FIU botches Wittels situation
Posted by willmanso on February 16, 2011
On Wednesday afternoon, FIU star baseball player Garrett Wittels is scheduled to meet with the media about the upcoming season and his current 56 game hitting streak. It should be a feel good story about a local kid on the brink of making college baseball history. Of course, that’s the not the case because of one simple fact. Wittels was arrested in the Bahamas late last year and charged with raping a 17-year-old girl. His father denies the charge, and as it should be, he’s innocent until proven guilty. Yet, FIU is turning what is already an uncomfortable situation into a sideshow.
The athletic department has threatened to end the news conference immediately if any questions about the rape case are asked to Wittels. They’re also saying that season credentials could be pulled for the organization that asks a case related question. Needless to say, this is a joke. This isn’t even about Wittels anymore. I don’t know him personally, but I have talked to some people who do know him quite well. All indications are that he is a good kid, and he comes from a good family. I’m told by those close to him that he had a lapse in judgement that night, but that he didn’t commit any crimes. All of that is to be determined by the law. It’s not in my place to bring the kid down without all the facts of the case coming out. Again, he is innocent until proven guilty.
The real issue I have is with FIU’s threats and insistence to make this more difficult than it needs to be. Last season, while Wittels was on his amazing streak, FIU couldn’t have enough coverage. They made him available and loved all the attention he brought to the school. It became a national story, and it helped make FIU a nightly mention on the local news. It’s always nice when things are going well. Of course, now that Wittels has put himself in a bad spot, the school is rewriting the rules and being difficult with the media. Well, guess what? You can’t have it both ways. My job, as well as all my media colleagues, is to ask the pertinent questions about a story. No matter how amazing his streak is, the story right now is the rape arrest. It’s Wittels right to not answer the questions or to not give specifics about the case. He can say as much or as little as he wants. I’m sure his lawyers have made clear to him what subjects can be discussed. It would be beyond silly to think you can hold a newss conference without someone asking a question about the case. Simply put, FIU is handling this situation very poorly.
I know this can’t be an easy position for FIU to be put in. They are an institution of higher learning, above all things. Some have criticized the school for not suspending Wittels. In my mind, unless they have information that points to him being guilty, he should be given the benefit of the doubt and let the legal process play out. Instead, what might play out on Wednesday is a farce, and FIU should be ashamed of that. It’s not a lesson they should be teaching Wittels or any other student at the school.