The NFL draft is supposed to be the most fun weekend of the offseason. It’s our luck, as fans, to indulge in some unbridled optimism about players who might be total disasters. So when the Minnesota Vikings took Ed Ingram, an LSU guard who has been indicted over credible accusations of sexual assault, I felt like the wind got knocked out of me.
I had only a cursory familiarity with Ingram’s situation from pre-draft research, and I hoped that I wouldn’t have to look deeper. Now we have to engage in accusations of a truly heinous crime with only spotty information available to us. We have to try and verify their legitimacy, even though it feels strange to try and pass judgment over incidents that allegedly happened seven years ago in Texas. We’ll have to come to some sort of resolution on a matter that the courts could not resolve, and then decide how that affects our relationship with our favorite sports team.
It’s a complicated conversation. It’s one we cannot ignore. We didn’t ask for our favorite football team to drop a messy sexual assault allegation into our laps. We still have to talk about it. We can have this conversation compassionately and with patience with one another.
If you’re unfamiliar, Ed Ingram was arrested and served a long suspension at LSU over allegations of sexual assault. Two victims, who were under 14 at the time, allege a series of incidents that happened in 2015 over a span of a year. They pressed charges two years later, once Ingram was a student at LSU. The details are more graphic than an article like this needs to recount, but if you want to know, this is a short summary of some of them. As the parties involved were minors at the time, the state of Texas sealed all documents at the conclusion of the matter.
The allegations against Ingram are downright disturbing. It’s a disgusting, horrifying situation. If true, a pre-teen girl had to face a football-sized 16-year-old boy with an alleged, repeated history of sexually assaulting her and her sister on several occasions. Child Protective Services had to get involved. It’s a hideous thing to have to endure. Nobody deserves to go through that. If the allegations aren’t true, it would be a huge relief.
A Texas grand jury indicted Ingram over the matter. His trial date was pushed back repeatedly before the charges were ultimately dismissed. Ingram’s lawyer insisted that he was not guilty, though Ingram has not made any sort of public statement himself. In cases of sexual violence, charges are commonly dismissed, even if the defendant is guilty.
American courts often fail to engage in cases of sexual assault, whether the defendant is guilty or innocent. The dismissal is not proof of innocence, it is the absence of proof of guilt. If Ingram is indeed innocent, it would be a rare outcome. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), only about 5% of committed sexual assaults lead to arrest. Somewhere between 2% and 10% of those sexual assault cases turn out to be false accusations, depending on the study you look at.
To understand why, I spoke with a Texas-based defense lawyer anonymously.
Sexual assault trials rely almost entirely on the victim’s testimony. After all, there won’t likely be physical evidence of a sexual assault two years after the fact. It can only be a he-said-she-said situation. The legal system doesn’t just throw out he-said-she-said cases, though. These are a few common reasons for dismissals like the one in Ingram’s case:
- Often decide they would rather move on with their lives than testify victims in court. Repeatedly recounting their traumatic experiences can feel like it’s doing more psychological damage than any retribution is worth. Simply being in the same room as their attackers could be too much to bear. Not to mention the fear of retribution after the fact. If the victim decides they won’t testify, most prosecutors will drop the case entirely. This can be especially common in cases where the victim knows the defendant personally.
- Victims’ stories can change over time. If a victim tells their version of the story with any inconsistency, it can completely change the outcome of the trial. The victim could be telling as earnest a truth as they can, but trauma affects memory in such a way that can lead to inconsistent versions of the event over time. Inconsistent testimony gets the case thrown out, even if the defendant is guilty.
- Experts, such as therapists or nurses, determine that there is not sufficient evidence of sexual assault in the victim’s testimony. This is a rare case, as people can be (and have been) convicted off of testimony alone.
Because the Texas Attorney General sealed Ingram’s case, we’ll never know what happened in detail. In the eyes of the court, the case is unviable and we simply have to forget about it. But the United States judicial system cannot be your moral compass. The presumption of innocence is a legal standard, not a moral one. Even in the legal system, it’s a baseline. It’s the category you sort someone into until you find more information.
Are we to ignore all of that other information? The court documents, statistics, and his behavior since the incident, good and bad? We live in a world where it’s possible – statistically likely, even – that a sexual abuser plays for the Vikings. We have to reconcile with that, even though it will never be more than a likelihood.
So it leaves us in this difficult position where we have to decide how much benefit of the doubt to give to Ed Ingram. This is the part of the conversation that everyone gets angry over.
Since we can never make more than an educated guess as to Ingram’s guilt or innocence, where do we go from there? Dismiss the matter entirely and start talking about Ingram’s fit in a zone scheme? Assume guilt anyways and abandon the Vikings outright?
