A Critical Look at Michigan's Decision to Fully Reinstate WR Grant Perry
It's just about the most wonderful time of the year! I cannot speak for y'all, but I am hyped for this college football season. The media has focused a great deal on nearly finalized rosters, one of which is ranked #17 in the AP preseason poll. For example, it has drawn much attention to the University of Florida's seven football players who are suspended in their season's first game on September 2 against the University of Michigan, including top wide receiver Antonio Callaway, due to their "misuse of school funds" and a handful of players suspended for pot. While those several young men definitively will not be playing, one player will be returning to the lineup on the opposite sideline. On August 11, Michigan announced that it was granting wide receiver Grant Perry full reinstatement to the football team just in time for the Wolverines' game against Florida in Arlington, Texas. The 2017-18 season has yet to really kick off aside from a few games this past weekend, but off-field conduct could already be influencing potential outcomes of individual games and teams' end-game.
Remember hearing about the Michigan Football player who allegedly pulled a Donald Trump-style move in East Lansing on the team's Bye Week? Well, that was Grant Perry. Before diving into the story, I believe it is important to highlight that Perry is the leading receiver for the young Wolverines, having two touchdowns and 27 catches in his first two seasons.
The Facts (At Least Those Released To The Public)
Allegedly, on October 15, 2016, 19-year-old Perry had an altercation with a woman outside of a bar in East Lansing called Lou and Harry's. The police report says that around 12:15am, him and two other young men cut in line to get into the bar. One of three women who they cut in front of started to yell at them and told police that Perry became "verbally defensive", trying to intimidate her, and groped her between her legs. The bar owner proceeded to call 911 upon her request, and the cops arrived to his report of a possible assault. Neither the bouncer at the door nor the bar owner actually saw Perry grab the woman, though both described an altercation in a tightly packed large group.
The cops saw a man and a woman pushing each other in line and, eventually the woman pushed Perry out of the line. Afterward, an officer pulled Perry aside and asked for his I.D., but Perry attempted to run away. The officer wound up tackling him in an alley and thereafter had trouble securing him and threatened to "tase" him. Once Perry was transported to the East Lansing Jail, he declined a breathalyzer test. The cops noted in the report that they smelled a "strong odor of intox coming from Perry" and confiscated his fake I.D. Perry made two phone calls to his mother, stating that "he [f-ed] up" to which his mother asked if it was bad. He replied, "No, not at all and it's kind of [f-ed] up what happened." Later, an East Lansing Police Department surveillance camera recorded him vomiting in his cell.
The entire police report is 45 pages in length.
The Legal Proceedings & End Result
Perry was arraigned on December 23 with a preliminary examination originally scheduled for December 29 in East Lansing that got moved to January 5. Then, it got delayed several more times and moved courts, which was a nice move by his attorney because it possibly became so far removed in time from the cause of action that the case lost its vigor, and the next steps did not occur until this summer.
Earlier this month, Perry reached a plea deal with the East Lansing prosecutors, where he plead guilty to one felony count of resisting a police officer and one misdemeanor count of assault and battery. In exchange, he will serve 12 months probation with 60 hours of community service and have not one but both counts of misdemeanor fourth-degree sexual assault dropped. Perry took this deal under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, an act allowing criminal offenders between the ages of 17 and 24 years old the opportunity to keep records of offenses non-public, sealed, and dismissed at age 24 upon completing the sentence. The Act essentially provides young adults the opportunity to wipe the slate clean if they complete the pending sentence. For the record, the maximum sentence for resisting a police officer is two years in prison.
U of M's Initial & Final Reactions
Initially, head coach Jim Harbaugh had Perry sit out two games in a row after the incident occurred, including the game against in-state rival Michigan State, but he was allowed to return to play the last four games of the regular season. Once the charges were officially announced, Michigan made the decision to suspend Perry indefinitely and would not make a final determination until the charges were handled. Manuel stated in his announcement, "The University was made aware of the arrest of student-athlete Grant Perry earlier this fall. He was immediately suspended from all team activities at that time and missed two games. Based on the information at that time, Grant was allowed to resume team activities pending the outcome of the investigation. Upon being informed that charges would be filed, he was immediately and indefinitely suspended from all team activities until the legal process is completed.”
