HARTFORD, Conn. — A Yale University quarterback who made headlines when he had to choose between interviewing for a Rhodes Scholarship or playing in last fall’s annual Yale-Harvard game is rebutting a report that a sexual misconduct allegation had already derailed his chance for the prestigious honor.
A spokesman for Patrick Witt said Friday that the allegation, which an acquaintance informally reported to Yale, came to Witt’s attention only after he had already been quoted publicly saying he’d play in the Nov. 19 game out of loyalty to the team — even if the overlapping Rhodes interview could not be rescheduled.
Mark Magazu’s statements Friday on Witt’s behalf came after the New York Times reported Thursday that the Rhodes Trust suspended Witt’s candidacy for the scholarship program upon learning of the unofficial sexual assault accusation.
The newspaper reported that its interviews with six sources with full or partial knowledge of the situation indicated the Rhodes Scholarship was no longer an option for Witt before the game because of the sexual misconduct allegation.
It called the allegations revelations that were “just the latest to muddy the inspiring picture of a scholar-athlete torn between brain and brawn.”
But Magazu said Friday that Witt’s withdrawal from the Rhodes Scholar application process and the unsubstantiated allegations of sexual misconduct were not linked, and that the woman who initially approached Yale with the informal report decided not to pursue it through formal university channels or police.
Magazu said Witt did not learn about her informal discussions with Yale officials until after he had already been quoted in the New Haven Register, saying he would play in the storied rivalry even if the Rhodes Trust could not allow him to interview on a different day.
“This was a difficult decision for Patrick, as his candidacy for the Rhodes Scholarship represented a high honor and an opportunity to explore his personal academic interests in international affairs at Oxford,” Magazu said in the written statement.
“Patrick respects the academic traditions of both Yale and the Rhodes Trust, and he remains grateful for the opportunities each has afforded him,” he said.
“To be clear, Patrick’s Rhodes candidacy was never ‘suspended’ … and his official record at Yale contains no disciplinary issues,” Magazu said.
Witt withdrew voluntarily, Magazu said, after being informed that the Rhodes Committee would not reschedule his interview.
Afterward, Witt learned that an anonymous source had contacted the Rhodes Trust about the sexual misconduct allegations, and the committee asked Yale for another reference on Witt’s behalf — but because he was already planning to bow out to play in the Harvard game, he did not pursue or need it, Magazu said.
Witt, 22, set several records as Yale’s quarterback after transferring from Nebraska, and Magazu said he is on track to graduate this spring once he submits his senior paper.
Yale officials confirmed Friday that he is not currently enrolled, but Magazu said that is because he is participating in an invitation-only program in California for National Football League hopefuls.
Magazu said the informal discussions about the allegations, made by an off-and-on girlfriend, were closed by the school with Witt remaining in good standing.
The New York Times reported it had not spoken with the woman and did not know her name.
Yale University spokesman Tom Conroy declined to comment about Witt or any allegations of misconduct that had been made informally or formally against him, citing student confidentiality laws and policies.
Elliot Gerson, American secretary of the Vienna, Va.-based Rhodes Trust, said Friday that it also does not comment on the application process or individual applicants.
Two other Yale students were among this year’s 32 new Rhodes Scholars, an award that earns them scholarships to study with all expenses paid at Oxford University in England for two or three years.
The prestigious scholarships were created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes. Winners are selected on the basis of high academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential and physical vigor, among other attributes.