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Gareon Conley's sexual assault investigation was handled irresponsibly by networks during the draft

Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley was not in Philadelphia and did not attend the draft after a story broke Tuesday that he is under investigation in Cleveland for alleged sexual assault.

Things became deeply unsettling when it came time for ESPN to discuss the Raiders’ selection, because Jon Gruden and Louis Riddick came to his defense, while Mike Mayock on the NFL Network made a point of highlighting that Conley’s accuser could be lying.

Trey Wingo asked Gruden to break down the risk of selecting Conley in the first round, at which point the NFL analyst used his personal experience with the team as a justification for why the pick made sense.

“All I can say is, I know Mark Davis — the owner of the team. I know Reggie McKenzie, and I know they have done extensive research and homework — and I think they trust this kid and they believe 100 percent that he is innocent, or they wouldn’t have done this. In the first round, I hope that’s the case.”

Riddick then jumped in to give his two cents and defend Conley as well.

“All my research and all the people I talked to say that there was nothing, there was nothing in his background beforehand, before this draft that would have led them to believe he was any kind of risk in any way, shape or form. So this is something that totally caught people off guard. Look, I know Reggie McKenzie as well, I know Joey Clinkscales, the director of player personnel. They wouldn’t have made this pick if they weren’t comfortable that everything was going to turn out the way it needed to.”

Gruden and Riddick turned a question about whether the Raiders were taking a risk into a referendum on Conley’s guilt or innocence. They used their prior relationship with people inside the Raiders organization to justify why they thought the pick was okay, and in doing so — consciously or not — they told millions of viewers they think Conley is innocent, with no evidence other than the character of people they know.

Their statements were so effusive that Trey Wingo was forced to interject.

“We’re not saying that he didn’t commit this. We’re just saying ‘This is what people have told you’ about his character when you’ve asked about him. We just want to make sure we’re clear on that.”

Gruden’s statements were based on conjecture from knowing and trusting the Raiders’ front office. Riddick’s statements about Conley’s “character” have zero bearing on the potential for him to be guilty of sexual assault. It’s important to remember the actual statistics on sexual assault.

  • 2% - 8% of police reports of rape are proven false. (RAINN, 2012)
  • 54% of all rapes go unreported. (Chen, Black, and Saltzman 2011)
  • Only between 16% and 19% of rapes are reported to the police. (National Center for Policy Analysis, 1999)

Mike Mayock didn’t outwardly defend the selection, but he made a mess of discussing the issue as well.

“Obviously if he laid a hand on that woman without her consent I hope he doesn’t get drafted ever. But at the end of the day if this woman’s lying about everything — congratulations to the young man.”

By choosing to use the phrase “if this woman’s lying” he positions the accuser as the aggressor, rather than simply stating, “If Conley is found innocent,” which should be the focus of the discussion — especially given he is the player being selected in the draft.

Ultimately, this conversation shouldn’t exist in the first place. There is an ongoing police investigation, and that should suffice. Conley said he will submit to a DNA test Monday, and vehemently denied the allegation. That is all any of us know.

The way both ESPN and the NFL Network covered the selection of Gareon Conley took a serious issue and discussed it irresponsibly. The league has a long-established history of putting football ahead of violence toward women, and on draft night the networks covering it did the same thing.