Thus, Perry did not participate in three games last season, one of which was the Orange Bowl, and he could not participate in spring practices or take the highly publicized Rome trip with the team. All he could do was sit and wait for the court process to do its thing.
Once the legal proceedings came to an end, Manuel released a statement last week explaining the decision to fully reinstate Perry.
"The University and Michigan Athletic Department have closely followed the legal proceedings involving Grant Perry since October," he said. "During this time, he has met every institutional expectation. Grant has served multiple team suspensions, missing two games during the 2016 season as well as the Orange Bowl against Florida State. He was suspended from all team activities in the Winter of 2017, including all of spring practice and the team’s trip to Rome. Grant was only recently allowed to participate in summer conditioning prior to the start of fall camp. We conducted an athletic department and institutional review following the conclusion of the legal process. Based on that review, we have determined that Grant is reinstated to full participation with the football team.
"In order to maintain his full participation with the team, and in addition to complying with the terms of his probation, Grant must continue to meet additional internal requirements from the university, athletic department and football program."
Manuel offered another statement last week in support of the decision. "Athletics, and this university, takes charges against our student-athletes very seriously," he said. "But we're also here to educate young people and to help them through challenges life brings them and challenges they bring to themselves. This was one of those cases."
What Precedent at Michigan Looks Like
To put it bluntly, Michigan does not have the greatest reputation when it comes to athletic department and institutional reviews regarding sexual assault allegations against its student athletes. Here are some examples of somewhat recent sexual assault cases and how the university and athletic department responded to act as precedent here. Feel free to draw your own conclusions, as my disappointment is likely pretty evident by the fact that I wanted to dedicate a post on the matter.
1. Brendan Gibbons & Taylor Lewan (2009)
This is the case that led to a federal investigation on the matter. Brendan Gibbons was a kicker who - when asked what he thought about when kicking the 2012 Sugar Bowl gamewinner - infamously responded, "Brunette girls." That quote had a deeper, more horrifying significance, though. The 6'1", 205-pound kicker raped a 106-pound freshman girl and did not get kicked off the football team and expelled until 2013. At that time, then-head coach Brady Hoke said Gibbons was sitting out of the Ohio State game due to a muscle problem. When he did not travel with the team to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Hoke said Gibbons was dealing with a family matter. It turns out that on December 19, 2013, the University's Office of Student Conflict Resolution sent a letter to Gibbons dismissing him from the team and expelling him for violating the Sexual Misconduct Student Policy. Notably, this was approximately one month after The Michigan Daily reported that there was "'a preponderance of evidence' against an individual that 'engaged in unwanted or unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature'" on a football player. The Daily even identified Gibbons as that player.
The woman reported the incident to her dorm's resident adviser, a university housing security officer, UM campus police, and the Ann Arbor police. The University Hospital performed a rape examination and found vaginal tearing. Before he could make his varsity football debut in 2009, Gibbons was arrested and admitted to having sex with her, but he said the sex was consensual. Shortly thereafter, his roommate Taylor Lewan committed a crime himself by threatening to rape the woman if she decided to go to the police and file a report to press charges against Gibbons. The campus police never filed charges.
Yes, the incident took place in 2009, and nothing substantial was done about it until days before 2014.
The federal Office of Civil Rights ("OCR") received two letters in August 2013 about how the University of Michigan handled this matter, one of which was filed by a former employee, and began its own Title IX investigation. "OCR has determined it is appropriate to proceed with an investigation on the following issue: that the University failed to promptly and equitable respond to complaints reports and/or incidents of sexual violence of which it had notice, and as a result students were subjected to a sexually hostile environment," stated the letter from OCR dated Feb. 24, 2014. "As part of that investigation OCR will review the University's Title IX grievance procedure including how it is being implemented in sexual harassment including sexual violence cases." The University has asked for multiple delays and has tried limiting the scope of the ongoing investigation to a much smaller number of incidences than the US Department of Education requested. So, initially, the investigation was for this sole incident, but it catapulted into an investigation into over about 180 cases and thousands of related documents.
