Sports Illustrated on 07 March 2011
THE TROUBLE AT PITT
Twenty-two Panthers players—the most of any team in the study—turned out to have criminal records, including four arrested for alleged violent incidents last season
ON SEPT. 22, 2010, police responded to a 911 call reporting that a man was choking a woman outside a dorm at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. When officers arrived, they found Chatham student Donna Turner bent over on a porch, crying and vomiting. She identified her attacker as Jeffrey Knox, a freshman defensive back at the University of Pittsburgh.
According to the criminal complaint, after Knox and Turner began arguing, Knox allegedly "open handed slapped Turner in the head with such force that she was thrown to the ground. Knox then jumped on her, grabbed her by the throat, picked her up by her throat and slammed her head into the wall. He held her against the wall, continuing to choke her."
When two female witnesses tried pulling Knox off Turner, the criminal complaint states, he threw punches at them and knocked them down. Turner later testified in a hearing that during the incident Knox threatened to kill her, a charge he denies.
Knox was charged with simple assault, disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment. Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt promptly kicked him off the team. Knox, who will be formally arraigned on March 3, has denied all allegations through his lawyer.
Knox is one of 22 Pitt players the SI/CBS News investigation found to have been in trouble with the law—the highest total among the 25 teams in the study. He was the fourth Panthers player arrested for a violent crime in a span between mid-July and late September of last year. On Sept. 18, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Keith Coleman was charged with aggravated assault, harassment and disorderly conduct. Police records state that he beat up one man and body-slammed another who attempted to intervene. Coleman was suspended indefinitely. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is awaiting trial.
Six days before Coleman's arrest, redshirt freshman running back Jason Douglas was charged with aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence. According to the criminal complaint, Douglas hit a male pedestrian, whom police found lying in the street, bleeding from his head and throat. After being stopped by police, Douglas stumbled from his vehicle and said, "Hey, I play for Pitt football ... . Please don't arrest me." He was suspended from the team and has pleaded not guilty.
And last July senior defensive end Jabaal Sheard was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest after allegedly throwing a man through the glass door of an art gallery. Authorities said that after police arrived, Sheard continued to punch the man in the face as the victim lay on his back, bleeding. Sheard was suspended from the team, but after pleading guilty in early August to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct, he was reinstated for the 2010 season and had nine sacks and four forced fumbles.
Before this rash of arrests Pitt had no formal procedure for screening football recruits. After Knox's arrest the school implemented a policy requiring coaches to seek more detailed background information on potential players. "This evaluation is not a legal criminal background check," the university explained to SI in a statement. "Rather, it is a checklist of questions that attempts to gain greater knowledge of behavior from a variety of people."
University chancellor Mark Nordenberg and athletic director Steve Pederson declined requests for comment. Wannstedt, who resigned in December for unrelated reasons, said, "Young players make mistakes, but when you're wrong, you're wrong."