Last week, I wrote up an article that was calculated to separate the facts from the rumors, the truths from the myths, and answer some frequently asked questions about the Antonio Callaway situation. And if I do say so myself, it did a good job of that.
What that article didn’t do, and couldn’t do, was adequately express my feelings for one horrifying mistake that the University of Florida made. It was a mistake that’s caused an uproar among fans of rival teams and fans of the Gators alike, among men and women alike, and among those who don’t even care about college football. And because of the other facts surrounding this case- namely the fact that Callaway didn’t do anything wrong- the error is a fatal one.
Florida decided to appoint Jake Schickel, a founding partner of Jacksonville based law firm with some 40 years of experience, to adjudicate the hearing. There’s no question that they picked a man with a well-rounded background, and no question that they picked someone competent and qualified. The problem, though, is that Schickel is not only a UF graduate, but remains a prominent Gator football and basketball booster to this day. So while there’s no factual evidence that his ties to the school would lead him to exercise bias, there’s the possibility of it- and given said ties to the school, plus the abundance of lawyers in the north central Florida area without any such ties, UF either failed to do its due diligence, didn’t care enough to do so, or did and then subsequently chose to put one of its loyal boosters in charge of the case anyway.
It’s hard for me to say what comes next, but there’s really no other way to put it: I’m sorry, UF, but you screwed up. Really badly.
Appointing somebody who you honestly feel could run the most objective and fair hearing is not a chore that should be that hard. It’s something that should be standard procedure for a school that, unfortunately, probably has countless sexual assaults occur on its campus every year. It’s one thing to have a UF graduate oversee the hearing, as a typical graduating class has around 13,000 students, but quite another to appoint one of your most dedicated donors to do it.
Naturally, the University of Florida got wind of the fact that many other people had a problem with their selection of Schickel, and so they released a statement that read in part:
“I can tell you that our student conduct process may be handled by a hearing officer, who could be a university employee or an outside professional, or by a committee of faculty and students.
Any hearing officer and all committee members are trained and vetted for their impartiality. A hearing officer or committee member would not be disqualified or lack objectivity simply because he or she had been a student athlete decades earlier or purchases athletic tickets as more than 90,000 people do each year.”
I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, that Callaway is not guilty of anything criminal. Therefore, the hearing would have had the same result whether it was run by somebody with or without UF ties. The evidence against Callaway is circumstantial at best, and regardless of how difficult it may be for a victim to go straight to the police after being sexually assaulted, his accuser made her situation worse by failing to do so. That is a fact. Legally speaking, there would be absolutely nothing wrong with grilling the alleged victim about why she didn’t report the crime right after it happened, and that’s a task that could be done whether it was Schickel or Mickey Mouse running the show.
So the University of Florida’s decision to have this guy with every theoretical reason to be biased running the hearing was an error of calamitous proportions. Not only does it open the school up to vigorous criticisms, it also opens the door for a legitimate Title IX suit to be filed against them for either their ignorance or their foolishness- or both. Furthermore, it sends the message that the school will not be helpful to future sexual assault victims if the assailant is a popular athlete, and since many sexual assault victims opt to talk it out with people at their own school rather than go to the police, their quantity of options are shrinking.
Worst of all, of course, is that each of the above results are happening in a case that had no substance to it in the first place. I’m not saying that Callaway’s accuser is lying about the whole thing, because I don’t know that for an absolute fact. What I do know for a fact is that there was nothing that could have possibly been said, shown or done that would render a “guilty” verdict on Callaway in any type of American legal proceeding. There was no evidence against Callaway that wasn’t circumstantial. All UF had to do was find someone without obvious reasons to be biased to adjudicate the hearing, and they would have gotten the same “Callaway didn’t do anything wrong” result that they would have with Schickel.
But they didn’t. And despite the fact that Callaway truly didn’t do anything wrong, now they have a mess on their hands to deal with- one that hopefully goes away when more facts come out proving Callaway’s innocence, but more importantly, one that they can learn from in the future.