EDITOR’S NOTE: The headline, subheadline and portions of the text of this article were changed on July 19, 2023, after the AJC determined that certain statements contained in the article when it was originally published did not meet the AJC’s editorial standards. For more information see this news article.
In a single weekend, a 16-year-old University of Georgia football recruit broke curfew, drank with potential teammates in an Athens bar and ended up in a police station, under investigation for sexual assault.
Georgia signed him, anyway.
The school’s response to Jamaal Jarrett’s misadventures during a campus visit last year illustrates how its national-champion football program has rallied to support athletes accused of abusing women, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows.
When a top defensive player was jailed on a rape charge, head coach Kirby Smart let eight players go to court to seek their teammate’s release, the player’s lawyer said. This show of solidarity occurred even though the alleged victim worked part time for the football program.
In Jarrett’s case, previously unreported, a team official appeared at the hotel where the incident occurred and spoke with police officers minutes after the accuser called 911 to report a sexual assault. The official later sat with Jarrett during a remarkably friendly interrogation at the Athens police headquarters, where the detective investigating the sexual assault allegation spoke of “my beloved Bulldogs.”
The detective eventually decided not to charge Jarrett. By then, a month had passed since the defensive lineman had accepted Georgia’s offer of a football scholarship.
Jarrett, now 17 and a freshman at Georgia, did not respond to a request for an interview.
The football program’s handling of these incidents emerged in a review of dozens of court cases and police investigations. The AJC has been examining the culture of the UGA football program after a high-speed car crash in January killed a football player and a member of the team’s staff and led to criminal charges against star defensive lineman Jalen Carter. The AJC has reported in detail how the team’s permissive culture has enabled dangerous behavior by its players: reckless driving, street racing, drunken driving and excessive speeding, among other offenses.
The exact number of accusations by women involving Georgia players is unknown. Some cases result in no police investigation, but rather are handled through a confidential campus disciplinary system.
Across the country, football players account for a disproportionate number of campus sexual assaults, according to a 2019 report by USA Today. At Division I schools for which data was available, the newspaper said, football players made up 1% of the student population but accounted for 6% of those found responsible for sexual misconduct.
In a statement, the UGA Athletic Association defended its handling of accusations against football players, saying it neither tries to influence police investigations nor seeks special treatment for athletes. The association said its coaches suspend players who face “any credible allegation of sexual violence or assault” while their cases are under investigation.
“The University of Georgia and athletic association consider any allegation of sexual assault or domestic abuse to be a very serious matter, and we take swift and appropriate action in response to allegations when warranted by law enforcement or internal investigations,” the statement said. “This policy is applied universally across our university community to students, student-athletes, staff and personnel. Student-athletes are subject to the exact same disciplinary process as other students, and in addition, face further athletic program disciplinary measures, which can include suspension and dismissal from the team.”
Coaches did not rescind Jarrett’s scholarship because the police did not charge him, the athletic association said. However, coaches and association leaders had been unaware that Jarrett consumed alcohol and broke curfew, the statement said. Such violations of athletic association policies “could be subject to penalties,” the association added, without elaboration.
Jarrett’s accuser was critical. “Winning is their only objective,” she said in an interview. “It’s no longer about building guys up with good character. It’s no longer about building a good work ethic. It’s just about winning.”
At 6 feet, 6 inches tall and 350 pounds, Jarrett is a fearsome presence on the football field. On Twitter, he calls himself a “certified run stoppa.”
A 20-year-old Georgia woman said she saw something more in Jarrett: a sweet, handsome young man with whom she felt a genuine connection.
She was a college student who lived and attended school outside Athens. He was a junior in high school, one of the top-rated prospects in North Carolina, whose campus visits and scholarship offers provided fodder for websites that meticulously document the college recruitment of teenage boys who play football.
She spotted him the first time in January 2022, when both visited Athens to celebrate Georgia’s first national football championship in four decades. She followed him on social media, and they began corresponding through direct messages and texts. Jarrett’s official recruiting visit that June coincided with her plans to visit a friend in Athens, and she booked a room in the same hotel where the university hosted football prospects and their families.
Three days before the visit, Jarrett sent her a series of texts that made clear he expected to have sex with her. One consisted only of an emoji that represented oral sex.
In another text, Jarrett said he was about to turn 18. In fact, he was still 16, more than a month shy of his 17th birthday.
Even if Jarrett was a year older, he’d still be too young for sex, the woman wrote. She was eager to meet him, regardless.
“J, I’ve literally waited for you since January,” she wrote at 3:41 a.m. the day before they would travel to Athens.
