Draft pick from an ugly lineup

Eileen McNamara
April 24, 1996
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Attention Bob Kraft: Christian Peter might be a little late for training camp this summer. With any luck, he'll be in jail.

The University of Nebraska defensive tackle just drafted by the New England Patriots is due in court for sentencing May 21.

The senior co-captain for the two-time defending national champion Cornhuskers faces three months in jail and a $500 fine for grabbing a woman around the throat while hassling her and other women in a bar after a football banquet last month.

This is nothing unusual for Peter, 23, a 290-pound, 6-foot-3 very Big Man on Campus.

It has only been three months since his probation expired for sexually assaulting Natalie Kuijvenhoven, a former Miss Nebraska whose crotch he grabbed repeatedly in a packed bar while spewing obscenities and telling her how much he knew she loved it.

That was in 1993, the same year Melissa DeMuth filed a police complaint that Peter invited her to his room and then pinned her down and ejaculated on her face in front of his friends. DeMuth remains convinced authorities never prosecuted the nose guard because he was a college football star.

It was Peter's star status that a 21-year-old Colorado woman says intimidated her from filing criminal rape charges in 1991. Last summer, frustrated by university inaction on her complaint and bolstered by therapy, she filed a federal sex discrimination suit against Peter and the school.

Peter denies the rape charges, but they are supported by a dorm mate to whom the plaintiff confided at the time. Her dorm mate wasn't surprised. She says Peter tried to expose himself to her after getting drunk at a campus party.

"She came forward because she realizes he is never going to change and more women are going to be hurt unless this guy is held accountable for his actions," Larry Trattler, a Denver attorney for the alleged rape victim, said yesterday.

Trattler's civil complaint against Peter and the university runs to 15 pages. It takes almost that long to enumerate Peter's arrest record beyond the sexual assaults: disturbing the peace, trespassing, urinating in public, refusing to comply with the order of a policeman, threatening to kill a parking attendant, possessing alcoholic beverages while under the age of 21.

All and all, you can see why New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft and coach Bill Parcells want this guy on their team.

Only last week, Parcells waxed philosophical about the off-field antics of his potential draft picks. "This league isn't all choir boys," he said. "You've just got to do your homework and hope you get the right kind of players on your team."

Well, either the dog ate their homework, or he and Kraft have very different hopes for this team than many Patriots' fans.

Kraft was too busy to talk yesterday, but Don Lowery, his spokesman, said the Pats are not reconsidering their offer to Peter, who will earn a six-figure salary if he makes the cut.

"The issue we face in drafting him," Lowery said, "is whether his basic character is so flawed that he is incapable of conducting himself properly in his personal and professional life in the future. We don't feel this is the case."

Now that's odd, because it wasn't too long ago that Kraft himself said he would never draft Lawrence Phillips, Peter's Nebraska teammate, because Phillips was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend.

What's the difference between Phillips and Peter? "I don't know, to be honest," said Lowery.

That's because there isn't any difference.

They are both thugs who graduated from a college football program distinguished by its tolerance of violence off the field, particularly violence against women. (In addition to Phillips and Peter, four other Huskers have been charged with everything from attempted murder to assault in recent years.)

Nebraska coach Tom Osborne's idea of discipline? After Peter pleaded no contest to sexual assault, Osborne suspended him from practice for a week and from one irrelevant spring game.

The Patriots player personnel director, Bobby Grier, concedes the Patriots did not know the extent of the charges against Peter, did not talk to his victims or their lawyers and did not go beyond the usual interviews with his coaches and agent. "We did talk to him about this," Grier said. "We think he's sorry."

I'm so glad.

If the past is prologue, Christian Peter won't be getting any jail time in Nebraska. Can't you just hear him now, telling the judge he's got a good job at good wages all lined up in New England?

Commentary 1997