Hero Rhodes-Declining Yale QB Withdrew Over Sex Assault Claims, Not Harvard Game

Remember Patrick Witt, the Yale quarterback who chose the Yale-Harvard game over a chance at a Rhodes scholarship? As it turns out, it wasn't much of a choice: Witt's Rhodes candidacy had already been withdrawn over allegations of sexual assault.

Witt's "choice" to play in the game over going to his Rhodes interview was, for some unfathomable reason, the feel-good sports story of last year. Now it looks a lot less feel-good, as The New York Times reveals in a long and well-reported piece of gossip:

On Nov. 13, Patrick J. Witt, Yale University's star quarterback, announced that he had withdrawn his Rhodes scholarship application and would instead play against Harvard six days later [...] But Witt was no longer a contender for the Rhodes [...] Several days earlier, according to people involved on both sides of the process, the Rhodes Trust had learned through unofficial channels that a fellow student had accused Witt of sexual assault. The Rhodes Trust informed Yale and Witt that his candidacy was suspended unless the university decided to re-endorse it.

The news comes barely a month after the resignation of Yale coach Tom Williams, who lied about his own (nonexistent) Rhodes candidacy.

So how, exactly, have the sexual assault charges remained secret? Yale, which continued to push the hero story even after it knew the "choice" had been made, and which has a troubling history of ignoring or minimizing sexual assault charges on its campus, has been (obviously) tight-lipped:

Many aspects of the situation remain unknown, including some details of the allegation against Witt; how he responded; how it was resolved; and whether Yale officials who handle Rhodes applications - including Richard C. Levin, the university's president, who signed Witt's endorsement letter - knew of the complaint. [...] University officials would not discuss other issues, like why Yale did not officially alert the Rhodes Trust of the complaint; what it did upon learning the candidacy had been suspended; and whether Yale ultimately decided not to endorse Witt before he withdrew on his own.

But it's not just the Yale bureaucracy. The student-run paper Yale Daily News apparently knew as early as November about the charges against Witt and sat on the story, according to former opinions editor Alex Klein, writing at Romenesko:

As current Science and Technology editor Eli Markham told me, the News' editor-in-chief, Max de la Bruyere, decided to sit on the story in mid-November. "It's more complicated than that," he told a leader on last year's editorial board, who asked to remain anonymous. Multiple current and past members of the newspaper's managing board, all deeply involved in the day-to-day work of the paper, have confirmed that the News has had the story for over two months. In fact, the Times story that broke last night featured reporting from last year's editor-in-chief, Vivian Yee. She too approached the paper with a tip-off, but its editors chose not to follow the story. The paper even knew that the sexual assault claim had lost Pat an offer to join the Boston Consulting Group after graduation. Even then, they wrote nothing. For reasons personal, social, or political - who can ever tell on a college campus? - the News' management chose to ignore the bombshell, protecting Pat's reputation.

The Times was unable to speak to anyone on the record about the incident or the charges leveled against Witt, who's no longer at Yale and is now in California preparing for a possible NFL career. The accuser is anonymous (not even the Times knows her name), and Witt wouldn't respond to questions.

Update: A Yale student wrote in with some information about the culture and history of the school. Here's a selection:

Yalie and owner of a vagina here. I was reading the comments section of your Pat Witt article and there seems to be a lot of confusion over how the sexual assault claims process at Yale works and why people are perturbed by Yale's obvious mishandling of sexual assault claims in the past.

On the subject of Pat Witt, I've heard from kids still on campus that what the times is reporting is a very toned-down version of what actually happened. As much as I liked Yale and am very glad I chose to attend, I'm not especially surprised that Pat Witt was accused of rape, or really that anyone there is. Yale is full of wealthy, tall, attractive, smart and inevitably successful men who have been told and will continue to be told they are untouchable. Mostly because they are. Men at Yale know they can get away with almost anything, especially when it comes to girls. They openly tell us how much less attractive we are than our peers at less prestigious universities and as evidenced by much of the behavior that sparked title IX, fail to respect that women should be anything other than incredibly thin and constantly willing and eager for sex; even if a gentleman has already thrown up on himself that night. In essence, Yale women, stupidly, put up with a lot of bullshit and Yale men, having been trained in the art of bullshit since they enrolled at Exeter at the age of 7, definitely know how to dish it out.

As for this story in particular, the example given of a punishment for a student found guilty of sexual assault in an internal hearing is that his dorm room may be moved, but there have been cases when students were suspended. See Casper Desfeux who should have been a junior when I was a freshman, but was sent back to Denmark for several years after he was caught video taping a girl he was having sex with without her knowledge. He was allowed to reenroll as a freshman while I was still in school. If Pat Witt is no longer enrolled, his rep's statement about finishing all of his coursework and graduation requirements if bullshit. At Yale you can't just pull out and then still graduate. He would probably have to wait a full year to reenroll. Most likely, he was sent home as punishment for raping someone.

This brings me to my second point: Yale's continued mishandling of rape. Considering that Yale is run by some smart people and the highest paid college president in the country, the administration just cannot seem to understand that they get much worse PR from continuing to try and cover up sexual assault instead of just letting it be dealt with the way it should be. The way the grievance board works, a girl who brings sexual assault charges against a male peer can then be brought before the same board by her rapist if he wants to accuse her of defamation. It's ridiculous. The same board that deals with kids accused of plagiarism or me, when I was "caught" trespassing in a classroom after hours, is the same board that addresses rape. Now, plagiarism is very bad, especially at a university with such high academic standards, and I shouldn't have gone into that classroom to watch a movie late at night, but I think everyone agrees, rape is way worse. Rape is not an internal matter, and as we've seen, it rarely stays internal.

The problems people have with the administration's handling of sexual assault is not that it is too lenient with accusers, and allows good, innocent boys to be falsely accused as some commenters seem to imply, but that they do everything possible to railroad complainants; including failing to provide any kind of sympathetic administrators, postponement of hearing dates, and a constant insistence that the university's public image is much more important than its female students' well being. The captain of the men's basketball team, Mike Sands was suspended for two years because he was caught plagiarizing for the millionth time (also everyone was tired of looking at his godawful braces), and that was the same amount of time that Casper Desfeux was given. I've often wondered what you have to do, aside from fail all of your classes, to get expelled from Yale. One of the members of the track team was recently arrested in his home country of Ireland for allegedly taking someone else's entrance exams for them. Maybe a conviction on their record will do it, but probably not.

[NYT, Romenesko, images via AP]