It’s not hard to understand why no one on the Nets wants to talk about the Andray Blatche “situation,” as people tend to refer to it. He’s been playing well and the Nets have, too. They’re on an 8-1 roll under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, and they’re trying hard to make a good impression on their new hometown. So who wants to wade into the dirty waters of a sexual assault accusation? And who wants to risk being unfair to Blatche, without all the facts in? No one’s even been charged. Can’t they just play basketball?
It’s an understandable reaction, and most teams in similar situations have done what the Nets are doing: ignoring it as much as possible, and hoping it will go away. Still, the complete dismissiveness of everyone in the Nets’ organization who’s spoken publicly, and the lack of noise in the media about it, is striking.
To be clear, Blatche himself is not being accused of sexual assault. But he was staying in a suite with two friends who are. He was taken in for police questioning early on Jan. 8, after a woman called police to the Four Seasons in Philadelphia around 3:30 in the morning saying she had been raped. Blatche was released later that morning, and police told reporters that he was not suspected of taking part in an assault, but had been present in the suite at the time. The victim -- a 21-year-old who’s been described as both a student and a stripper, seemingly depending on how a given news outlet wants to portray her -- said in an anonymous interview with Philadelphia’s ABC affiliate that she believes she was drugged, and that Blatche watched part of her assault and was aware of what was happening to her.
Blatche himself, when asked about these events, said: “I’m not worried at all.’’ And, “When the truth comes out, then everybody will realize what really happened. In the meantime I can’t really have too much comments on it.’’ Asked if he thought he might need to reevaluate who he was hanging out with, he simply said: “No.”
Now, Blatche’s lawyer no doubt told him not to say much to reporters, which is good and standard legal advice, and Blatche can hardly be blamed for following it. Still, a tiny bit of concern might not go amiss here. After he was questioned and released by police, he tweeted, “I’m ok and I didn’t do anything jus was n the area when it happened.” Well, glad you’re OK. The tweet was deleted soon after.
As for Blatche’s coach, Carlesimo is, if anything, even less inclined to waste his breath on the matter.
“He's been playing well and I expect him to play well today," was Carlesimo’s response, hours after Blatche was questioned by police. (Blatche did play well that night, scoring 20 points. But the idea that these accusations might possibly be more important than how or whether he’d play seems never to have occurred to anyone on the team.) Carlesimo also said he hadn’t discussed the allegations with Blatche.
As for the rest of the Nets organization, general manager Billy King said in a statement, standard under these circumstances, that the team was aware of the investigation, and that, "We will have no further comment until the investigation has concluded.” Oh, and in case you were worried: "All of our players are available for tonight's game."
No one expects the Nets to take strong action this early in an investigation, or to decry their own player -- especially when police action seems unlikely. But not even a boilerplate “we take this very seriously?” No “we are concerned?” Nothing to indicate they are, in any way, upset about what may have happened? Maybe a fine is in order for (at the very least) poor judgment in partying at 3:30 a.m. the morning of a game, and dragging the team’s name into a police investigation? Or how about some education for players on issues surrounding sexual assault and consent?
Maybe none of that would accomplish an enormous amount. But at least it would be some acknowledgement that there was reason to be alarmed here. Instead, we had two days of articles on the incident, a bunch of wildly unconcerned quotes, and then complete silence.
There’s a lot that’s still unclear and a lot we don’t know. The day after the alleged assault, reports surfaced that the police had found “the date-rape drug” in the hotel suite and that photos of the victim were found on Blatche’s phone. The day after that, police said it was not the date-rape drug they found but “something else” -- what, we don’t know yet -- and there’s been no further news on any cell phone photos, which remain unconfirmed.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said that he didn’t know if any charges would be filed in the case, because the witness “was so intoxicated. She is not going to be a very good witness." (Given that being too drunk to consent to sex meets the legal definition of rape, whether the woman was also drugged or not, that’s a rather odd statement). He also told The New York Times that the woman had had “consensual sex” with one man and “nonconsensual sex” with the other man, which differs from what the victim told ABC in her interview.
So, yes, this case is messy. And it is both expected and fair for the Nets to say: Until we know more, we won’t be taking any action. But they haven’t even so much as implied that there’s any action they could take. Surely there must be some middle ground between this and an unfair overreaction?
Blatche came to the Nets after a troubled career with the Wizards, but most of the problems he encountered in D.C. were on a much less sinister scale than this. When he left Washington, Dan Steinberg, who covered him for years, called him “a nice enough kid” who “just kept finding his way into ridiculous stories.” Most of the stories Steinberg remembers are somewhere between amusing and frustrating: being listed as a host for a Florida club’s “lapdance Tuesday,” apparently having Gilbert Arenas poop in his shoe (… really), and ongoing conditioning issues.
He was also arrested for reckless driving with a suspended license, and for solicitation of a prostitute (she turned out to be an undercover police officer) -- less amusing, but still well within range of possible redemption in Brooklyn this season. The night of the alleged assault, Blatche was actually out celebrating the Nets’ decision to fully guarantee his one-year contract. But these newest allegations are on another scale.
It never takes long in any discussion of athletes and sexual assault for someone to bring up the Duke lacrosse team. That case was a legitimate miscarriage of justice and, yes, a valuable reminder that we should not rush to condemn those accused. However, it doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of rape accusations are not false. And the alternative to unfairly condemning someone does not need to be doing, or even saying, absolutely nothing.
The Nets have turned over a new leaf in many ways this season: new arena, new borough, new fans. Perhaps they could also find a new way for teams to respond to allegations like the ones facing Blatche right now. It’s not easy or simple, and the legal issues are admittedly complex. But surely there is a way to respect the rights of their player while still making it clear that this is something they take seriously, something that concerns them -- and something more important than Blatche’s stats and playing time on any given night.