The curious case of Florida Gator star wide receiver Antonio Callaway’s very private suspension has taken a nasty, public turn one day after he was welcomed back to practice for the first time since the end of last season.
A report by Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach on ESPN.com on Friday dropped a big bombshell revealing the nature of the original allegations and a nasty turn in the case that many thought was nearing a resolution.
First, lets reveal the backstory.
Callaway was quietly suspended less than a month after the Gators season-ending bowl loss.
Curiously the suspension wasn’t publicly announced until shortly before spring practice for reasons unknown.
At that time little was revealed except for a brief statement by head coach Jim McElwain that Callaway and former Gator quarterback Treon Harris were indefinitely suspended by the university from all team activities and would not participate in spring practice due to a potential student code of conduct violation. They were also suspended from attending classes on campus although they were permitted to finish up classes on line.
Harris, of course, has since transferred out.
At the time all coach McElwain would reveal was that the allegation was tied to “an incident which supposedly occurred in early December 2015.”
Throughout the spring and summer, fans and media alike had speculated what the alleged violation might be as well as the possible length of his suspension and any potential further sanctions.
One prominent Gator blogger even speculated it was a simple noise violation, a story which was later recanted.
When prominent Gainesville attorney Huntley Johnson, who has represented numerous Gator athletes over the years, was retained as Callaway’s attorney, he released a statement basically calling into question the merit of the allegations and suspension.
“At this time, the University of Florida has not presented to Mr. Callaway or [his counsel] any evidence relating to Mr. Callaway’s suspension,” the statement read. “Be that as it may, the law firm of Johnson & Osteryoung has conducted its own investigation as to the allegation that is the basis for the suspension. There is no good reason why this investigation has not been closed. This allegation has no merit.”
As a result, many thought the case would be settled in his favor and he would be reinstated in short order.
In June, Huntley announced that Callaway, while still suspended from the team, was cleared by the school to return to classes on-campus and to use team facilities.
On Wednesday on the eve of fall camp coach Mac said Callaway was still suspended but able to practice.
“There hasn’t been any change in the status [of Callaway],” McElwain said. “He’ll be practicing. Like I said, he’s back with the team from that standpoint. Nothing from a status standpoint has changed and there isn’t a time frame on that.”
It appeared, however, that a conclusion to the case was near.
Then came the bombshell.
Apparently the suspension is due to an ongoing university investigation into allegations by a university coed against Callaway and Harris accusing them of sexual assault.
And to make matters worse, the complainant’s attorney John Clune in a letter to UF deputy general counsel Amy Hass has alleged bias by the university in the selection of a hearing officer to adjudicate Callaway’s student conduct code hearing.
“This has been a difficult decision but as I previously indicated to you, the fact that UF has hired a football booster to adjudicate a sexual assault allegation against one of the team’s own football players is a fundamentally skewed process in which [the complainant] refuses to participate,” the letter read according to the ESPN report.
“To be clear, [the complainant] remains very willing to participate in a fair and unbiased disciplinary process. Mr. Calloway’s behavior has had a great impact on her life and continuing as a student at UF is of great importance to her and her future.”
The booster is Jacksonville attorney Jake Schickel a UF grad and a former trustee of the UF College of Law.
He is a financial contributor to both football and basketball booster programs associated with the university.
“UF should never have asked him [Scheckel] to serve as an objective reviewer and decision-maker on this matter when the claim has been brought against a star member of the very team for which both he and his law partners have provided considerable financial support,” the letter said.
“Quite frankly, short of finding a relative of Mr. Calloway, I’m not sure how UF could have found someone with more conflicts [than] Mr. Schickel.”
As a result, the complainant has chosen not to participate in the student code of conduct proceedings which are scheduled for Friday according to the report.
This leaves UF in a precarious position and its unsure if they’ll be able proceed with the hearing without the complainant’s direct testimony.
But most assuredly it paints the university in a bad light at a time when the NCAA is reeling from multiple allegations of schools mishandling or downright covering up sexual assault allegations against prominent athletes.
Callaway’s attorney Huntley Johnson released a statement on Friday which accuses the complainant’s attorney of intimidation.
“We have read what the complainant’ s attorney has released to the press,” the statement reads. “We consider his actions inappropriate and an attempt at intimidation. Since the complainant’s attorney has chosen to go to the press in this matter, we assume that he will be releasing the hundreds of pages that made up the University of Florida’s investigation. We assume that he will be releasing the sworn affidavits in this case. We assume that he will be releasing the complainant’s text messages in the investigation. We assume that he will be releasing the complainant’s multitude of varying and conflicting stories.”
The university offered a brief response to the allegations by Clune according to Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times.
“The University of Florida is prohibited to comment on the existence or substance of student disciplinary matters under state and federal law.”
“However, I can tell you that our student conduct process may be handled by a hearing officer, who could be a university employee or an outside professional, or by a committee of faculty and students.”
“Any hearing officer and all committee members are trained and vetted for their impartiality. A hearing officer or committee member would not be disqualified or lack objectivity simply because he or she had been a student athlete decades earlier or purchases athletic tickets as more than 90,000 people do each year.”
Where does this leave Callaway and his suspension?
It appears for now he will remain in limbo.
Check out the full ESPN report here.