A few years back, Brandon Austin was the kind of player NBA scouts and teams had their eyes on has he worked through high school toward college, he was considered a top 50 recruit in his class. But after being accused of sexual assaults at both his first college, Providence, and his second one, Oregon, he hasn’t played major college ball and he slid some off the NBA radar.
He is currently working out at the Philadelphia 76ers facility — with the team not for them, as reported by Jessica Camerato at CSNPhilly.com — and thanks to an arbitration ruling any NBA team can sign him without fear of fines or suspensions for the player, reports Zach Lowe at ESPN.
Austin’s effort to begin his NBA career has been facilitated by a secret arbitration ruling, meted out in October and pertaining to two players — Austin and one unnamed player — who have faced sex assault or domestic violence allegations, according to sources familiar with the ruling….
Last summer, the league sent a memo to all 30 teams instructing any team interested in signing either player to call the NBA office, sources say. Teams that called were told about the allegations, and that the players could face discipline — including suspensions or fines — in the event any team signed them, sources say. No NBA or D-League team did.
The National Basketball Players Association filed an arbitration claim arguing that the memo had a chilling effect, and that the league had overstepped its bounds by telling teams it could discipline players for past allegations, sources say. The arbitrator agreed with the union that the league could not fine or suspend the players going forward based on prior allegations, sources say. The league sent teams a follow-up memo clarifying that after the ruling.
This is not a simple case for the league.
Austin was banned from playing on two campuses for sexual assault charges, and considering how many colleges sweep athletes committing sexual assault under the rug that is very concerning. However, in neither case was he charged with a crime by police in that city, in both cases officials cited a lack of evidence. I’ll just say, as a former court/crime/police reporter, sexual assault charges can be tough to get a conviction on — because it’s often he said/she said, and the trial can become about victim blaming — so prosecutors are slow to take them on. It’s a crime far too many people get away with because of the challenges in landing a conviction.
The NBA has had its own issues about looking soft on domestic violence, so this is a situation where it tried to be proactive. But again, no conviction, and everything happened prior to Austin being considered for the NBA, so how much can the NBA really do in this case?
As is the case in all pro sports, talent can win out over morality for teams — if Austin shows real potential as an NBA player, some team will take a chance on him. Is he that good? Should he play in Europe/China for a year or two to prove he’s ready? Those are questions only teams can answer.
What the arbitrator did is clear a path for Austin if he has the talent.