Dezmine Wells could be headed to a happy ending. He reportedly will enroll at the University of Maryland less than two weeks after he was offically expelled by Xavier, and could be on the court for the Terrapins at the start of the 2013-14 season.
Wells, 20, became the collegiate equivalent of a free agent when Xavier expelled him Aug. 21, citing a "serious violation" of the school's code of conduct due to a sexual assault charge. As long as Wells escaped criminal charges, he was eligible to transfer to another school under the same rules as any other student-athlete. In other words, if the justice system gave Wells another chance, he would hopefully head to a new school abashed and contrite, eager to show he is not the person those accusations imply he is.
The lesson does not appear to have been entirely learned, unfortunately.
"The last couple of weeks have been the toughest time in my life for my family and I," Wells said in a quoted news release. "I've learned that it is a major responsibility that comes with being a student-athlete at all times. I'm thankful God has blessed me with a second opportunity to continue my education."
The second sentence contains the problem with Wells' understanding of this issue. His error was not allegedly violating the "major responsibility that comes with being a student-athlete." The alleged action would be a violation of the moral responsibility of any human being, and implying that the whole mess comes as a result of the greater focus paid on student-athletes than other college students misses the point. True, if Wells were not an athlete in a so-called "revenue" sport, this would not be a national story. But the charges and the news coverage are two separate things.
As this story has developed, it has become increasingly evident that Xavier, a Jesuit university in Cincinnati with an enrollment of less than 4,500 undergraduate students, reacted too swiftly. Eight days after Wells' expulsion, a grand jury declined to indict Wells on the sexual assault charges, briefly offering Wells hope that he could re-enroll at Xavier. But the school maintained its ruling, implying in a statement that it heard evidence that "may or may not have been heard by the Grand Jury," a contention that Merlyn Shiverdecker, Wells' attorney, found preposterous.
"That is self-serving gobbledygook," Shiverdecker told ESPN.com. "I think they were committed to the process and not the fairness of the outcome. Dez Wells got thrown under a bus because of their commitment to the process."
In an interview with CBS Sports' Jeff Goodman, Wells appeared to grasp the crux of the issue.
"I understand the severity of the accusations," he said. "Rape is one of the highest felonies in the world, but I think [Xavier] just panicked."
As much as one might agree with Wells on that last point, the extent of his remarks in news accounts and official statements suggest he did not truly grasp the seriousness of the issue. He told Goodman he wondered whether he would ever play basketball again, which is sort of an odd thing to say for a guy who had a potential criminal indictment looming. One could argue that Wells knew the accusation was bogus and that he would be cleared, but crazy things can happen in the legal system. Had the grand jury ruled there was enough evidence to pursue a case, Wells would have been at the whim of 12 jurors with their own biases and preconceptions about rape, athletes and, yes, black men.
The Terps have landed themselves a heck of a basketball player. Wells would have been the leading returning scorer for the Musketeers, whose rebuilding effort after the graduation of Tu Holloway and Kenny Frease is now even tougher. In College Park, Md., Wells will have to be on his best behavior as he tries to rebuild his reputation and faces the wrath of people who may not know that the sexual assault accusations never evolved into criminal charges. He will have a responsibility to avoid compromising situations, not because he is a student-athlete but because he is a person who should know right from wrong.