Off the football field, Christian Peter, a defensive tackle for the University of Nebraska, has a dismal record. He faces the possibility of three months in jail and a $500 fine for grabbing a woman around the throat at a bar after a football banquet last month. Three months earlier, he had finished his probation for sexually assaulting a former Miss Nebraska.
In 1993, a woman filed a federal sex-discrimination suit against Peter and the University of Nebraska, claiming Peter raped her twice. He's been charged with, among other things, disturbing the peace, trespassing, refusing to follow a policeman's order, threatening to kill a parking attendant, and illegal possession of alcohol.
Because of the serious nature of his offenses, Peter was taken off the draft lists of a number of NFL teams. Not, however, the New England Patriots, who drafted him in the fifth round. When questioned about the pick, a team spokesman said the Patriots had talked to Peter about his conduct and "we think he's sorry."
A few days later, it was the Patriots who were sorry. After news organizations disclosed his record, and after reviewing information gathered by NFL Security, the team released its rights to Peter. Team spokesmen said they "discovered that our own investigation was terribly, terribly flawed."
Quite an understatement. Over the past year, Peter's record was featured in Sport Illustrated, the TV show "48 Hours," and a Boston Globe series on corruption in college athletics. The Patriots spend an estimated $1 million a year on scouting and gathering background information on college players. It's hard to believe the team could not know the extent of this player's - or any player's - problems.
At best, the Patriots showed ignorance. At worst, they revealed tolerance for violence against women and others. But at least, after much public pressure, the team acknowledged its mistake. Less can be said of the University of Nebraska. Peter's football coach, Tom Osborne, apparently saw little wrong with the star tackle's behavior. After all, other players on his team have been charged with assault too. When Peter pleaded no contest to sexual assault, Osborne simply suspended him from a week of practice and one game. And then he urged the New England Patriots to draft him.
Sports are a national passion. Their stars are heroes to the youths who will shape the country's future. Morality in athletics should fit the highest standards we aspire to as a society.