When the news surfaced late last week that Utah was among four or five college basketball programs interested in New York City schoolboy star Richie Parker despite his felony conviction for sexual abuse, Ute coach Rick Majerus told the New York Post he saw nothing wrong with the recruiting of Parker because "everyone I've spoken to in New York says he's a great kid." Utah assistant coach Donny Daniels proved even more callous by suggesting that too much sympathy was being showered on Parker's victim when Parker himself had endured "an emotional trauma."
It's not as if the facts of the crime are in doubt: On Jan. 4, 1994, Parker and a classmate lured a freshman girl into a basement stairwell at Manhattan Center High and forced her to perform oral sex on them. The 6'5" Parker, now 18, pled guilty to first-degree sexual abuse a year later and was sentenced to five years' probation. The classmate pled guilty to attempted sodomy.
Yet 10 days passed between Parker's guilty plea and Seton Hall's decision to rescind its November scholarship offer to him. Seton Hall's laggard withdrawal—which came only after heavy criticism of the Catholic university—allowed a school like Utah to pursue Parker, a guard who averaged 25 points as a senior. Asked how a convicted sex felon might be received in Salt Lake City, site of the Utah campus and headquarters of the Mormon church, Majerus said, "Isn't the essence of religion about forgiveness?" And Daniels, 40, the father of two girls and a boy, said Parker was an overlooked "victim."
"Will he ever be able to forget it?" Daniels asked. "She probably will get a doctorate and marry a successful guy and live over in the Hamptons.... This girl could have damaged Parker for life. Five years from now this will haunt him. They both made a mistake, they shouldn't have been there.... But everyone's worried about the girl. What about him?
"There are much worse crimes," Daniels added. "If he was a child molester, we wouldn't take him."
What a comfort.
It's unfair to seize on a few coaches and suggest that their lamebrained remarks prove college sports is a cesspool. ( Utah president Arthur Smith denounced Daniels's comments, though sterner disciplinary action against the coach seems warranted, and Utah will no longer recruit Parker.) But this is also true and deserves to be shouted from the mountaintops: When it comes to attitudes about sexual assault, the tolerance shown for the athlete and the contempt for the victim are nothing new. Nor are they rare.
Though the people and particulars change, there are identifiable patterns that persist across cases and time. Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight's infamous 1988 reprise of the old line that if "rape is inevitable, why not relax and enjoy it?" wasn't all that different from Daniels's comment, "Who's to say [Parker's victim] did something she didn't want to do?"
And the support that Parker has received even after his guilty plea is not all that different from the warm embrace that convicted rapist Mike Tyson has received from a flock of ministers and holy men—one of whom was accused of offering Desiree Washington up to $1 million to drop her charges against Tyson.
And when Tyson was recently released from prison, crowds lined the highway and cheered him—a spectacle that was hauntingly similar to the one that accompanied O.J. Simpson's excursion in his Ford Bronco. The crimes are different, but Simpson's supporters said precisely what Majerus said about Parker: He's a nice guy. Could everybody be wrong?