EDITORIAL: In hazing lawsuit vs. Penn State football program, there's cause for skepticism
- A former player has filed a hazing lawsuit against Penn State's football program.
- Isaiah Humphries alleges that coach James Franklin ignored violent, sexual hazing.
- A number of current and former PSU players have disputed the accusations.
- The Centre County District Attorney declined to file charges in the case.
A healthy skepticism is usually a good thing.
The knee-jerk reaction is quite often wrong because it plays into our natural prejudices and preconceptions.
That’s why we should avoid a rush to judgment when it comes to the latest accusations against the Penn State football program.
There are several signs in this case that should give us pause.
The lawsuit: In case you haven’t heard, a former PSU player, Isaiah Humphries, has alleged that coach James Franklin ignored violent, sexual hazing on the Nittany Lions’ football team, which included some players telling underclassmen, “I’m going to Sandusky you.”
Of course, the mere mention of the name “Sandusky” is enough to send shivers down the spine. Jerry Sandusky is a former PSU assistant who is now in prison for his child sexual assaults.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Middle District Court against Penn State, Franklin and defensive tackle Damion Barber. It also identifies linebackers Micah Parsons and Jesse Luketa and defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos as the leaders of the hazing efforts.
Both Barber and Parsons are former Harrisburg High standouts. Parsons and Gross-Matos were star players on the 2019 Lions. Parsons is being mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate for next season, and Gross-Matos may be a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
Graphic details: The complaint includes graphic details of perpetrators exposing their genitalia on and near the faces and bodies of victims. Among other things, perpetrators are alleged to have wrestled victims to the ground and made humping actions while on top of them, and stolen victims’ clothes.
Given PSU’s past association with the Sandusky scandal, the natural inclination, especially outside of Pennsylvania, is to believe the worst about the Lions’ program.
Humphries’ accusations, in the end, could turn out to be true.
Reasons for doubt: Still, at this point, there are several reasons to be cautious.
First, an investigation into hazing allegations produced no charges from the Centre County District Attorney. That probe did not “substantiate the serious allegations made.”
Second, a number of former and current PSU players strongly came to the defense of Franklin and the players named in the lawsuit, while also making less-than-favorable comments about Humphries. No players have come forward to support Humphries’ claims.
Third, when Humphries announced he was transferring from PSU in November of 2018, he left a glowing Tweet about his time with the Nittany Lions, thanking the coaches, noting the many friends he made on the team and wishing the program good luck. There was nothing remotely negative about PSU in the Tweet.
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Fourth, the lawyer representing Humphries is the same lawyer representing a team doctor who is also suing PSU after claiming he was pressured to clear injured football players to return to games prematurely.
It makes one wonder if the lawyer has an ax to grind with PSU, or simply sees an easy mark in a university with a checkered past that may be susceptible to out-of-court settlements, rather than risk a court battle that would further drag the school's name through the mud.
The lawyer also said other PSU players were abused, but offered no names, and no other players have stepped forward.
Prudent to be skeptical: Put all of those facts together, and there’s more than a little reason to reserve judgement.
Humphries and his lawyer, however, may ultimately produce conclusive evidence that abuse did take place and the head coach knew and did nothing about it. If that is the case, Franklin should be fired and the future of the PSU football program would be placed in doubt.
At this point, however, all we have heard are the accusations of a former PSU player. At this point, it seems prudent to be skeptical.