INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts were aware of a sexual assault allegation against rookie linebacker Bobby Okereke before selecting him in the third round of April's NFL Draft.
General manager Chris Ballard confirmed that fact during a conference call with reporters Wednesday, and he attempted to explain some of the team's thinking in making its decision.
A Stanford student told school administrators in 2015 she was sexually assaulted by a member of the football team during a fraternity party. The school looked into the allegations and determined not to discipline the player despite a 3-2 vote in favor of the woman by a Title IX panel, according to a story in the New York Times, which did not name either Okereke or the woman.
Okereke voluntarily divulged information about the incident — including revealing he was the subject of the New York Times story — during a predraft meeting with the Colts at the Senior Bowl in January.
That meeting set off a lengthy investigation by the team that included interviews with Stanford officials and people close to the linebacker. The Colts did not interview the woman or her lawyer.
Ballard did not speak about the incident during the draft because Okereke never was charged with a crime or disciplined by the university, and he was comfortable with the result of the team's investigation.
"From everything we gathered, the high recommendations we got, we felt comfortable taking him," Ballard said.
The general manager described Okereke as "very honest" during the Senior Bowl meeting, and his track record during the remainder of his Stanford career weighed heavily in the Colts' decision.
Okereke was named a team captain with the Cardinal, took an internship with former Scretary of State Condoleezza Rice — a member of the Stanford faculty — and was a quarterfinalist last year for the Lott Impact Trophy, awarded nationally each year to a defensive player who exemplifies "integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community and tenacity."
Indianapolis selected Okereke with the 89th overall pick, and he is expected to compete with Anthony Walker for the starting middle linebacker job.
Ballard — who has three daughters — admitted the situation is "sensitive," and said he isn't trying to minimize the seriousness of the allegation.
"We don't want to sit here and act like we don't have sympathy for both sides of it," he said.
The Colts have made character an integral part of their evaluation process, and Ballard said players with red flags in their history are handled on a case-by-case basis.
The team ultilized all areas of its staff to investigate Okereke's case and determined this was a risk worth taking.
If there is fallout as a result, the general manager said he should take the brunt of it.
"Ultimately, the final decision falls on me," Ballard said. "I've been given that trust (from owner Jim Irsay and head coach Frank Reich), and it falls on me."