- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2005

DENVER — The scandal at the heart of last year’s University of Colorado sex-and-alcohol recruiting story had less to do with the football team than its critics.

In “Buffaloed: How Race, Gender and Media Bias Fueled a Season of Scandal” (Buffalo Books: 2005), author Bruce Plasket says a feminist district attorney and journalists eager to believe the worst combined to demonize the reputations of the players, coach and university.

“This is a case where political correctness trumped factual correctness,” says Plasket, a longtime Colorado journalist who covered the story for the Longmont Daily Press-Call. “The media took one-sided information and press releases to create a scandal that didn’t exist.”

There’s a story behind the book, too: Plasket had to self-publish after two publishers withdrew, apparently scared off by warnings of litigation from the attorney for one of the female accusers.

He wound up delivering copies to bookstores from the back of his Chevy Cavalier, but his persistence paid off. “Buffaloed” has emerged as a hot seller for the Colorado-based Tattered Cover Book Store chain, hitting No. 3 on the state’s best-seller list for paperback nonfiction.

The story erupted last year after two university students, Lisa Simpson and Anne Gilmore, filed civil lawsuits claiming that they had been raped by a horde of drunken football players at a party Dec. 7, 2001, as part of a recruiting effort that had the blessing of football coach Gary Barnett.

Boulder District Attorney Mary Keenan Lacy charged four players with contributing to the delinquency of a minor by providing alcohol to their 17-year-old recruits. At the same time, she made it clear she was pursuing the sex-offense charges and later said in a deposition she believed the university used sex and alcohol as recruitment tools.

The lawsuit was thrown out of court in March but not before the ensuing national scandal had forced the resignation of athletic director Dick Tharp, the retirement of chancellor Richard Byyny and the transfer of three of the four players.

Behind the hoopla, Plasket says there was no credible evidence to suggest the football program was sanctioning sex-and-booze parties. The rape charges also were shaky: The women had been too drunk to identify their attackers, and some partygoers said the sex appeared to be consensual. Gilmore initially had said she wasn’t raped before filing her own lawsuit in 2003.

Plasket, who spent three months with the football team in 2004, concludes the players were singled out for prosecution even though others at the party had provided alcohol to minors. The players ultimately pled down to misdemeanor charges.

“They were guilty of contributing to underage drinking — but virtually everyone else at that party was doing the same thing,” including Simpson, Plasket says. “The difference is that everyone else at that party wasn’t black, male and a football player. And the DA never answered for that.”

He saves his harshest criticism for the Denver media. Plasket says despite obvious questions about the validity of the charges, reporters went on a feeding frenzy, lapping up the version of events promoted by Simpson’s publicist and trying to top each other with tales of the team’s wanton partying and sexual misconduct.

Plasket attributes the coverage in part to a disdain for college athletes.

“I remember one reporter telling me, ‘God, I hate jocks,’” he says. “Well, it doesn’t matter what you like. You need to leave your biases at the door.”

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