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Kenan Christon, suspended USC running back, accuses school of unfair treatment

USC running back Kenan Christon carries the ball in front of Arizona State safety Aashari Crosswell.
USC running back Kenan Christon carries the ball in front of Arizona State safety Aashari Crosswell during a game in November 2019. Christon was removed from the team in September.
(Matt York / Associated Press)

When Kenan Christon vanished from USC’s football team in early September, just days after the Trojans’ season-opening win, no explanation was offered as to why the junior running back was suddenly “removed from team activities.”

But nearly three months later, with USC’s season in a tailspin and Christon facing sanctions from the university, new details have emerged about an altercation that led the university to suspend the promising Trojan running back.

Accompanied by his lawyer and local civil rights activist Najee Ali, Christon told The Times he feels he’s been treated unfairly by the university and its student judicial process over a physical altercation with another male student that resulted in no arrests or charges filed.

The two students have since reconciled via text message, Christon says. But a six-week investigation conducted by Andrew Barton, a judicial officer within USC’s office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards, found Christon responsible for seven violations of the student code of conduct and suspended him from USC’s campus and all other university activities, including football, through Dec. 14, 2022.

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Christon and his lawyer, Anton Diffenderfer, are accusing Barton of conducting “an incomplete and inadequate investigation” by not pursuing evidence that would have helped Christon’s case. Ali also alleged that the university’s student judicial process is “racially biased” and “unfair to student athletes of color.”

“We have looked at this in line with university policy and have taken appropriate action,” the university said in a statement to The Times. “We are unable to talk about the details because of student privacy laws.”

During a news conference Tuesday, Christon spoke publicly for the first time about the incident and his suspension, apologizing for what he called “a big misunderstanding.”

“I just want to say again, I’m sorry. I would like my life to be back to normal,” Christon said. “I’ve worked so hard to be where I am today, and for this to happen it’s just, it’s a lot to me. I do feel that my punishment is excessive. I have missed out on the football season due to being suspended until the end of next year. I think it’s crazy for me to miss a whole ‘nother football season. Overall, it seems like this is just stopping my future. It doesn’t seem fair.”

Ali, who previously advocated on behalf of former Trojan wideout Munir McClain, called on USC to reinstate Christon immediately. He accused USC of a “double standard” in its treatment of Black and white students in the judicial process and used McClain, whose 2020 saga led him to transfer to Utah, as an example.

Christon, who is appealing the suspension, told The Times on Monday that he “takes full responsibility” for the incident. On Tuesday, his mother, Persephonie, tearfully called for Christon to get his life back.

Kenan Christon is surrounded by supporters as he addresses the media on the USC campus Tuesday.
(Ryan Kartje / Los Angeles Times)

“I can’t get this time back,” Christon said. “I don’t know what to do. I’m just sitting here watching my teammates on my iPad. Of course, it’s my fault. That’s what I’m telling myself. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have done this in the first place.”

The Sept. 5 dispute, Christon explained, started after a male USC student who attended high school with Christon’s girlfriend responded to a post of hers on social media. Christon said he sent a direct message to the other student, asking him not to speak to his girlfriend. The conversation and tensions escalated from there.

When he asked for a face-to-face meeting, Christon said the other student sent him a fake address. The next day, Christon said he encountered the other student outside his apartment building on Figueroa Street.

Though Christon said their meeting was coincidental, the investigator concluded that it was “more likely” that Christon went to the student’s residence “with the intent to confront him.”

Accounts of what happened in the minutes after they met differ. The other student, according to a crime report from USC’s Department of Public Safety obtained by The Times, told officers on the scene that Christon confronted him in his apartment’s secured parking garage around 1:20 p.m. on Sept. 5, then followed him as he walked northbound on Figueroa Street. The student said Christon provoked the altercation by breaking a $500 gold necklace he was wearing, knocking a hat off his head and destroying his sunglasses.

USC running back Kenan Christon carries the ball during a game against Colorado in October 2019.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Christon, who says he never entered the parking garage, didn’t dispute breaking the other student’s sunglasses or necklace during their tussle, but said the student attempted to provoke him by threatening to ruin his career, then sticking a phone in his face multiple times to record video.

Both said that soon after they crossed 30th Street, Christon came up behind the student and put him in a headlock. Christon admitted he escalated the altercation to physical contact, but he said it lasted only a few seconds. The other student said it lasted between 30 seconds and a minute. According to USC’s decision letter, surveillance footage from a nearby security camera showed the headlock lasted 17 seconds as the two of them tumbled to the ground. The other student later told officers that he “lost consciousness” and “started to [lose control] and see stars.”

DPS officers were sent to the scene around 3 p.m. At 3:15, the other student messaged Christon on Instagram.

“Cops are on the way and I have video,” he wrote, according to a screenshot of the Instagram message viewed by The Times. “Rip ur career.”

The other student declined to comment when reached by The Times.

Christon received a call from the DPS that afternoon and later met with officers. No charges were filed. But two days later, Christon was pulled out of a meeting by then-football coach Clay Helton, who told him the university had ruled he was no longer allowed to participate in any team activities or competitions. An emailed letter from USC on Sept. 7 confirmed that “interim protective measures” had been imposed against Christon.

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Christon hasn’t been with the football program since. The running back said he hopes to stay at USC, but feels “like I’m obligated to leave, like they don’t want me here.” In his appeal, which is still ongoing, Christon asked for a second chance from USC.

Twice he met with Barton, who later ruled that Christon “has not demonstrated an understanding of the severity of his actions, his responsibility for escalating this situation or the danger to [the other student’s] health.”

Christon and the other student appear to have since reconciled, according to text messages that were reviewed but not independently verified by The Times.

Christon apologized and told the other student, “I just want all this to just go away.”

The other student then apologized for offending Christon by contacting his girlfriend. He added that he would “talk to whoever I have to do [sic] this all goes away.”

“I’m sorry it got this far,” he wrote. “I didn’t want it all to blow up like this.”


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