The author, a Detroit native, has spent more than 20 years in sports journalism with The Detroit News, New York Daily News and ESPN. He's the editor of The Tribe Sports. This column is republished with permission.
By Michael James
An anonymous allegation of rape shouldn't outweigh a man's claims of innocence. But it often does.
It's unfair that such allegations, especially unproven ones, should derail a man's life and reputation. But they often do.
Which is why today, and for as long as Matt Patricia remains head coach of the Detroit Lions, the team operates one woman's voice away from crisis.
It may not be right to some. It might not be fair. But it is a fact.
Despite the fact that he was never tried or convicted in a court of law. Despite the team's declared public support.
Despite the feelings of Detroit Lions fans who believe in Patricia and feel it's unfair that he's maligned based on claims by someone who was too afraid to testify against him and Dietrich more than two decades ago.
In the #MeToo era -- despite the fact that the statute of limitations has long passed for prosecuting her allegations - should this woman decide to speak publicly at any time Patricia remains the face of the franchise -- the Detroit Lions' future will remain at risk.
It may not seem right. It may not seem fair. But it is a reality, despite team president Rod Wood's 1,000-percent confidence in Matt Patricia.
A Salacious Detail
This, despite the support of team owner Martha Ford and that of general manager, Bob Quinn, who worked with Patricia for 14 years with the New England Patriots.
This, despite Lions receiver Golden Tate calling the allegations "crap" or Patricia's lawyer, Jeff Wilson, branding the woman's claims "a fabrication."
Such is the fallout of Matt Patricia going through the interview process with the Detroit Lions and not feeling it important enough to make the franchise aware of this salacious detail from his past.
Patricia has made his statement, where he forcefully defended himself by saying "nothing happened," but would not address questions about what actually did happen.
According to a Texas grand jury indictmentr that found enough evidence of an assault for the case to proceed to trial, Patricia and Dietrich "burst into" the woman's room at the Radisson Hotel and took turns raping her by force.
Unlike most every other cases revealed in the #MeToo era, this woman called police the day of the alleged assault, which was taken seriously enough by Texas authorities that Patricia and Dietrich were arrested, charged and bonded out within hours.
Five months later, the case was dismissed. A prosecutor's notes say that happened only because the woman claimed she could not endure the stress of a trial.
This does not mean Patricia and Dietrich were innocent. This does not mean the pair were guilty.
But 22 years later, doubt and uncertainty hang over the Detroit Lions and their head coach.
It can all be undone if at any time the woman finds the courage she could not muster two decades ago and reaffirms her claims that Patricia and Dietrich did indeed sexually assault her.
That could happen during training camp. It could happen mid-season. It could happen should the Detroit Lions make the playoffs. Hell, it could happen should Patricia's years under New England's Bill Belichick pay off and the team advances to the Super Bowl.
Must Say What Happened
It's for this reason, in my opinion, Matt Patricia has to address not only what didn't happen 22 years ago in Texas, but also what actually did. Because it's the only way to get out in front of the ever-present calamity that will hover over him for the duration of his tenure, not only in Detroit, but for his entire career.
But there is a reason Patrica won't address what precipitated the woman claiming there was a rape: the possibility that the details he might provide in any further denial could subject him to a defamation lawsuit -- much like President Donald Trump is facing with porn star Stormy Daniels.
This could lead to a civil court case where all the 22-year-old dirty details of that alleged sexual assault are laid bare for the world to see.
It's something Patrica, his attorneys and the Lions desperately want to avoid.
When asked at a press conference what did happen, Patricia dodged the question, saying: "I think what's important here . . . is what didn’t happen. . . . I was innocent then and I am innocent now. I was falsely accused of something that I did not do."
For the moment, Patrica's denial is sufficient. Primarily because it's all we have.
But you can rest assured, his future and that of the Detroit Lions rests on tenuous ground.
It can all be undone if ever, or whenever, one anonymous woman decides to speak.