I’m introducing a new recurring feature where I will post an article I’ve read about interpersonal or sexual violence, and I will assign it a grade for the language it uses to describe the crime, the victim and the person who committed the crime. My hope is to illustrate how flawed and lacking media are in covering these topics, and also, to hold up any media that actually get it right. First up, the New York Post, a trashy tabloid in general, but one that has always had a formidable and lauded sports section.
On Sunday, I came across this article about a New York Knicks player, Daymean Dotson, who was kicked out of school at Oregon for violating school conduct and policy regarding a sexual assault he was accused of committing. This article, perhaps unlike any I have seen recently, underscores much of the work I have been doing at my own employer, to show how the status quo for writing about sexual violence is woefully inadequate, and damaging to victims and the public’s perception of these kinds of crimes.
I’ll share here the key language from the opening first 1/3 of the article so you can count HOW MANY TIMES the writer provides character endorsements of the player before ever getting into the details of the behavior that led to his being expelled. I bolded character endorsements and underlined troubling and vague language.
“Three years ago at this time, basketball wasn’t even on the table. Dotson had been kicked out of Oregon, along with then-teammates Brandon Austin and Dominic Artis, following a sexual assault investigation.
No charges were filed because of insufficient evidence, but they were banned from Oregon’s campus for at least four years. Dotson spent the following year at Houston Community College. Instead of playing basketball, he took anger management classes at the John Lucas Center and Wellness Program.
“His story is that of a comeback,” said John Lucas, the former NBA player who battled addiction and now runs a recovery program to help troubled athletes. “There are obviously people that got hurt. He has a second chance to get a first chance right.”
These days, life is very different for Dotson. The Houston native is just over a week away from his first NBA training camp. He recently inked a three-year contract with the Knicks that could pay him up to $4 million — with the first two years guaranteed — after impressing them at the NBA Summer League, averaging 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game while shooting 48 percent from 3-point range.
Those who know the 23-year-old Dotson insist the alleged sexual assault was atypical of the person they know, an anomaly that doesn’t reveal his true character.
University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said he was a model citizen in his two years there. Cougars teammate Rob Gray raved about his leadership qualities. High school coach Greg Wise didn’t recall Dotson ever getting into trouble, and described him as “one of the top five players I’ve ever had in terms of everything, being a person, a player.”
Two NBA teams The Post spoke with conducted thorough investigations into Dotson, and were comfortable enough to have him on their draft boards and select him had the Knicks not picked him 44th overall.
“We found it was an isolated incident,” a scout from one team said.
“He got a raw deal,” said an Oregon teammate, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Unbelievable attitude and work ethic. He’s a really good guy.”
Oregon’s entire coaching staff declined interview requests, and so did the accuser, though her attorney, John Clune. Austin declined comment through his agent, and Artis didn’t respond to an interview request. The Knicks wouldn’t make Dotson available for the story, and he never has spoken specifically about the alleged sexual assault.
His agent, Chris Patrick, said Oregon coach Dana Altman told him Dotson was one of the “top 10 kids I’ve coached.” Altman wrote a letter on Dotson’s behalf when Houston was looking into his situation.
“He’s genuinely a good person,” Patrick said of Dotson. “He’s got a charisma about him. He’s got a good group in his corner. Even on draft night, I got a call from him. He’s like, ‘Man, I’m not supposed to be here.’ Most kids aren’t like that.”
He is depicted differently in the disturbing police report, accused of raping an 18-year-old woman at a March 8, 2014, party along with Artis and Austin, and later at an apartment he was leasing. The players said the sex was consensual; the woman claimed otherwise.”
THIRTEEN. Count ’em, 13 character endorsements of Dotson before the writer ever gets to the actual details of what led to his being kicked out of Oregon and attending anger management classes – a detail the writer provides no explanation for or insights to.
The writer quotes coaches and agents, people who have a dedicated investment in Dotson being well-liked. He fails to provide balance for the reader that sexual predators are not easy to detect and are often people we know or like and least suspect.
Lastly, the only reference he makes to the young woman involved, in this segment, is as “accuser.” And that she had “no comment.” Later in the article, if you read the full story at the link I provided, she is introduced as a woman who was “highly intoxicated.”
I have not seen someone work this hard to make the reader believe that Dotson is a stellar person BEFORE we read about what he actually did and/or was alleged to have done. And there is every reason to believe the average reader walks away thinking that rape is a one-off crime and a mistake instead of a lifelong pattern and decision.
Zach Braziller and the New York Post, you get an F for this article.