is. You're going to automatically say because somebody is a newspaper person or because somebody is a TV reporter or anything else that because they do something now kids are supposed to do it or other people are supposed to emulate it. People have right to makes decisions...

Ley- But, Robert, the very argument to allow them to play was couched in terms of one of these young men as being recruited by several Division One schools. You discuss role models. Doesn't that very argument make them larger than someone in the glee club, larger than someone in the French club?

McClinton- All we have here is an emotional issue. People are upset because they feel that these kids are carrying on their lives, and the young lady who has been hurt is not doing the same. We have to understand that this is a legal issue and will be dealt with legally.

This young man could go on to jail. He wouldn't be playing football anyplace. So...

McCabe- The big thing is though that they made this ruling because they didn't want to hurt the kid's chances of getting a scholarship. He's already played in six regular season games. And I can guarantee you that any college recruiting coordinator in the country can take those six games and tell whether this kid is a Division One recruit or not.

He doesn't need two more football games. And I can guarantee you also that these last two games this young man has played in did not help his chances to land a Division One scholarship.

Ley- Keith, let me ask you, what do you make of the argument that a scholarship is on the line here for one of these young men, and for that reason he should be allowed to play?

Harrison- This is where I come over to the side of Mike's -- excuse me, Mick's -- argument. I think we have to be real careful. How much are we going to use the argument that, well, they might not be allowed to have their scholarship?

I think this could potentially build up where they think they are above the law. And specifically, their behavior in terms of how they view women as sexual objects and for their pleasure, I agree with Mick on that point.

McClinton- I don't think that scholarship has anything to do with this. The school board from my understanding was afraid that if they did not allow them to continue in their activities that they had every legal right to do that they would be sued.

McCabe- Right, because they would be denying him a chance to get a scholarship.

McClinton- That's -- well, they would be denying them a chance to continue their lives as they're supposed to. That was the argument that was brought up in the court.

But you have to allow people to continue to do what they were doing. If they get a scholarship or don't get a scholarship has nothing to do with the legal issue. The legal issue is whether or not if I'm not allowed to pursue my educational benefits that under the law I'm entitled to whether or not I can sue. It doesn't have anything to do with a scholarship.

McCabe- Please show me, please show me...

Ley- Mick, I'll promise you a chance to respond...

McCabe- ... OK.

Ley- ... when we return. And we'll step aside for just a moment.

We will continue with Robert McClinton, Mick McCabe, and C. Keith Harrison as we continue whether athletes charged with felonies should be allowed to compete.

Ley- More now as we continue with Robert McClinton, Mick McCabe, and C. Keith Harrison. And, Mick, I promised you a chance to respond to Robert. Go ahead.

McCabe- I'd like to know exactly what law book states that high school students must be allowed to play football.

Ley- Is that a right or a privilege, Robert?

McClinton- It's a privilege to play football.

McCabe- Right. Absolutely.

McClinton- But the law states that they have the right to an education.

McCabe- Right. That's fine.

McClinton- And that's I'm saying. This is not based on them getting a scholarship. Getting a scholarship is part of what is happening because they're an athlete.

The school board is afraid that it would be sued if it did not allow them to pursue their educational benefits.

Ley- How realistic was that fear, Robert?

McClinton- Say it again, please.

Ley- How realistic was the fear of a suit on the basis?

McClinton- Oh, I think that the threat of a suit is realistic. Whether or not they would prevail I think is questionable. I don't think that they would have prevailed. I could be wrong. But yes, you could be sued.

And I guess if you can determine that people's rights were violated, then we have an issue. And they...

Ley- Keith...

McClinton- ... have a right to an education. That's the thing that...

McCabe- Fine. Let them go to math class. Let them go to English class. Just keep them off the football field.

Ley- Keith, where do you stand on this issue of athletics as part of the guaranteed education?

Harrison- Where I stand on it is I think Mick is right. We don't know if they're guilty. And so all we can do is go with what Robert says, the legal process. But at the same time, Mick has a point. If we have some evidence that they are guilty, then keep them in school.

They'll have to be penalized by the games. We just don't know all the evidence at this point. So...

McCabe- How about the football coach? I want to know about his role in this. Not only does he allow them back on the team, he plays them.

I could see if a judge says, "You have to let them on the team." He doesn't have to play them. And worse, he allowed two of them to go out and be captains. They're represented the school, the town, the team. They're the captains? And they're being accused of this crime.

Ley- But, Mick, at the same time, you heard the suggestion in Lisa's report from one of the attorneys that athletes sometimes are targeted because they are more visible.

McCabe- Oh, they very well could be targeted. And that is the reason why they have to conduct themselves differently than some other students, whether they like it or not.

We did a story recently about Marysville High School (ph), where every Friday during the football season, the football players put on their game jerseys, the cheerleaders in their uniforms, and they go to three local elementary schools and they read to second, third, and fourth graders. And these kids, the little kids love these football players. They want to be like these kids. They come home and tell their parents about the football players that they met.

And I can guarantee you, there are second and third graders in River Rouge who look up to their football players. The problem is though that second and third graders now are going home and saying, "Mom, what does rape mean?" That's the message they're getting from these football players at River Rouge. That's disgusting.

Ley- Robert, at a certain point, high schools sports, at least in the past, have been meant to impart values. How does that square with this decision?

