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Scott joins ranks of accused, but odds favor him
Mike Tyson, Kirby Puckett, Kobe Bryant. The Duke lacrosse team.
And now Austin Scott, one of the best football players to come out of the Lehigh Valley.
The list of male athletes charged with rape or other forms of sexual assault goes on and on. The phenomenon is so common it has spurred its own body of research.
Two themes emerge: Athletes, especially stars, appear to be more likely than other people to be accused of such crimes; but they are less likely to be convicted.
Todd Crosset, a professor of sports management at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, co-authored a study in the mid-1990s that found players on highly rated college football and basketball teams were ''disproportionately involved in incidents of sexual assault.''
''There's something about team cultures -- not all team cultures, but some -- which seems to fail to discourage sexual assault,'' he said Saturday.
Some athletes ''get a sense of entitlement at a very young age, because of their talent,'' said Katherine Redmond, who founded the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes after alleging she was raped by a University of Nebraska football player in the 1990s. ''Most of the time, where these athletes have stumbled or done something wrong, someone has been there to sweep it under the rug.''
Scott, 22, a 2003 Parkland High School graduate now on the Penn State University football team, was charged Friday with raping a woman in his campus apartment in the early morning hours of Oct. 5. He told police it was consensual sex.
Free on $50,000 unsecured bail, Scott has been suspended from the Nittany Lions but remains enrolled in school.
As for what happens next, Scott has reason to be hopeful -- if other recent, high-profile cases are any indication.
Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson is one of the few sports stars accused of sexual assault to serve time. Other athletes have seen their cases resolved in their favor.
The trial of baseball Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, accused of groping a woman in a restaurant bathroom, ended in 2003 with a not-guilty verdict. The rape charges against basketball star Kobe Bryant were dismissed the following year after his accuser declined to testify.
And gang-rape allegations against three Duke University lacrosse team players were dropped earlier this year. The prosecutor who targeted the lacrosse team was himself forced to resign and was disbarred for the way he handled that case.
Scott, meanwhile, has hired a lawyer with relevant experience: Joseph Amendola, who defended former Penn State defensive tackle Scott Paxson against sexual assault charges in 2005. (The charges were eventually dropped in a plea deal in which Paxson agreed to pay a $300 fine for disorderly conduct.)
''Austin Scott is an innocent man who has been falsely accused of sexual assault by a woman who sought out his affections,'' Amendola said in a press release Friday. ''We look forward to the opportunity to secure Austin's complete vindication.''
According to a police affidavit, Scott's accuser, an acquaintance he had drinks with in a bar, said she told Scott she did not want to have sex. She then rejected his offer to call a taxi, went to his home and fell asleep in his bed before awaking to unwanted sexual contact, she said.
She said she started to sit up and felt what she believed to be a punch to her back, and then she lay down in fear. In the morning, they embraced and she left, she said.
Generally, when sexual assault cases go to trial, they end in guilty verdicts, according to prosecutors. Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr., who is president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, put it this way: ''We almost invariably win.''
But USA Today found in 2003 that, when cases involve big-name athletes, the opposite is true. The newspaper looked at 168 sexual assault allegations against college and professional athletes over the previous dozen years; of those, 22 cases went to trial and six resulted in convictions.
Observers have struggled to explain the correlation between athletic prowess and success in the courtroom.
One theory is that wealthy sports stars, who can afford high-paid lawyers, benefit from the best legal representation. Another is that juries are loath to punish their heroes.
''When you have a figure who was as well-loved as Kirby Puckett was in this area, it poses a challenge for jurors,'' said Pat Diamond, the deputy county attorney in Hennepin County, Minn., whose office took on Puckett. ''They are uncomfortable with an image of an icon
doing something wrong.''
Crosset, the UMass professor, also cited a study that suggested some cases involving athletes are weak to begin with. Prosecutors, he said, might go forth with such cases because their judgment is impaired by the glare of the media spotlight.
''Would they bring that case forward if he wasn't a sports star?'' he asked, referring to Scott. ''I don't know.''
Reporters John Micek, Joe Nixon and Mark Wogenrich contributed to this story.