Late Wednesday night, The Detroit News dropped a report that new Lions coach Matt Patricia was indicted, but never tried for sexual assault in 1996. The cases against Patricia and his football teammate/fraternity brother Greg Dietrich were dismissed in part because the victim did not feel she was able to handle the stress of a trial.
This was news to the Lions, who missed the indictment because their background check only searched criminal convictions.
When approached by The Detroit News, team president Rod Wood initially said “I don’t know anything about this” — but hours later said his review of the situation only reinforced the team’s decision to hire Patricia.
“I am very comfortable with the process of interviewing and employing Matt,” Wood said. “I will tell you with 1,000-percent certainty that everything I’ve learned confirmed what I already knew about the man and would have no way changed our decision to make him our head coach.”
Wood also said the woman recanted the sexual assault allegations multiple times — a claim not substantiated by existing records or lawyers for Patricia and his fraternity brother.
To be fair, Patricia has been a public figure for a long time by virtue of his success as the New England Patriots defensive coordinator and this part of his past never boiled to the surface of public consciousness. But the Lions, as they’re wont to do, look incompetent and flat-footed in the wake of the News’ report. They quickly formed ranks behind Patricia, trusting that his side of the story is factual, meaning they are entrenched should new information come to light.
Yet again we are confronted with another situation where the reality of an NFL team’s fact-gathering mission fails to square with the bill of goods sold to the public. Like the Josh Allen tweets that surfaced on draft day, Patricia’s complicated past should have been easily knowable to any team looking to bring him in as a coach. The league is consistently looking like a student who brags about being detailed-oriented but fails to do the required reading.
Deadspin was able to find Patricia’s sexual assault indictment in 30 seconds with Nexis, a common public record service even the smallest of news outlets pays for. There’s obviously a major gulf between an indictment and a conviction, but why wouldn’t the Lions use the extra keystrokes to make sure they had all the bases covered?
There will be great disagreement about both the newsworthiness and practical impact of the Patricia revelations. For the record my personal stance is: of course an indictment is fair game; an image-conscious league has more of a decision to make in the #MeToo era than many realize. But set aside the subjective for a minute.
Patricia now objectively has a more difficult job today than he did yesterday. His press conference in a few hours will now be a zoo. He’ll be asked tough questions as will the Lions. The organization would be in a much better spot if they’d known about the 1996 incident on the front end. They could say they embarked on the hire with eyes wide open and no trepidation.
Now they’re hoping against hope to win a perhaps unwinnable p.r. campaign.
This could have happened to any team and it’s unclear if a more competent front office would have done all the homework. There’s certainly nothing surprising about the Lions botching a fairly straightforward project. This is an organization incapable of shooting straight.
The only way to fix this now is straight answers. And even then, the overlords on Park Avenue may see things differently. An easily manageable — if not avoidable — mess.