“You’re genuinely the most handsome and wholesome guy I’ve ever had an encounter with,” she added. “I pray you’ll never change.”
Months earlier, another woman’s experience with a Georgia football player could have served as a cautionary tale.
On Oct. 28, 2021, a Thursday night, a student who worked part time in the school’s football office went out drinking with friends. Sometime after midnight, they got a ride with a football player she knew, and they all ended up at his apartment. Adam Anderson, a 6-foot, 5-inch, 230-pound linebacker who lived in the same complex, was already there.
The woman soon passed out on a sofa from drinking, she later told the police. Early Friday morning, she said, she awoke in Anderson’s bed as he penetrated her without consent.
The woman went to the police later that day, but by then, Anderson was in Jacksonville, where Georgia would play Florida the following day. In a 34-7 win, he made two solo tackles and contributed to five others, including a quarterback sack. The performance bolstered his chances of becoming a first-round pick in the NFL draft.
The athletic association said coaches did not learn about the rape allegation until Nov. 1, two days after the Florida game. That Monday, a deputy police chief sent an initial report to a familiar figure in cases involving football players: Bryant Gantt, the team’s director of player support.
Gantt often gets involved when players run afoul of the law, as the AJC previously reported. He takes athletes to the police for questioning. Although he’s not a lawyer, he negotiates plea deals in misdemeanor cases. He arranges court dates, and he delivers cash to the courthouse in Athens to pay players’ traffic fines.
In Anderson’s case, Gantt sat in the room as the police interviewed another player: George Pickens, a highly regarded wide receiver who planned to enter the 2022 NFL draft. Friends of the accuser had told the police Pickens had implicated Anderson. But with his parents and Gantt in the room, according to court records, Pickens declined to answer questions. Pickens did not respond to a message relayed by his current team, the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
Later, Gantt arranged for Anderson to turn himself in after police obtained an arrest warrant.
And when Anderson asked a judge to release him on bond, Gantt went to court to testify on his behalf. He called Anderson “kind of a humble young man” who had “great character.”
The bond hearing took place in a packed courtroom the afternoon of Nov. 21. More than 100 people from Anderson’s hometown, Rome, Georgia, came to Athens to demonstrate their support.
Anderson’s accuser sat in the courtroom, too. She listened as eight witnesses stood, one by one, to advocate for Anderson’s release. Each identified himself not only by name but also by position on the football team.
“Jordan Davis, defensive line.”
“James Cook, running back.”
“Justin Shaffer, offensive line.”
“Quay Walker, inside linebacker.”
“Channing Tindall, inside linebacker.”
“Jermaine Burton, wide receiver.”
“Derion Kendrick, cornerback.”
“Kearis Jackson, wide receiver.”
“Your honor,” Anderson’s attorney Steve Sadow said after the players stood on his client’s behalf, “pursuant to my promise to Kirby Smart, may they be released to go back to team activities?”
The judge dismissed the players and went on with the hearing.
The football players’ participation in the bond hearing suggests the university was taking the side of one student over another — Anderson, rather than his alleged victim, said Cari Simon, a lawyer in Denver who represents survivors of sexual assaults on college campuses across the nation.
“Clearly, they’re getting involved to maintain his status as an athlete,” Simon said in an interview. “Does every student criminally charged with rape have the school intervene to try to not have consequences?”
The athletic association’s statement denied that Smart “instructed or authorized” players to appear at Anderson’s bond hearing.
“Any players or staff — including Mr. Gantt — who attended the hearing did so in their personal capacities and not on behalf of the athletic association,” the statement said.
The judge released Anderson on bond. Smart suspended Anderson from the team, and he never played another game.
Anderson faces a second rape charge in Oconee County and has pleaded not guilty in both cases. He contends he engaged only in consensual sex, Sadow said in an interview. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for early July.
After Anderson’s release, the accuser quit her job with the football program.
“A lot of the people I worked with were in the courtroom to support the person who abused me,” she said in an interview this spring. They included Gantt, who she had to walk past to leave the courtroom after the bond hearing.
“He was staring at me, smiling,” she said. “It was really weird, like he was trying to intimidate me.”
On campus, she said, everyone seemed to know she was Anderson’s accuser. One football player’s girlfriend ordered her to leave a party. Another player asked one of her friends to persuade her not to press charges.
She was further traumatized, she said, when the university sent the judge documents about another sexual assault she experienced years earlier. Investigators substantiated her allegation in that case, and the school punished her attacker through a confidential student disciplinary process, according to the woman and her lawyer, Lisa Anderson, executive director of the nonprofit legal aid organization Atlanta Women for Equality. The assailant was not a student-athlete.
