Apology…Rejected! (Part One)

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: August 11, 2008

Erik Williams

Erik Williams

PHILADELPHIA — Many times in my career, I’ve seen situations where the inequity in Blackness and fairness come to blows.

We’re reminded of this every day constantly in all forms of media; but when something so egregious and despicable escapes notice as what was recently divulged in the most clandestine of manners (if we can call anything in this media fishbowl such), it is only then when the murkiness of inaction sparks a few to respond to redress.

What I found out was no shocker in terms of life-alteration; what did shock me was the response to it.

Without attempting to be purposely nebulous about this, let me take you back to the beautiful sands of Hawai’i and the 1997 Pro Bowl, which I covered for another media concern.

The Dallas Cowboys were in the news, but not because they had made the playoffs.

Receiver Michael Irvin was in trouble again, but this time, a new accomplice is tossed in. Irvin and teammate Erik Williams, an All-Pro offensive lineman, were accused of raping a young woman, Nina Shahravan, 23, while Irvin held her against her will.

The mainstream media jumped on this with gusto, interrupting programming, leadoffs of sports and regular news broadcasts, and talk radio pumping up the volume to full attack mode.

According to accounts by the Associated Press, Shahravan filed a police report Dec. 30, 1997, after first going to a television reporter – accusing Irvin of holding a gun to her head while Williams and a third man, who was never identified, raped her in Williams’ home. She also accused Irvin of videotaping the attack.

In all honesty, had Michael Irvin been a third-string receiver, his ass would’ve been under the jail, hiding from those attempting to change his position from receiver to not – so – tight end.

Given Irvin had walked on a previous substance abuse charge (the infamous ‘Do you know who I am?’ incident), it was safe to say Dallas’ Finest might have had a problem with this uppity nigger getting away with a slap on the wrist.

Tossing Williams into the mix, however, was another story.

Williams had his own drama going on in Big D at that time, almost losing his life in an auto accident. When it was revealed Ms. Shahravan had lied about the rape attempt and may have been part of a bigger scam, Williams was, to put it mildly, livid.

The following was an interview from when I caught up to Williams in Hawai’i at the Pro Bowl. He had this to say about the media in general:

EW: Did you notice that no bulletin flashed across all these sport channels declaring that Michael Irvin and I were innocent? Where was the coverage? I bet you no one stopped ‘Baywatch’ or pulled the prime time movie to tell those same people the truth. Michael (Irvin) was right — nobody was interested in the truth.

BASN: Because you knew you were innocent, did you feel the media was fair in their approach to this?

EW: How can there be fairness when there is no balance? The press never asked for my side of the story until the damage was done. They ran copy of this, this “person” saying all this crap. Then they (the press) go out of their way to protect her because she’s a ‘source’ or she’s the victim. Who’s protecting the fact that my life has been messed up by people who are supposed to be searching for the truth?

BASN: Do you think this was unfinished business on the part of the Dallas police to get Michael Irvin? If it was, why did they try to include you?

EW: Man, I can’t answer that — for a lot of reasons. I can say the cops did know something was foul about everything she said. It comes out she calls up a detective at the Dallas P.D. instead of dialing 911, and the information mysteriously gets picked up by only one T.V. station. Next thing you know, they’re breaking the story.

BASN: Do you feel there would have been as much fuss about this if you and Irvin were white?

EW: Do we live in the real world or not? That’s all I gotta say on that.

BASN: Has anyone in the local or national press jumped to your defense — or at the very least, or, in your opinion, has anyone bothered to maintain a climate of ‘innocent until proven guilty?’

EW: Hell, no. I found out that somebody from the New York Times (Dave Anderson) wrote some garbage about all this when it first hit. If anyone did try to be fair, they weren’t important enough or influential enough to change anyone’s mind. Besides, we both know that doesn’t sell papers or get folks to watch the evening news . . .

BASN: Just how much damage has been done? How has this affected you personally?

EW: This, to me, is beyond repair. If Erik Williams does wrong, Erik Williams knows to take responsibility for his actions. I don’t expect anyone to write no kiss – ass piece for me or on me; I do expect the media to be fair and get their facts straight before they put stuff out.

BASN: It now looks like the real victim is standing in front of me.

EW: This . . . woman will get a slap on the wrist. There ain’t gonna be no public outcry to prosecute her ass to the max for lying to the police! It’s as if they’re all (media) quietly disappointed that we’re innocent…

BASN: Even with everything that’s now transpired, you have to know no one’s gonna interrupt regularly scheduled programming to proclaim your innocence.

EW: That’s the damn point! I want to hear ‘I’m sorry’ with the same intensity that they accused me with. I know that ain’t gonna happen, but I also know that they are not going to get away with this. I have already made arrangements to take legal action as soon as I return from Hawai’i. This nonsense must stop, and I’m not going to let them off the hook for defaming me.

True to his word, Williams did take legal action against Shahravan.

Eventually, after she was confronted with evidence that Irvin couldn’t have been at Williams’ house the night of the alleged attack, Shahravan signed a statement admitting her story was a lie.

According to further AP accounts, Williams’ attorney, Peter Ginsberg, said he hopes the charge against Shahravan doesn’t signal an end to the investigation.

”I hope that law enforcement authorities are pursuing the possibility there were others who acted in concert with the complainant, and I also hope that authorities are examining the police’s own conduct in this investigation,” Ginsberg said.

Irvin’s attorney, Royce West, said the charge against Shahravan ”needed to be done.”

”I am pleased because I believe very strongly that this woman has set back the issue of sexual assault victims 100 years,” West said.

The attorneys for the players said they were considering filing lawsuits over the false accusation and the way it was handled by police.

In a brief statement, police voiced hope that Ms. Shahravan’s false statement wouldn’t keep victims of sexual assault from coming forward.

”Victims of crime can be assured they face no legal repercussion for reporting factual incidents to the police in good faith.”

The case raised a number of ethical issues, particularly regarding the release of suspects’ names before charges are filed.

Anantha Babbili, chairman of the journalism department at Texas Christian University, said another central issue was how reporters handled the credibility of sources.

The story emerged after Shahravan contacted a television reporter. Police acknowledged the allegations after the television report.

”We have an obligation, first, not only to bring out new information on anything and anybody but to really validate and recheck and crosscheck and dig into the credibility of our sources of information,” he said.

Shahravan’s estranged husband, for example, had said publicly during the investigation that he doubted the story because she had also falsely accused him and a previous fiancé of sexual assault.

In spite of the heinous intent, Shahravan would be charged with no more than a misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of six months jail and a $2,000 fine – all that for attempting to ruin at least two lives.

But from the Scottsboro Boys to “How ’bout them Cowboys” this is part of the price paid. And not anyone of those jock sniffers or microphone on-air cocksuckers spoke up for Williams or Irvin.

Irvin is now a Hall of Famer and has positively changed his life on and off the field. I can honestly say he is someone to look up to because he’s been hero and villain, and survived with his soul intact.

Erik Williams should be a Hall of Famer; and a decade later, he is still waiting…for that apology.

Next Time: If an apology falls in the media forest, is CNN obliged to hear it? Part II: Not Black Enough – In America.”