McClinton- Well, I don't think it has anything to do with the decision. I think the values that high school is supposed to be importing is teamwork, playing with others, getting along with others, and those kinds of things. We're always going to have in every part of society where people do things that are different.

This is a situation where unfortunately these young men for whatever reason, and I'm not sure what that was, decided to do this. I don't think it's right. But you're going to have -- we're going to always have people in no matter what walk of life who are going to do things that are morally wrong, legally wrong, ethically wrong, and those kinds of things.

So you've got to take it on an individual basis. You can't say it's because of the sports that they're doing or anything else. These young men committed crimes because that's what they wanted to do as individuals.

Ley- Who should make the rules then? There are no rules here. We mentioned that at the top of the program. Who should set the standard? Should it be the local school board?

McCabe- The school. Absolutely, the school. Where is their code of conduct? I mean, kids get thrown out, like you said earlier, for having aspirins, for carrying pocket knives.

A kid at Allen Park High School, a football player, talked back to a teacher. The football coach at Allen Park said, "I want you to write a letter of apology." The kid said, "No, I was right. I'm not writing an apology." They threw him off the football team.

McClinton- He is on school property. It makes a difference. When you're on...

McCabe- He's part of the football team.

McClinton- ... He's under the jurisdiction of the school. This did not happen under the jurisdiction of the school. Legally...

McCabe- But they represent the football -- they represent the school.

McClinton- ... They don't represent anything when they're away from school. They represent themselves.

Legally, this could have been handled -- in the legal situation, a judge could have ordered when he -- whatever bond that was instituted, could have ordered that the have no contact with the girl, they couldn't be with. So that might have prevented them from going back to River Rouge High School.

Or he could have said, "I'm going to put you on a tether. The only thing that you can do is go to school from eight to three." Therefore, they could not have played any kind of sports.

Legally, and that's legal. Those two things could have been done. But the school itself nor the school board has a right to say, "Because I did something," -- what if they did something in Idaho or California? Does the school have a right to say because you rape somebody in California, you can no longer either go to this school or play football? No.

McCabe- Absolutely. Yes they do.

McClinton- No they don't.

McCabe- They are -- yes, they are members of the school. They represent the school. They represent that community. They don't deserve to be on that football team.

Ley- And, gentlemen, we are out of time. Thank you very much for an airing of this issue.

We'd like to thank Robert McClinton and Mick McCabe and C. Keith Harrison all for joining us this morning. Still ahead, the argument over Fenway and the influx of teens in the National Basketball Association. We'll be right back.

Ley- Our discussion last week on the future of Fenway Park generated the opinion from most of our e-mail correspondents that the Red Sox do indeed need a new park. But no one suggested that a new park could top the character and the appeal of Fenway.

A viewer from Oklahoma City writes that, "In the end, it comes down to history. And pretty soon, history will be gone the same way Ebbets Field, old Comiskey, and so many others. When that happens, we've not only cheapened this game that we love, we've also cheapened the memory of our heroes. After all, where will we be able to take our children and say, "This was where the great Babe Ruth played," or, "This is where Teddy Ballgame hit a home run in his final at bat"?"

A member of the Save Fenway Coalition writes- "This is not just a nostalgia story or an out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new-us-against-them thing, the Fenway neighborhood stands in opposition the current Red Sox plans. Taxpayers don't want to pay for a new stadium. And polls show two to one they prefer renovation to paying for a new stadium. And true fans of baseball like seeing it played at a ballpark, not at a corporate playpen or amusement park. Play it for what it's about, baseball. And then you will see the real story."

That e-mail sent to us online at On the ESPN home page, type the keyword otlweekly. You'll be able to browse our complete library of transcripts and video on demand of all our Sunday morning programs.

Also where you can send your opinions and suggestions, our e-mail address, We enjoy hearing from you.

Ley- It begins Tuesday with an increasing number of very young men in the NBA. Two more teenagers face off. But do these youngsters actually know what to expect as they leap from high school into an unforgiving spotlight?

Unidentified female- We want to protect him so much. But it's a reality check for him.

Unidentified male- The only part that I don't like about it is that a lot of the kids forsake their education.

Ley- They may come for the money, but this parade of younger and younger players will also receive a nightly education in the harsh life of a pro athlete.

Unidentified male- The guys in this league is just going to try to test their heart and see where they're at, see if they're going to be able to handle the pressure.

Ley- Tracy McGrady knows. OUTSIDE THE LINES "Coming of Age." Opening night of the NBA, 7-00 p.m. Eastern, that's Tuesday. Make a note, Tuesday, directly after "SportsCenter."

And if you missed any portion of this morning's program on whether athletes charged with felonies should be allowed to play, we will repeat at 1-00 p.m. Eastern, our usual time over on ESPN2.

"SportsCenter" is back in 30 minutes. Chris Berman and "NFL Countdown" at 11-00 Eastern. And today, we'll take a look at what's wrong with the Rams D, and why Randy Moss is so very good in the fourth quarter.

Now to the ESPN Zone in Times Square, Dick Schaap, and "The Sports Reporters." I'm Bob Ley. We'll see you next Sunday.

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 Bob Ley looks at the homeschooled athlete and their right to play high school sports.
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