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Marquess Wilson, Mike Leach and the inherent issue with alleging 'abuse'

The former WSU wide receiver might yet be vindicated. But if his claims prove to be false - or even simply a matter of perception - the damage he's already done will be irreparable.

Even as it was proven Adam James lied, the former Texas Tech receiver went on with his life while Mike Leach was left to battle for his good name.
Even as it was proven Adam James lied, the former Texas Tech receiver went on with his life while Mike Leach was left to battle for his good name.
Brett Deering

When Marquess Wilson's "resignation" letter made the rounds about two hours before Saturday's game, it didn't take long for me to get absolutely sick to my stomach. Part of it was that I hated to see this whole situation end this way - I had been holding out hope that a mutual agreement still could be reached. But most of it had to do with the language that Wilson used.

Specifically, his use of the word abuse. Because saying that word is the proverbial bell that can't be un-rung, the toothpaste that can't be put back in the tube, and whether Mike Leach did anything that he's accused of is irrelevant today in the court of public opinion -- in this culture of snap judgments, people already are making up their minds.

Maybe Wilson knew exactly what he was doing, and this is what he wanted. Maybe he didn't anticipate the ramifications of what he -- or a representative of his -- was writing. I don't know Wilson at all, so I can't speak to his intentions. But at this point, the reality is that intentions don't really matter, because the damage is already being done. Comments similar to, "Maybe Adam James was telling the truth, after all!" and, "One accusation is an aberration, two is a trend" are popping up all over the place.

Even if Leach is exonerated, it's going to be a stain that can't be removed. We know this, because it's happened before.

In the wake of WSU hiring Leach, I was appalled at the number of people who still thought Leach actually locked Adam James in a closet. Why did they think that? I would assume it's because of the initial coverage in the wake of the allegation. In the newspaper business, it's a well-known fact that allegations appear at the top of A1, while the exonerations appear on C4. Mountains of evidence exists that James' accusations were patently false, yet the perception persists.

And perception becomes reality in a fraction of the time it used to.

I work in a profession where allegations of abuse are taken as seriously as they possibly can be. That's a good thing. Check that -- it's a great thing, and absolutely the right thing to do. If only one out of 100 -- or even 1,000, or whatever number you want to come up with -- allegations is proven to be true, it's all worth it to end the abuse to that one child. Because of what we know about the general reluctance of victims to come forward, it's imperative that we take every accusation seriously. There was a situation when I was a high school student that resulted in a teacher I was close to losing his job, and it was the right thing. The girl who was violated will always have to live with what happened, but justice was served as best it could be. I've also seen a colleague lose his job over a legitimate complaint.

However, to pretend what we've got is some sort of perfect system for ferreting out the abusers that doesn't come with collateral damage to the innocent is to be blind to the real world. I've watched as people I respect have been made to squirm, their careers hanging in the balance as allegations of impropriety are investigated. Even as they stand confident in the knowledge that they've done nothing wrong, they know that for the remainder of their career, even as the accuser fades into anonymity, there will always be this in their file: "Formally investigated for alleged abuse."

No matter who "wins" in these complaints, everyone loses.

And now, as President Elson Floyd does the wise thing and initiates a pair of investigations into Wilson's claims, Mike Leach will have been investigated not once, but twice for abusing his players. That's never going away, no matter the outcome. I won't pretend that the damage already done by the accusation somehow makes the outcome irrelevant; if cleared, he'll keep his multimillion-dollar job, and that obviously matters.

But there will always be that stain.

Perhaps Mike Leach is found to indeed be an abuser of college football players, at which time I'll gladly laud Wilson for his courage in standing up to a bully. And I'll lament the stain left on Wilson by Leach's actions, rather than the other way around.

But there's something about this that just doesn't feel right.

As I mentioned, I've seen both sides of this sort of thing, and in most cases signs tend to point one direction or the other from the outset. I want to take seriously Wilson's claims. I really do. But I'm left with so many nagging questions.

  • If justice, rather than public relations spin is the goal, why send it to the media on a Saturday three hours before a football game on national TV, rather than filing a formal complaint with the school on Friday or Tuesday?
  • Why fail to provide specific examples of abuse from the outset? When asked by Bud Withers, Wilson's stepdad, Richard Miranda, would not provide any examples of Wilson being abused, and could only come up with a "hearsay" example of what happened at halftime of the Utah game, suggesting - perhaps - that Wilson himself may not have even seen it.
  • Why, if Wilson had already quit the team because he was abused, would his stepdad have to push him to come forward with the allegations, as Miranda said? I understand victims often are reluctant, but at the point at which Wilson quit, there's really no reason for him not to come forward if it's true and as serious as the letter portrays. Leach has no more leverage in the situation.

I understand the third question is probably the weakest of all three - I'm aware that victims have all sorts of reasons only they know for being reluctant to come forward. But when combined with the other two irregularities, it adds up to something that makes me uncomfortable and makes it impossible for me to fully embrace the possibility that Wilson is telling the truth.

The problem with that? Not everyone will remember how this ultimately turns out, like I will.