Federal law requires schools to keep such records confidential, said Abigail Boyer, associate executive director of the Clery Center, a nonprofit that tracks campus safety issues.
The athletic association, however, said the university “responded appropriately to a validly issued subpoena” from Anderson’s attorney, even though it did so before a judge rejected a challenge to the subpoena.
The university’s willingness to assist an athlete facing criminal charges was not surprising, Anderson’s accuser said.
When a football player gets into trouble, she said, “there are people behind the scenes working to sweep that under the rug.”
‘Keep a low profile’
Jamaal Jarrett was one of nine top prospects invited with their families to Georgia’s campus the second weekend of June last year. Lavish meals, excursions around Athens and face time with prominent players all were intended to close deals with potential stars of the future.
A car service hired by the university dropped off Jarrett and his family at their hotel about 4 p.m. that Friday, June 10. Jarrett checked into a seventh-floor room, his family into two rooms on the sixth floor. Minutes later, he left his room to meet his admirer in hers.
Almost immediately, the woman said in recent interviews, he picked her up and put her down on a bed. She got a “gross, nervous feeling,” she said, as he pressured her for oral sex.
She eventually relented.
Afterward, Jarrett left for dinner with other recruits and coaches, a photo shoot and an evening out with current players.
Georgia’s defensive line coach, Tray Scott, had texted Jarrett earlier in the day, telling him the players might take him to Atlanta. The Journal-Constitution obtained copies of Jarrett’s texts, which are included in police files.
“Keep a low profile, though!!!” Scott texted. “Lololololol!!!
“You ain’t gotta document Everything on social media lil JAH,” he added, using Jarrett’s nickname.
Scott did not respond to a request for an interview. The athletic association said students are commonly advised “to use discretion on their personal social media accounts.”
Jarrett and other recruits left the hotel with players about midnight. Curfew was 1 a.m. At 2:41 a.m., though, Jarrett sent his admirer a text from a bar in downtown Athens.
“I’m still out with the bois,” he wrote. “Ima hit you up when I get back to the hotel.”
“Are you drunk?” she asked.
“No, I’m not,” he said. “I only had one drink.”
“Enjoy your night,” she told Jarrett. “I know I won’t be seeing you tonight.”
“U might,” he responded. “We can get a quickie.”
“Not if ur friggin drunk,” she wrote. “That’s a recipe for disaster.”
Jarrett showed up at her room sometime after 3 a.m. He smelled of alcohol, the woman later told the police. Nevertheless, she said, they had sex that was consensual, until it wasn’t.
In an interview with a sex-crimes detective for the Athens police, recorded at a rape crisis center, she said Jarrett grabbed his phone as she performed oral sex.
“I want to remember this,” she said Jarrett told her. “Let’s record this.”
She agreed to hold the phone at first, then asked Jarrett to record no more video. She complained of being tired and told Jarrett she wanted to stop, she said later.
“I told him, ‘I just want to keep you happy,’” she told the detective. “But I said no, and that obviously meant I didn’t want to do it.”
That’s when Jarrett became physically aggressive, she said.
He pulled her head so hard that a plug of hair came out of her scalp where her wig had been glued, she said in the police interview. Jarrett forced her to her knees, she said, and insisted she resume a sex act.
“He literally grabbed all of me up with one arm,” she told the detective. “In the back of my mind, as much as I trusted him, I was like, ‘What happens if I say no and he doesn’t like that? … He can do anything to me right now.’”
Jarrett left her room about 6 a.m., she said. First, he tucked her into bed.
She slept for a couple of hours, then made two telephone calls. One was to her mother. The other was to the police.
At 9:39 a.m., the woman (gray) texts Jamaal Jarrett (blue) asking for reassurance that the videos he had taken were deleted:
Jah, idc if you ghost me forever … well I do care. but please say those videos are gone. even out of your recents. please.
I don't have em
I'm not like that
Note: This text exchange has been recreated based on documents obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
‘A different kind of no’
An Athens patrol officer arrived at the woman’s hotel a little after 11 a.m. Gantt, the football team’s director of player support, wasn’t far behind.
After talking with the woman in her room, the officer was briefing his supervisor in a nearby elevator lobby when the doors opened. Inside the elevator car, dressed in a red Georgia polo shirt, was Gantt.
The athletic association said the hotel’s staff had notified Gantt after the police arrived.
