There’s a dark cloud hovering over the football team, more dense and disturbing than the Owls’ 1-9 start.
Last week, former starting fullback Wyatt Benson was sentenced to community service and other penalties on a charge of simple assault. According to court records, Benson was arrested in August after an incident at the University of Pennsylvania where a student was struck in the eye after an argument.
Benson was suspended from the football team in the summer. He joined a number of football players in the past few years who have had assault charges filed against them and been removed from the team.
In May 2012, former linebacker Praise Martin-Oguike was arrested and charged with the rape of a female student in an incident that she said occurred inside a dorm at the 1940 residence hall. After being expelled from the university, Martin-Oguike had all of his charges dropped on the first day of his trial in October.
This past summer, another former linebacker, Olaniyi Adewole, was suspended from the football team after he was arrested in May and charged with aggravated assault and simple assault. The first day of his trial is scheduled for Dec. 16.
These cases shed light on a gross hypocrisy with the football team, which seems more concerned with its stake in the new American Athletic Conference than the safety or moral standing of its players.
Senior defensive tackle Kamal Johnson entered a guilty plea last month to two counts of disorderly conduct and one count of harassment. He was arrested in connection to an October 2012 incident in which a 21-year-old female student told police that her boyfriend forced himself into her apartment, assaulted her and locked her inside a bedroom for more than three hours, refusing to let her leave.
“These domestic incidents are the cases that later turn into our homicides,” Judge Robert F. Gordon said during the trial. “That’s why we take them so seriously.”
A spokeswoman with the Philadelphia Police Department said the victim showed signs of scratches, bruising and a contusion on her head. Johnson turned himself into police the next day.
Though Johnson’s charges were similar to Benson’s, his status with the football team is in good standing. He has started in six of the team’s 10 games.
It’s unfathomable that the football team would allow a man who has pled guilty to such crimes to continue playing. When the charges against Johnson were initially filed, a press release indicated that Johnson would be suspended from the football team “until the situation is resolved.” However, Johnson was reinstated in time for training camp this season.
When his case was still active, records showed Johnson was the only participating student-athlete at Temple who had a criminal felony charge filed against him in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, no one in the athletic department has offered an explanation as to why.
Coach Matt Rhule said he was “unaware” of Johnson’s legal proceedings when The Temple News questioned him at a press conference this past September. When later asked in an interview why Benson was suspended from the team but Johnson remains active, Rhule refused to comment.
Athletic communications has denied interview requests with players on the subject and refused to comment on Benson’s future status with the team last week.
It’s time the university starts offering some answers. The Temple community deserves to know why a self-admitted criminal has been allowed to continue to wear the Owls uniform.
The university has ramped up the marketing of its football team as part of the “Temple Made” campaign. It’s arguably been the single-most advertised aspect of the university during the campaign’s first year. But by allowing Johnson to continue playing on the team, the university should reconsider the message it’s sending.
CORRECTION: A version of this article that appeared in print on Nov. 19 incorrectly stated the arrest date of Wyatt Benson. Benson was arrested in August, not April.