In the world of sports crime, there are two kinds of arrests. In the first, an athlete causes a public scene in some way — he decks his wife with a wheel of cheese, throws a stripper out of a moving limo, or maybe hurls some guy through a barroom window. The police come, and the athlete — still shirtless and belligerent — is eventually squeezed into the back of a cruiser and taken away.
In that kind of bust — call it a Jumbo Elliott arrest — there isn't much debate about what happened. The athlete was seen by 19 people pouring a beer over his head and grabbing the buttocks of a city councilor's wife. He is booked, tried, given community service, and eventually explains on the Jim Rome Is Burning show that he's done "a lot of soul-searching" and "conquered his demons."
The other kind of crime happens outside of public view. In this case, the athlete has some kind of interaction with a civilian stranger, after which that person runs to the police, sometimes in tears and sometimes with a black eye, fingers all a-pointing in the athlete's direction. The accusation might be rape ("He took advantage of me in a hotel room when I went up to fix the television!"), flashing ("I leaned over to serve him a drink, and he showed me his penis!"), or numerous other offenses. But they all have one thing in common: the athlete's attorney always performs a background check on the accuser, after which a load of discrediting information is released to the news media. It will turn out that the accuser just spent six months in a sanitarium, or is a drunk, or once got caught phoning in a bomb scare to his favorite football team's opponent, which just happens to be the athlete's current squad.
We saw that technique on display not once, not twice, but three times this past week. The first case involved Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has been accused of rape by a former Lake Tahoe hotel employee. In court documents filed last Friday, Roethlisberger's legal team went after his accuser, labeling her a "sex addict" with "severe mental-health problems." In the second case, the husband of a woman claiming she was raped in a restaurant by University of Louisville (and former Boston Celtic) coach Rick Pitino went public with his support of . . . Pitino.
And in the third, Jan Radecki, a Buffalo cab driver who accused Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane and his cousin James of beating him up, suddenly had a lot of his past put out on the street. The back story: some weeks ago, Radecki drove the Kanes on a 5 am fare worth $13.80. When they gave him $15, Radecki gave back a dollar in change but said he didn't have the rest. Apparently, Patrick Kane — who earns $875,000 a year, plus bonuses — couldn't stomach losing the 20 cents, at which point he and his cousin allegedly punched Radecki in the face and broke his glasses.
Several things have since come out about Radecki: he's been involved with two DUIs, he was driving with a revoked license, and he has admitted that he locked the doors of the cab while awaiting his fare. The Kanes now claim that they didn't want to skip out on the fare, but just wanted to get out, stand up, and get their wallets.
Sometimes you can understand the way lawyers go after these accusers, but this Kane thing sure looks like a case where the underlying facts are so revolting that these two dopes should have started negotiations with Radecki by offering him a sports car and a house in the suburbs. When a millionaire sports star picks a fight with a cabbie over 20 cents, it doesn't help matters to continue the fight by unleashing lawyers on the press.
An Erie County, New York, grand jury went ahead and dropped felony robbery charges against the Kanes this past week, indicting them instead on three misdemeanors, including third-degree assault, which means they bought Radecki's story. More on this one later.
Matt Taibbi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.