Tennessee’s push to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010 has taken a backseat to a rather significant off-field development coming out of Knoxville.
Monday afternoon, UT announced via Twitter that linebacker A.J. Johnson and defensive back Michael Williams have been indefinitely suspended from all team-related activities. While the school assigned no reason for the suspensions, multiple media outlets are reporting that both Johnson and Williams are the subjects of a police investigation into allegations of sexual assaults that occurred over the weekend.
The details involving the alleged incident/incidents are very much unclear, up to and including whether the alleged incidents are related to or independent from one another. From The Tennessean:
The incidents allegedly involving Johnson and Williams occurred shortly before 3 a.m. Sunday. One 19-year-old woman — a current University of Tennessee student — told police she had been raped by two male students.
A second 19-year-old woman — a student visiting a friend from an out-of-state college — told police she was a victim of sexual assault.
It’s unknown if the incidents are related.
A Knoxville Police Department spokesperson said in a statement distributed to the media that officers responded to a call from an off-campus apartment complex; when officers arrived, one woman claimed she had been sexually assaulted by two males. Another woman claimed she had been sexually assaulted as well.
Both alleged victims were taken to and treated at the UT Medical Center. The second 19-year-old woman declined to press charges and returned home to Florida.
A search warrant for the apartment complex was issued and executed Sunday night. No charges have been filed.
During his Monday press conference, and prior to the announcement of suspensions via social media, Butch Jones acknowledged some type of situation involving UT players.
“We’ll continue to gather information, and based on what we have at that particular time, we’ll determine whether or not they will practice. But if there is anything of it, then they won’t practice,” he said. “I think we’ve proven since we’ve been here that we’re always going to act accordingly and we’re going to act swiftly.”
This situation comes nearly three weeks after a report surfaced questioning UT’s handling of two sexual assault allegations, one of which involved a football player in April of 2013.
Football-wise, and mindful that it pales in comparison to the off-field allegations, the loss of Johnson will be significant.
Widely considered to be the emotional leader on the defensive side of the ball, Johnson has started 44 games the past three-plus seasons for the Vols. He currently leads the Vols in tackles; he led the team in tackles the previous two seasons as well.
In February of this year, Johnson was arrested and charged with purchasing alcohol for a person underage and resisting arrest. Those charges were ultimately dismissed after he completed court-ordered sanctions.
A redshirt sophomore, Williams has started five of the 10 games in which he’s played this season.