The N.F.L. has announced that it will look into a sexual assault allegation made in the 1990s against Matt Patricia, the newly hired coach of the Detroit Lions.
“We will review the matter with the club to understand the allegations and what the club has learned,” Brian McCarthy, an N.F.L. spokesman, said.
The Detroit News reported Wednesday that in 1996, Patricia, who was 21 at the time, and a friend were arrested while on spring break in South Padre Island, Tex. A woman accused them of entering her hotel room and sexually assaulting her. Patricia and the friend were indicted by a grand jury on a charge of aggravated sexual assault, but the case collapsed after the alleged victim declined to testify. It never went to trial.
At a news conference on Thursday, Patricia proclaimed his innocence. “I’m here to defend my honor and clear my name,” he said in his opening statement. “Twenty-two years ago I was falsely accused of very serious allegations.”
Patricia wouldn’t say whether he had consensual sex with the alleged victim or otherwise explain what happened on the night in question, besides reiterating his innocence and that the charges were false. He said he had never been asked about the allegations during his lengthy football career, and that he did not lie during his interview with the Lions.
The Lions’ team president, Rod Wood, and their owner, Martha Ford, told The Detroit News that they were not aware of the allegation, and that the team’s background check of Patricia was “limited to employment matters only.” In a statement released after the publication of the Detroit News report, the Lions said that they “believe and have accepted Coach Patricia’s explanation and we will continue to support him.”
At the time of the alleged assault, Patricia was an aeronautical engineering major and offensive lineman at Division III Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. He became a graduate assistant at R.P.I. after graduating in 1996, and took a series of college coaching jobs before joining the New England Patriots in 2004, as an assistant. He rose to defensive coordinator, a position he held for six years before being hired by the Lions this off-season.
In recent years, the N.F.L., as part of its personal conduct policy, has increasingly punished its players for incidents that occur off the field, such as domestic violence. In some cases, the N.F.L. has assessed penalties, such as suspensions, even if the conduct does not result in legal proceedings.
It was unclear whether Patricia would be subjected to that policy for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the accusation might have been fabricated. Also, whatever may or may not have occurred 22 years ago happened long before Patricia entered the N.F.L. and years before the current conduct policy was put into effect.
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