Guilty in the public eye

When the news broke in April 2007 that a group of Gophers football players had been arrested on suspicion of raping a woman, three lives were changed forever.

While the alleged victim remains out of the public eye, three names were displayed in the media, and from that moment on, the court of public opinion was in session.

E.J. Jones, Keith Massey and Alex Daniels, in a matter of days, went from young, aspiring football players to accused rapists. Although they were never charged, from the moment the first news stories appeared on air or in print, their lives were never the same.

The three players were arrested in connection with an incident at University Village Apartments that eventually led to the July arrest and conviction this month of a fourth former Gophers football player, Dominic Jones.

Athletics officials suspended the three players in April 2007, and later Dominic Jones, before dismissing them all from the team. Both Dominic Jones and E.J. Jones still have their athletic scholarships. Officials have until July 1 to decide whether to renew them. Massey and Daniels left the University.

The players stayed on scholarship since they had not yet been charged, athletics director Joel Maturi said.

Despite the fact that three of the players still haven’t been charged with a crime, Maturi said he and head football coach Tim Brewster decided the players’ actions were not “befitting” what they expect from people who represent the University.

“The decision was based, at that time, on an admittance of inappropriate conduct and behavior,” Maturi said. “There was an admittance of sexual acts with a young woman and we did not believe it was an appropriate thing.”

‘It was guilty until proven innocent’

Although he now attends Columbus State Community College in Ohio, Massey said he has a hard time escaping the image imposed upon him since he was accused.

“It was guilty until proven innocent, not innocent until proven guilty,” he said. “For me to be blamed for that and put on TV as a rapist, and I’m not even saying accused rapist, but really calling us rapists, it made me feel betrayed.”

With one year of NCAA eligibility left, Massey is trying to transfer to Bowling Green State University to play football. But it’s been a challenge.

“It’s hard to get into a lot of schools,” he said. “People don’t want to give second chances.”

On top of the image that has followed him to Ohio, other roadblocks stand in Massey’s way as he attempts to continue playing football.

When the police executed the search warrant, about $1,100 worth of damage was done to the apartment he shared with Daniels and E.J. Jones, Massey said, and the University wants him to pay before they’ll send him a transcript.

On top of the cost of damages, the University also charged him $900 for a dropped class, which Massey said he had to do because he couldn’t afford to stay in his apartment any longer. The players were forced to move to off-campus housing. Massey moved home to Ohio.

“After all of the things that we went through, I can’t get my transcript?” Massey asked. “They don’t have no sympathy for us or nothing.”

‘People were trying to make us guilty’

With three years of NCAA eligibility left, E.J. Jones still attends the University and hopes to return to the football team, but admits he’s not optimistic about his chances.

“I thought that they really cared about me and once they saw the truth, they would do something about it,” he said. “Nobody’s really doing anything about it.”

Maturi told E.J. Jones he was advocating for him to return to the team, but said it was Brewster’s decision and he couldn’t do anything about it.

But is it fair for three lives to be so drastically changed, based on an accusation?

“I know it’s a sensitive matter,” E.J. Jones said. “But that doesn’t mean we did anything wrong, and we deserve to have our football careers dismissed from us like that.”

E.J. Jones said both Brewster and Maturi made decisions based on false information and accusations publicized in the media.

“I would think more of my school than that, and think more of the people that lead me and instruct me than that,” he said. “To just wash their hands of a situation, because my life was in jeopardy, and it still is.”

E.J. Jones was also responsible for about $600 worth of damage done to the apartment by the police investigation, his mother, Joy Harris, said.

However, Harris said she’s more concerned with the unfair treatment her son received from the athletics department, saying if he didn’t do anything wrong, he shouldn’t be punished.

“It’s unrealistic for them to think that young men are not going to get involved in things like that,” she said. “It’s sex for God’s sake, it’s been happening since the beginning of time.”

Harris maintains her son didn’t take advantage of anyone that night, and points to the fact that he brought the alleged victim home the next day as evidence of that. But people don’t want to hear the truth, she said.

“We just wanted to get E.J. back to being normal, being a student,” she said. “That’s the thing I’m most angry about, because they did not give these guys a chance.”

As for Maturi’s insistence that her son didn’t fit the image of a Gophers athlete, Harris said she’s not sure how E.J. Jones violated that.

“He was never charged for raping somebody,” she said. “He was accused, but he wasn’t charged. The whole thing about innocent until proven guilty, they’re just saying that that’s not true, they’re just saying he’s guilty.”

When he asks about the possibility of rejoining the team, E.J. Jones said he still gets the “runaround.”

“It’s hard to just move on when you got something like this hanging over your head,” he said. “It was embarrassing, it was like nothing I ever endured before, nothing I ever gone through. It was like people were trying to make us guilty without knowing what happened.”

Jake Grovum is a senior staff reporter.