Former Yale quarterback Patrick Witt supposedly gave up a chance to win a Rhodes Scholarship for a chance to play a game against arch rival Harvard, but a new report in The New York Times says there may have been another reason why he gave up his shot at Oxford. The paper says he was accused of sexual assault by a fellow student last fall and that it was the Rhodes Trust that suspended his candidacy after an anonymous source alerted them to the charge.
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The story by Times reporter Richard Perez-Pena timelines how what began as quirky story about character at the intersection of sports and academics unraveled into something much more unseemly. Witt generated a lot of attention last November after the news came out that he was considering skipping his final Rhodes interview to attend the Harvard game, because they were scheduled on the same day in different cities. Some saw it as a selfless act of loyalty to his teammates and his school, while others found it another distasteful example of athletics trumping academics. (Myron Rolle, a defensive back at Florida State, had faced a similar dilemma three years earlier, but ended up doing both. He took the interview in Alabama, then flew a private jet supplied by his university to the night game in Maryland, and arrived before the second half. He got the scholarship and was later drafted by the NFL.)
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Witt eventually withdrew from Rhodes consideration and played in the game (which Yale lost), but according to The Times, his statement on the matter contained a key grammatical quirk that the media failed to pick up on. “I will be playing in the Yale-Harvard game this Saturday” and “I have withdrawn my application for the Rhodes scholarship” were two separate sentences. While it was implied that the one caused the other, the new allegation suggests that wasn't the case. Shortly before the interview, Yale was reportedly told that Witt's candidacy was suspended unless they wanted to re-endorse it, which they did not. Both the school and Witt refused to comment.
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Perez-Pena lays out other details that paint an even more unflattering portrait of Witt's career — how he attended four high schools and two colleges in search a team where he could start at quarterback; that he was a member of a notorious fraternity that was banned from Yale's campus for sexual harassment of female students; two off-campus arrests related to drunken disturbances. The Rhodes ordeal also cost Witt's head coach, Tom Williams, his job after he lied about himself being considered as a Rhodes candidate when he was a student. He resigned from his post after the season ended.
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The sexual assault complaint itself doesn't appear to have been resolved yet and Witt has not yet graduated from Yale. Whether the allegations turn out to be true or not, they now hang over Yale, Witt, and college football as yet another ugly tale for a sport that's had too many of them of late. He still hopes to play in the NFL some day, but will now face a very different set of questions about his character.
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UPDATE: Alex Klein, a former editor at the Yale Daily News, writes on Romensko.com that his old student newspaper knew about the sexual assault allegation two months ago — before Witt announced that he was no longer a candidate — but chose not to pursue it. Another former editor, Vivian Yee, contributed to The New York Times story.