The story of how Houston Texans wide receiver Keith Mumphery was ousted from his job upon an old story being dredged up, and the story itself being a classic example of the failure of due process on multiple levels, was bad. Very bad.
Mumphery graduated in 2014 and was going for his masters as he played for the Houston Texans. Until the Detroit Free Press learned of the matter and asked the Texans how it missed this when drafting Mumphery. He was then unceremoniously cut from the team. It’s #MeToo time.
Mumphery did the best thing he could do, retain Andrew Miltenberg to sue the notorious Michigan State, long-time home of sexual abuser Larry Nasser whose decades of abuse were ignored. The college had to get out from under its reputation of protecting Nasser, and Mumphery was an excellent person to sacrifice. Miltenberg was not going to let that happen.
Michigan State has finally admitted it was wrong. The university agreed to a settlement in May that gives Mumphery an undisclosed sum and — more importantly — wipes clean his record, which could allow him to resume a pro career. Left in place, however, is a misshapen version of college justice that adhered to the loosest standards of evidence and that very nearly ruined his life.
By settling, Mumphery accomplished two things. He “cleared” his name and received some degree of monetary damages. But like most settlements, it fell short of adequacy, not because the case couldn’t be pursued through trial to obtain a jury verdict for damages in a fuller amount, but because Mumphery wanted to return to the gridiron and play football.
Miltenberg is a fierce litigator who has handled many Title IX cases. In his estimation, this was his strongest case. “They were testing us, and Keith left a lot of money on the table,” he told me in a joint phone call with Mumphery. “But I’ve never seen a young man so determined to prove his innocence and live a life of character.”
This is the side of Title IX litigation that is invisible from a distance, That it’s not merely a matter of correcting a wrongful conviction or obtaining a damage award, but of taking away a young man’s life, his future.
For the college, there are two concerns, financial and reputational. The financial piece isn’t the same as with an individual litigant, as it doesn’t come from the college president’s or Title IX administrator’s pockets. If it’s a state school, the cost is ultimately paid by either taxpayers or students via tuition, but either way, it’s merely a stain to the administrators’ ledger rather than an actual cost to be suffered.
The reputational piece is far more interesting, as it relates not to the college railroading an innocent male student (or ex-student, in this case), but to the optics of how hard a college will defend a false, unproven or even exonerated accusation of rape for the sake of pandering to women on campus to prove the depth of its support for their ideology. Essentially, colleges win by fighting, no matter how wrong they might be.
Had Mumphery refused to settle for less than he deserves, or refused to settle until Michigan State apologized, it would have been understandable. He deserved both, although apologies are a matter of honor and can’t be won as a spoil of litigation. But here’s the part that rarely gets seen after a choice is made, a matter settles, the wronged person is given a sufficient measure of redemption.
“I felt like they owed me an apology, but I can’t dwell on that,” Mumphery said recently in a telephone interview. “I have a life I want to live. I want to get back to football, and there is no time to waste.”
After being cut for no reason other than the mindless fear of a #MeToo backlash, Mumphery lost two years of his budding football career. Whether you think this loss is huge or not, this was the life Mumphery sought for himself and spent years developing. Eventually, every suit comes to an end, and then what? Mumphery had his whole life ahead of him, and it was a great life, the life he chose, and it was stolen from him by a lie and a college that enabled it.
Even though he was exonerated, and Michigan State’s settlement was a concession that its actions against him were wrong, can Mumphery ever be truly seen as the male victim of a false rape accusation and a college that cared nothing about destroying an innocent young man? Even if Mumphery is able to emerge untainted by the false accusation, at a time when factual innocence is too often subsumed by vapid “but we need to have a conversation” excuses for lies, can the two years stolen from him since he last played for the NFL be overcome? Can he get back on the field, back on a team, back to his life?
Miltenberg stopped talking. There was a long silence at the other end of the phone. The young man with the football dreams spoke up.
“I wanted redemption,” he said. “I needed it.”
When the case is over, whether by verdict or settlement, we forget about it. It’s just another data point in the discussion of the underlying problem. For the living, breathing person whose name appears at the top of the caption, however, it’s his life. The case may be over. His life is not. As former Secretary of Labor Ray Donovan famously said following his acquittal, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?”
Where do these innocent young men go to get their future back?