On August 21 four Vanderbilt University football players pleaded not guilty to raping an unconscious female student in a dorm room earlier in the summer. The university followed proper procedure for a case such as this and removed the four from the football team as well as expelled them from the university. However, one of the players quickly found that another university was quite willing to let him play football for them.
According to USAToday.com, former Vanderbilt football players Brandon Vandenburg, Cory Batey, Brandon Eric Banks, and Jaborian McKenzie were charged with multiple counts of aggravated rape and two counts of sexual battery, stemming from the June 23 incident in a university residence hall. A fifth player, Chris Boyd, was charged as an accessory after the fact.
Buzzfeed reports that on Saturday June 22 Brandon Vandenburg, who was considered one of the top college tight ends in the country, went out with a student who he had been casually dating. Witnesses say that later in the evening, when the pair returned to campus, the woman was observed in an unconscious state. The crime was discovered several days afterwards when university officials were examining security camera footage in regard to another matter and noticed the four suspects behaving suspiciously.
Authorities eventually came to believe Vandenburg had intercourse with the Oklahoma woman while she was unconscious, while three other football players said to have been in room at some point in the night were charged as well.
On September 13 The Tennessean ran a story with the graphic details of the case. According to the report, the woman had allegedly been penetrated multiple times with different objects, and during the crime Vandenburg allegedly sent texts with photos to Boyd.
The Nashville Post reported last Friday that despite being charged with a felony, and a particularly heinous felony at that, Jaborian McKenzie took the field for Alcorn State on Saturday, September 7, where he was credited with one reception and 80 kickoff return yards. McKenzie was not listed on the school’s official roster, but a game recap on Alcorn’s sports website contained the following:
Transfer Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie saw his first action as a Brave on kickoff return recording 80 yards on three returns. McKenzie is a transfer from Vanderbilt University.
Was McKenzie’s exclusion from the roster a mistake, or was it an attempt to avoid drawing attention to Alcorn State’s new player and the charges against him? Less than a day after the Nashville Post story was published, USAToday.com reported that McKenzie had been kicked off the Alcorn State team. University president M. Christopher Brown II said in a statement
Alcorn failed to sufficiently examine the allegations against McKenzie before allowing him to participate in our football program. In an effort to provide educational opportunities to a southwest Mississippi student, Alcorn State University made an error in judgment.
However, Brown’s statement is in conflict with comments from Alcorn State football coach Jay Hopson, who, according to USAToday.com, said that he had discussed McKenzie with the athletic director and Brown. Hopson also said
If I ever find anything or if I can get any proof that he is guilty, he will be suspended from our football team. From everything I’ve gotten, from every resource, this kid is 100 percent innocent.
This case illustrates at least a couple of disturbing problems about sports, athletes, and the attitudes of society regarding them. First, as ThinkProgress points out, this case is eerily reminiscent of the Steubenville, Ohio high school rape case, which says that this sort of event may be taking place much more than anyone would like to acknowledge, given that rape in general is an underreported crime. Second, it shows the lengths to which some coaches and schools are willing to go in order to try to win, also showing in the process the lack of concern those coaches and schools have for developing athletes who are also good citizens.
For the record, Mississippi State beat Alcorn State in McKenzie’s one and only game by a score of 51-7.