INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Despite what Indianapolis Colts General Manager Chris Ballard calls a “he said, she said” sexual assault incident in Bobby Okereke’s career at Stanford, the team felt comfortable selecting the productive linebacker in the third round of April’s NFL Draft.
Ballard made that clear during a Wednesday conference call with the local media. The situation resurfaced this week when The Fountain Hopper, a widely-followed student publication serving Stanford, posted an updated summary of events.
Everything stems from a February 2015 incident that involved Okereke, then a freshman at Stanford, and an unnamed female he met at a party. The woman said they had sex that started out as consensual. She then said she withdrew consent during the encounter while Okereke continued.
Okereke was the subject of a Title IX investigation. In 2016, the New York Times reported that a Stanford football player had been found guilty of sexual assault by a majority of Title IX panelists but was ultimately exonerated because Stanford “had set an uncommonly high bar.” The panel voted 3-2 to find him guilty; the school required a 4-1 vote in such cases.
The Fountain Hopper reported that Okereke was allowed to remain on campus and continued playing on the football team during the investigation.
The Colts did their own investigation and decided to select Okereke with their third-round pick, No. 89 overall.
“When we looked at it and talked about it and talking to the young man, (it was) an incident from four years ago,” Ballard said. “No discipline from the university, he was never charged with a crime and then you look at his track record from that point till now.”
After adding him to their 2019 draft class, the Colts talked at length of Okereke’s exemplary achievements. He was a team captain as a senior. He was a 2018 Lott IMPACT Trophy quarterfinalist. He was involved with an on-campus event headed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice aimed at assisting underprivileged children. He already has earned his degree in management and engineering and is working on his Masters.
“From 2015 till 2019 and the draft, from everything we gathered and the high recommendations that we got, we felt it appropriate to take him,” Ballard said. “It’s a case-by-case basis.”
The Colts talked at length with Okereke regarding the incident.
“He was very honest about his side of the story and what occurred,” Ballard said, declining to share Okereke’s comments. “I’ll let Bobby speak for that.”
Even so, Ballard acknowledged this is a “sensitive subject.” Before drafting Okereke, he discussed the player’s background with owner Jim Irsay and coach Frank Reich.
Regardless of the extent of the team’s vetting process, criticism will come with the decision.
“I get it,” Ballard said. “Look, I have three daughters, so this is sensitive. I was raised by my mom only. I get where the sensitivity is, and we’re sensitive to it. I don’t want anyone to think we’re not.
“But this incident occurred four years ago and there was no discipline by the university and there was no charges by the police.”
During their vetting of Okereke, the Colts talked at length with him as well as individuals close to him and officials at Stanford. They did not attempt to interview the alleged victim or her lawyer.
“Because there was no charges and no discipline, we did not feel the need to,” Ballard said.
He added the “He said, she said” made things difficult.
“I don’t want to sit here and act like we don’t have sympathy for both sides,” Ballard said. “But as I’ve said, it happened four years ago, and because there were no charges and because there was no disciplinary action by the university and then his track record from everything we know to this point has been good.
“Ultimately, the final decision falls on me. I’ve been given that trust. Ultimately it falls on me.”
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