For the second time in as many days, a player from an SEC school has found his path cleared for a return to the playing field. This decision, though, is likely to cause additional controversy and raised eyebrows.
The attorney for Antonio Callaway confirmed Friday that his client has been found not responsible for sexual assault in a Title IX hearing conducted by the University of Florida’s student conduct and conflict resolution office.
It was reported last week that a former UF student-athlete and current football booster had been assigned to oversee the Title IX hearing involving current Callaway and former UF quarterback Treon Harris, both of whom were accused in January by a woman of sexually assaulting her this past December. The alleged victim, as well as her parents and potential witnesses on her behalf, boycotted the hearing scheduled for last Friday because of what they perceived as a conflict of interest.
The attorney for the alleged victim, who didn’t report the alleged assault to either university or Gainesville police, stated in a letter to state’s attorney Bill Cervone that “[o]ne of the main reasons why my client did not report to law enforcement is that she was informed that you are loathe to prosecute a sexual assault against a Gator football player and now you have loudly confirmed just that.” Cervone responded by stating that, “[b]ased on what I knew then, I didn’t think there was even a remote possibility of criminal charges.”
John Clune, the alleged victim’s attorney, labeled Cervone’s comments as an “inappropriate and unethical abuse of your position.” In response, Callaway’s lawyer, Huntley Johnson, labeled Clune’s comments as “an attempt at intimidation.
Controversy aside, the ruling today clears the path for Callaway to return to the field for the opener early next month. Last week, the wide receiver returned to practice with his Gator teammates, although head coach Jim McElwain declined to address his status for the start of the season.
Callaway had been suspended not only from the team but from the university since late January for a violation of the Student Conduct Code, later known to involve an alleged sexual assault. In March, Johnson, a lawyer well-known in and around Gainesville as the go-to attorney for Gator student-athletes who run into legal issues, issued a statement in which he claimed that the allegation against his non-client “has no merit.”
Johnson released a statement in early June in which he stated that a modified suspension would permit his client to attend classes on campus as well as allow him to use the football team’s practice facilities. A handful of days ago, UF confirmed that Callaway will be permitted to practice with the Gators as they await the results of the hearing, which proceeded without the accuser and her witnesses.
Getting Callaway back would be a significant boon for UF’s offensive hopes in 2016.
Last season in his first year with the Gators, Calloway led the team in receiving yards (678) and tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns (four). His 19.4 yards per catch led the squad, while his 35 receptions were good for third.
At the end of the regular season, he was named to the All-SEC Freshman team.