Don’t rush to judgement on Peterman

It’s hard not to pass judgment on athletes when they get in trouble nowadays.

For one, while people are innocent until proven guilty in this country, it seems like they’re usually guilty when it comes to athletes breaking the law (the list of people who have set this example would take up more space than is available in this newspaper). And two, the evidence that leaks is generally stacked pretty high against the players.

Part of that is poor journalism. Some media outlets often run with a controversial story even though they don’t have all the facts and end up ruining someone’s reputation before due process takes place. ESPN, which as my friend Eric so eloquently put is “the worldwide leader in beating a dead horse,” is the only news station that can turn Johnny Manziel into Pacman Jones in a matter of days. It’s best to hear both sides of the story and actually give the person a chance to respond to allegations before making them public enemy number one.

This is why I’m holding my tongue when it comes to judging Youngstown State football player Dale Peterman. The senior defensive back was suspended indefinitely on Wednesday after law enforcement picked up the 22-year-old on outstanding warrants. The warrants were issued after Peterman, a 2009 Ursuline High School graduate, failed to show up for two court appearances.

Something tells me there’s more to this. While some Youngstownians haven’t displayed the best behavior over the years, I find it hard to believe a player going into his final season of eligibility would simply skip two court appearances for misdemeanor offenses. There’s a chance Peterman was trying to avoid the inevitable punishment that would come from YSU coach Eric Wolford, who said he’s going to “let the legal process run its course” before making a permanent determination on Peterman’s status with the team. This is a wise decision in my opinion.

According to court records, Peterman was scheduled to appear July 19, 2012 in Warren court for a pretrial hearing on charges of possessing marijuana and traffic citations for speeding, driving under suspension and failing to wear a seat belt. He originally pleaded not guilty to the charges. A warrant was issued in that case July 23 when he failed to show up for court.

Court records show he also had a failure-to-appear warrant from Girard for driving under suspension, child restraint and improper display charges filed against him by Liberty police. Those charges were entered Jan. 2 and Peterman pleaded not guilty at a Jan. 8 arraignment, but he failed to show for a Feb. 13 court hearing. A warrant was issued for him in that case on Feb. 14.

The charges seem pretty cut and dry, and maybe I’m foolish for giving Peterman the benefit of the doubt, but he has so much to lose I would be surprised if there wasn’t another side to this story.

Peterman is (or was) a returning starter at corner for the Penguins. The former University of Syracuse recruit is unquestionably one of YSU’s best players, and while he was probably going to miss at least the first game after straining his medial collateral ligament last week, he must know that this type of infraction would cripple his senior campaign, not to mention the Penguins’ secondary. Losing Peterman for an extended period of time would be a huge loss for a YSU team with championship aspirations, and I don’t know if a guy who has trained his whole life for this moment would risk it all by not showing up for court.

There are certainly more situations like Ryan Braun, who let all his fans down after lying about using performance-enhancing drugs, than there are about Tim Tebow, who has always avoided negative publicity despite the media’s watchful eye, but people still deserve the right to be heard. Peterman will have his chance at some point soon (he has a court date on Aug. 27 in Warren and another on Aug. 28 in Girard), and it could be interesting to see what transpires, especially since YSU opens the season Aug. 29.

All I’m saying is before you rip Peterman for his mistakes, make sure he has a chance to defend himself.

Then you can rip away. That’s a right, too.