The patrol officer, whose body-worn camera captured the encounter, and his supervisor accompanied Gantt to the hotel’s main lobby, away from the accuser’s room. On the way, Gantt offered to make Jarrett available for questioning.
Hours later, Gantt walked into an interview room at the Athens police headquarters. He sat to Jarrett’s right as Detective Daniel Schmidt from the sex-crimes unit began the interrogation. Gantt yawned frequently, rubbed his eyes, shifted in his seat.
Jarrett spoke softly, seemingly embarrassed to be discussing sex acts in front of his mother, who sat to his left, video of the interview shows. Schmidt would later describe his demeanor as “sheepish” as he said he had returned to his hotel room at curfew and “snuck back out” to see his admirer — an account later contradicted by text messages the police downloaded from his phone.
Regardless, “I had intercourse with a girl I didn’t fully know,” Jarrett said.
He denied forcing the woman to engage in sex acts, although he acknowledged she asked him to “take a break.” He suggested she accused him of assault only because he had been terse in text messages after he left her room and had recorded her during sex. He said he had deleted the recordings from his phone.
“She was real stressed about the whole video thing,” he said. “If she found out the videos were deleted, she might start acting in a different way.”
The interrogation lasted about an hour. Afterward, Jarrett was free to return to his recruiting visit.
Shortly after the weekend in Athens, Jarrett told college-recruiting websites he had narrowed his college choices to three schools: North Carolina, Auburn and Georgia. On July 19, 2022, he invited fans to his high school stadium in Greensboro for an event he billed as “The Decision.”
After first teasing that he might attend one of the other schools, Jarrett revealed his true choice: Georgia.
Another decision was still pending in Athens.
It wasn’t until Aug. 18 that Schmidt closed the case without filing charges against Jarrett.
In his final report on the case, he said he found “no evidence of a crime” and was largely dismissive of the accuser’s account.
She uttered “a different kind of no,” Schmidt wrote, and any force used by Jarrett “sounded like this happened inadvertently in the midst of extremely enthusiastic sex/oral sex.”
“She did not at any point articulate any crime being committed against her,” Schmidt wrote. “She never told him no or to stop, took any action to try to stop any given action, or articulate force used.”
Schmidt did not respond to a request for an interview.
Police and prosecutors often drop sexual assault cases when an accuser does not meet their preconceived notions about how victims should act, said Deborah Teurkheimer, a law professor at Northwest University and a former sex-crimes prosecutor.
In her book “Credible: Why We Doubt Accuser and Protect Abusers,” Teurkheimer writes that authorities expect women to fight, to verbally reject their attackers’ advances in unequivocal language, to recall every detail of a traumatic event. When they don’t, she said in an interview, their stories tend to be discounted, while denials from men often carry unwarranted credibility.
“The person accused,” she said, “is often seen as someone who ought to be protected.”
From the beginning, Jarrett’s accuser said, her mother and her father, who is a police officer, cautioned her not to expect too much from her report of sexual assault.
“You know they’re not going to do anything about it because of who he is,” she said they told her.
The video of Schmidt’s questioning Jarrett, hours before he spoke to the accuser, suggests criminal charges were never likely. At times the interrogation seemed more like a counseling session.
“I’m kinda looking out for you,” Schmidt told Jarrett.
At a later point in the interview, Schmidt said, “No matter how this plays out, I think there’s a lot you can learn from it. You can talk more to Coach Gantt about it, because it’s not his first time navigating this.”
“Correct,” Gantt said. “Correct.”
Statement by UGA Athletic Association
“The University of Georgia and Athletic Association consider any allegation of sexual assault or domestic abuse to be a very serious matter, and we take swift and appropriate action in response to allegations when warranted by law enforcement or internal investigations. This policy is applied universally across our University community to students, student-athletes, staff, and personnel. Student-athletes are subject to the exact same disciplinary process as other students, and in addition, face further athletic program disciplinary measures, which can include suspension and dismissal from the team.
“From the moment we are made aware of an allegation of sexual misconduct, we have always fully cooperated with law enforcement and the University’s Equal Opportunity Office and Office of Student Conduct. Under no circumstance would we seek to influence the outcome of an investigation or the determination of charges, as these decisions are made at the sole discretion of law enforcement and campus disciplinary bodies.
“While each circumstance is unique, for any credible allegation of sexual violence or assault by a student-athlete, we issue a preliminary suspension – at a minimum, from competition – as the matter is thoroughly and independently investigated. ...
“The University of Georgia has clear institutional policies prohibiting sexual misconduct, including established reporting protocols, and these policies are applied consistently to all students, including student-athletes.”