Eventually, the football world will march forward as it always does. Joe Mixon’s fantasy draft stock will be debated. Kareem Hunt will take handoffs from Deshaun Watson. Credible accusations of sexual and domestic violence are enough for a suspension in the NFL, but not much more. As fans, we have to decide how we feel about that.
Perhaps you believe Ingram’s accusers but think he should be able to move on eight years after the fact. We all might have embarrassing details from our teen years we’d like to leave behind. Sexual assault, however, is not an embarrassing detail. It’s far too serious. If you believe the allegations, you believe that Ingram’s victims have suffered a trauma that will damage them for the rest of their lives. They do not get the luxury of moving on.
If you maintain your skepticism about Ed Ingram’s allegations, that’s your prerogative. We can understand that there is a chance, however small, that Ingram’s allegations turn out to be entirely false. We can move forward with that in mind without presuming that Ingram’s victims are lying.
It’s fair to acknowledge unlikely possibilities in a case riddled with unknowns. It’d be irresponsible not to, even. It is another thing entirely to use those possibilities as an excuse to ignore the matter entirely. If the Vikings, or Ingram himself, want this to be forgotten, they’ll have to do more than throw out some PR-friendly platitudes in a press conference.
Ed Ingram met with the media after the Vikings drafted him. I hoped this would offer some clarity on his murky situation, but no such luck. The press conference lasted three minutes and nine seconds, including the uncomfortable silences. Ingram had an opportunity to set the record straight to a media group that was willing to hear him out. He refused that opportunity.
Ingram could have signed a nondisclosure agreement at the close of the legal matter, which would prevent him from discussing it even if he wanted to. We’ll never know one way or another. Either way, fans and media are well within their rights to want to know more.
The Vikings dodged similar questions. When pressed, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah could only assert that the Vikings “are comfortable with the person” that Ed Ingram is today. Do the Vikings expect them to take them on faith that they have thoughtfully considered the morality of their newest guard? That would require a trust they have not earned considering the team’s history of similar cases.
Sports are supposed to be a distraction from the outside world. If you’re a Vikings fan and a victim of sexual assault, that has been taken away from you. You won’t be able to watch Ed Ingram trot out onto the field without thinking about your own experiences. If Ingram is innocent, then the Vikings haven’t done enough to assuage those concerns. If he isn’t, they’ve attempted to sweep a traumatic experience like yours under the rug for the sake of upgraded pass blocking at guard.
That isn’t to say that I, or anyone, should be unwilling to afford someone accused of a crime the benefit of the doubt. In the right circumstances, we all are. But that’s the kicker: the right circumstances. The benefit of the doubt is not appropriate in all cases.
Victims of sexual assault cannot be expected to support the Vikings without the Vikings taking some proactive steps to re-earn their trust. Even if Ingram is totally innocent, we can’t come to that conclusion with any degree of certainty. That puts the ball in the Vikings’ court, if not Ingram’s himself. The benefit of the doubt is earned, not given.
Adofo-Mensah only assured us that they are at peace with Ingram’s character. That could mean they think he is innocent, or it could mean that they think he is guilty and are okay with it as long as he doesn’t get himself suspended. The Vikings should have no issue telling us which it is, and they shouldn’t expect us to assume that it is the acceptable one. They haven’t earned that.
As an aside, if you want to help, women’s shelters often need daycare volunteers, especially male ones. Children at a women’s shelter are often missing positive male role models in their lives. Here’s a possible opportunity in Rochester, if that’s local to you. Here’s one to donate to, if you’d rather show your support that way. If the Vikings could start some similar initiative, it would help them regain my trust. Even if it’s transparently performative, it would show that they have some semblance of self-awareness.
It’s pretty unlikely that any of that happens, though. The most likely outcome is that nothing further happens in regard to these allegations. Ingram already served a suspension in college, so the NFL likely won’t feel the need to assign one of their own. Legally, the case has been buried for years. Because of this, the Vikings likely won’t feel any need to make any more statements. Unless Ingram commits a separate crime, this whole thing probably blows over, never to be discussed again. Prepare to be disappointed as that makes you.
If Ingram’s accusations are later revealed to be a total fabrication, I’ll be first in line to change my tune. As long as we’re willing to do that, we don’t have to extend Ingram any benefit of the doubt. We can find a way to press forward despite the uncertainty surrounding the case by examining the dynamics and patterns surrounding it and showing respect to those who have suffered. Unless any more information comes to light, I feel no need to cut any more slack to a football player and team who have done nothing to earn it.