If interested in learning more about this situation, The Hunting Ground, a documentary by a Michigan-native on college rape, is an intriguing source.
2. Logan Tuley-Tillman (2015)
This may be a name that fans remember who kind of just disappeared, and that is because he wound up transferring schools after this. Former Michigan offensive lineman Logan Tuley-Tillman plead guilty to two felonies in February 2016: "illegally capturing/distributing an image of an unclothed person and to committing a crime with a computer." One count of capturing/distributing an image of an unclothed person was dropped as part of the plea deal. Because the incident did not happen on campus, the Ann Arbor police had jurisdiction instead of solely U-M police. In the police investigation, he admitted he was drunk and high when he illegally recorded consensual sex without the woman's permission. The incident occurred on September 4 - the day after the season opener - and the woman made a report with the U-M Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center immediately after she discovered the two videos. Afterward, the University quickly kicked him off the team for "conduct unacceptable for a Michigan student athlete." For the record, the first charge had a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, and the second charge had a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and a $5,000 fine as well.
3. Jason Brooks (1998)
In September 1998, an anonymous woman filed a complaint with the University and alleged that offensive linebacker Jason Brooks sexually assaulted her, making sexual advances toward her without consent as she walked into South Quad one night. Under the Code of Student Conduct, the University made Brooks attend counseling and prohibited him from contacting the alleged victim as his only punishment. The woman was disappointed in the process' result, saying, "When he chose to do that, he forfeited his rights and privileges as a member of that team ... Going into the (Code) process, all I wanted was for Jason Brooks to be removed from the football team."
4. Bernard Robinson, Jr. (2002)
Former captain of the Men's Michigan Basketball team Bernard Robinson, Jr. was charged with misdemeanor sexual assault his sophomore year at Michigan. Allegedly, he inappropriately grabbed and fondled a female student in the stairwell of one of the residence halls in April 2002. In a plea deal, he pled guilty to two counts of assault and battery in exchange for dropping three counts of fourth-degree sexual conduct. Legally, his sentence was 12 months probation for that charge, which included sex-offender screening, delivering a presentation to other Michigan student athletes about criminal sexual assault, an $850 fine, and a letter of apology to the woman. Per the University, Robinson did not receive a punishment. He went on to represent Michigan on the court as he served his probation, which led to a major student protest by those involved with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center on May 19. The petition stated, "We ask that Bernard Robinson Jr. be stripped of his captaincy for the 2003-2004 season, lose his basketball scholarship from the University of Michigan and be removed from the University of Michigan’s men’s basketball program." The petition, as you may have guessed, did not matter. During the previous season, he was the team's second-leading scorer.
The truth is that we will never really know what happened that night in front of Lou and Harry's. From the judicial angle, Perry struck a deal to end the judicial process before the case really got going and before the trier of fact could begin to sift through whatever evidence existed. From Michigan's angle, he was only guilty of a couple misdemeanors and already served a punishment by sitting out games and practices, likely giving him time to reflect on the seriousness of his actions.
Is it simply a sense of entitlement? Unfortunately, Michigan was even near the top of a list for Football Player Arrests (including criminal citations and charges) from 2010-2015, which reveals a scarier reality involving all kinds of behavior, but these issues - especially the sexual assault issue - extend well beyond just one school. It may be more appropriate to say that the issue extends across the entire administrative and legal system. To be fair, Perry was only charged with sexual assault, not convicted. Maybe the prosecutors really did not have enough evidence, or maybe they wanted to clear it off the docket. What if the case was in a different city besides East Lansing? What if this happened in Ann Arbor or on campus? Thinking about the scenario's factors may help broaden the overall conversation surrounding sexual assault among college athletes. From a young female alumna's perspective such as myself, my thoughts on what precedent shows as Michigan's evident decision-making pattern to some extent fall in line with the students who protested against the University's decision in 2003:
"By allowing [him] to continue to represent the
university on a national level, the university administration shows
a lack of commitment to ending violence against women on this
“Allowing [him] to continue to play for the
university’s men’s basketball team also sends a message
to this student body and to the nation at large that the University
of Michigan is less concerned with the character of its
student-athletes than with their athletic abilities."