Under National Collegiate Athletic Association rules, most football or men’s basketball players competing in a Division I program may transfer at will, but must sit out the first season at the new institution, while they "adjust to their new school and ensure that their transfer was motivated by academics as well as athletics."
Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie would normally be exempt from this rule because he transferred from a Football Bowl Subdivision program – Vanderbilt University – to one in the smaller Football Championship Subdivision, Alcorn State University.
However, it's unclear (on many levels, experts say) why McKenzie was allowed to take the field for Alcorn State on Saturday: another NCAA bylaw states that any student who transfers while disqualified or suspended from his previous institution for disciplinary reasons must complete "one calendar year of residence" at the new college, during which he or she is not eligible for competition.
But that didn’t keep him off the field Saturday. Out on a $50,000 bond and awaiting an Oct. 16 court appearance (pushed forward from an original Sept. 19 date), McKenzie – "a transfer from Vanderbilt," a game recap on Alcorn State’s website says - “saw his first action” in a Braves jersey. He ran for 80 yards on three kickoff returns in the team’s 7-51 loss against Mississippi State University.
McKenzie was placed on interim suspension from Vanderbilt and dismissed from its football team in June and was eventually arrested, along with three teammates, and subsequently charged with five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery for the alleged rape of an unconscious 21-year-old female student in one of their dorm rooms.
In a statement sent to Inside Higher Ed on Thursday night, Alcorn State President M. Christopher Brown II said, "Alcorn failed to sufficiently examine the allegations against McKenzie before allowing him to participate in our football program. In an effort to provide educational opportunities to a Southwest Mississippi student, Alcorn State University made an error in judgment."
McKenzie has been removed from the team "until further notice," Brown said.
The decision to bring McKenzie on conveyed a complicity with rape culture, said Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Sport in Society at Northeastern University.
“Either subliminally or just straight-out, people are saying, ‘Oh, that’s not a big deal, football trumps that,’ and I think that that kind of attitude is in many respects the kind of thing that got Penn State where it got,” Lebowitz said. “If you accept the attitude that football trumps even the most socially unaccepted behavior – gang rape – then what does it say actually about your view on civil society and your place in it?”
The case against McKenzie and his fellow athletes – Brandon Banks, Corey Batey and Brandon Vandenburg – moved unusually quickly as campus sexual assaults go. That's because police stumbled on the case unexpectedly: two days after the alleged June 23 rape, residence hall camera footage that campus officials were reviewing in an unrelated incident showed the players acting suspiciously. The footage made its way to city police, who arrested the suspects Aug. 9. All four have pleaded not guilty.
The suspensions, issued June 29, were and remain on an “interim” basis.
Details of the case continue to emerge, most recently, allegations that the players covered up a security camera and broke down the dorm door before raping the woman multiple times, and that head coach James Franklin told a player to delete footage of the incident.
The scene as it’s been described raises serious questions about the wisdom of bringing one of those students back onto a college campus, said Katherine Redmond Brown, founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes.
“When you have a gang rape situation like they’re accused of, what that signals to me is they’re targeted about it – they’ve done it before. This is not something where four guys just got together randomly and said, ‘Hey, you know what we ought to do?,' ” Redmond Brown said. “They should not have signed him. But because they did that anyway, people should be asking, 'What are the protections that you have put in place to make sure that other female students on campus are safe?' ”
Alcorn State could also run into legal trouble under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Redmond Brown said. “If this person has any kind of altercation or any kind of issue with another student on campus,” she said, “that university is now liable because they brought in a known safety risk onto the campus.”
A case like this is far from isolated, Redmond Brown added. Other, sometimes more high-profile teams have picked up transfers in trouble for disciplinary issues.
“Either they’re going to work on him to make sure that they minimize the risk – get him into counseling and all of that – which I can tell you that most likely, they won’t,” she said, noting athletes’ packed schedules and the pull of athletes and athletic officials on campus. “Or, they believe that they have enough protections in place at the school and in that community that if he does anything, they can address it before a report is ever filed. That’s the scary part – that’s the part that makes me very nervous.”
Lebowitz traced the problem back to how people think about men and Division I football – or, “God on campus” – and colleges’ failure to be proactive in changing the culture so that this type of behavior is no longer acceptable.
“We have a definition of manhood that pretty much revolves around what I would consider a power dynamic of domination,” Lebowitz said. “I think this case is just another example of the worst outgrowths or perversion in competition, and what the result is of that construct of manhood played out at its worst level.”
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