CRAWFORD | Seven takeaways after reading the Louisville sex scandal allegations
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — A confession: I read Katina Powell’s book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen,” while sitting up all night with a tooth abscess that, on a scale of one to ten, probably ranked at 13.5.
I’m not sure which experience was more painful.
My thoughts after an admittedly quick read of the book:
1. THE SCREEN SHOTS. It’s not always possible to include a bunch of photos in an e-book release, I surely know that. Amazon and its Kindle format really limit you. The most important evidence in this book comes in the form alleged text messages from Andre McGee, a member of the Louisville basketball support staff, to Powell. The book is strongest when it includes actual screenshots of text messages, as it does in several places — and yet with some I am left wondering whether I’m looking at an actual screen shot or a recreated one.
Here’s one of the exchanges that the book tries to reproduce via photo, which Powell says came in October of 2011:
McGee: whats up with a show Saturday night?
Powell: U tell me. 4 who
McGee: This kid who already decided to come here but this will be his first time visiting
Powell: OK that’s cool. Give me details later
McGee: I’m telling you now cause we gotta talk about prices. I can’t keep spitting out 200 to 250 up front. Its basketball season … so we got some tickets … so let’s talk.
Powell: OK lets talk tickets then
McGee: 2 tickets to a game equals what?
Powell: $100 and two good tickets. No bull- - it games. I got a lot of chicks that wanna go.
McGee: Aint no game a (BS) game!! There’s a game tma night. Then Saturday night…that sound cool?
Powell: A real game. No exhibition game. I don’t know, we will see.
A time or two, the messages look as if they switch from screen shots off a computer to an actual phone screen shot, as shown here. There are enough screen shots to leave me believing that there was an association between McGee and Powell. And at one point, the book demonstrates by relating a string of text messages, and including a screen shot from the phone that includes part of the same conversation.
The most damning screen-shot evidence comes in Powell’s allegation that McGee hired Powell to provide escorts to see recruit Antonio Blakeney and a man who claimed to be a relative at an Embassy Suites hotel off Hurstbourne Parkway in Louisville. This includes a phone screen shot of McGee texting the address of the hotel. McGee, the book alleges, was in California at the time, and wired money to one of the women via a Walmart money transfer. A copy of the receipt is included in the book.
Later, one of the women claims she contacted Blakeney through his cell phone and asked if he remembered her. She includes a picture of herself in lingere, and says, “Embassy Suites?” His only response is “Yea I do wassup” then nothing more. His mother, contacted by the book’s co-author, denied he was ever at that hotel.
These text message allegations are ones that will be of most interest to the NCAA, and provide the backbone of verification for the book. Relatively few are shared, though a number of text-message conversations are recounted in the book.
2. THE PICTURES. In terms of photo evidence, what the book offers is sparing. It shows pictures of U of L players with women in various locations — which will have to be verified by others. I have not been in Minardi Hall, and don’t know what its interior looks like.
None of the pictures shows any kind of sexual act.
There is a picture of Chane Behanan with Powell, and one of Behanan and Powell’s daughter. There’s a picture of Powell and McGee and Russ Smith (there is no explicit allegation that Smith took part in sex with any of the women.) There’s a photo of Peyton Siva with Powell’s daughter (Powell wrote that Peyton took pictures, but did not have sex with the women.) There’s a picture of a group of U of L players sitting around. A picture of a shirtless Mangok Mathiang with two women (“Mathiang stopped by one of the partiesin[sic] the men’s dorm but didn’t have sex.) There’s a picture of a woman posing by herself, clearly in a Minardi Hall hallway.
Another of an unnamed dancer in what is claimed to be a Minardi Hall bathroom. And a picture of Montrezl Harrell with Powell’s daughter.
There’s a picture of Andre McGee’s car at the Hyatt hotel. Not that such a thing would have been difficult to obtain.
The real test will be in the date stamps on these pictures, if taken by cell phone. The book doesn’t offer whether they were verified in that way.
So let’s tally the photo evidence. There are six pictures of women with U of L basketball players. But they are the kinds of pictures of which you could see thousands. College players in this state pose for many pictures every day. The presence of the pictures in Minardi Hall, for those that are authenticated as such, lends credence to what Powell says, but the photo evidence in this book does not paint any kind of picture by itself.
3. THE JOURNAL. A journal kept by Powell from 2010 to 2014 forms the bulk of the narrative. A screen shot, a kind of hand-written ledger of parties and payments, is included early in the book. Where possible, co-author Dick Cady tries to preserve the wording of the journal, putting direct excerpts in italics, while he tries to build the narrative around it.
The device is clunky and sometimes confusing. The missing names, partial names, guessed-at names, physical descriptions, all of it gets hard to follow at times. But that doesn’t take away from the book’s credibility. In some ways, I think you could argue that it lends to it.
Regardless, there’s little way of knowing whether the journal is what is purports to be, a real-time recounting of events. But it exists, and in it is contained Powell’s story, which she says in the book, she was determined to tell.
There was something of a falling out, it seems, when Powell says she was asked to begin providing white girls for U of L parties. After that, the book says her journal includes this entry:
“I promise I’m waiting on the right time to take these bas—rds down. I have made thousands off these ni—as and plan on making more. I had a lot of offers to do more strip parties with McGee, taking trips to other cities to service guys he knew. It was getting cloudy, though. I just have to be smart and patient as well. At the right time, when I decide to tell my story, I will tell my story.”
4. THE DAUGHTERS. You know you’re in for a wild ride when the pull quote at the top of Chapter 2, from Powell, is “PEOPLE MAY THINK THAT I EXPOSE MY KIDS. BUT, S--T, THEY ENJOY THEMSELVES; THEY MEET NEW PEOPLE... FOR THOSE WHO HAVEA PROBLEM WIT’ THIS, KISS MY A--.”
Powell acknowledges up front, her three daughters were working with her. The oldest was 19 when Powell alleges the business with U of L started. The middle child was 17. The youngest was only 15.
Cady begins a discussion on this topic with these paragraphs:
Across America it is likely more than one mother has nudged or pushed a daughter into renting out her body.
The Four Horsemen of Our Apocalypse— greed, poverty, drugs and alcohol— have a way of shoving morality into the nearest dark closet with the hope that it won’t come out while the money’s still coming in.
Certainly it’s at least possible some misguided or sociopathic mother has sent a second daughter along the proverbial primrose path of prostitution.
But three daughters, working with Mom at times without recrimination, and certainly without apology?
At one point, Powell laments how much money she spends a month on marijuana, and expresses a desire to stop.
Elsewhere, she admits, through her journal, that she let her 16-year-old smoke on Christmas, and later writes, “I smoke weed and blacks (thin cigars). So does Lindsay, Rod-Ni, and Shay. I feel sort of bad that all of us smoke, but, worse than that, they are broke and can’t afford the damn habit. So who do they come to? ME! Like now that we discovered Shay smokes, she’s constantly on my ass about give me some weed, let me hit your black.”
The book goes into other details of Powell’s life, both before and after the escort business she was trying to run. It did not shy away from presenting her in as realistic a light as it could. And the light isn’t always favorable.
The two younger daughters, thankfully, eventually signed up for the Federal Job Corps and found work out of town.
The credibility of Powell already has come under attack, and that’s understandable, given her back story. But attacking the source of the information only goes so far. In the end, your attention has to turn to the substance of what she is saying, and whether it is true.
5. THE RECRUITS. There were maybe a half-dozen mentioned by name, one by association, and many more implied, who are alleged to have taken part in activities with the dancers and escorts. The notion that these women were some kind of blockbuster recruiting force is rather humorous. Louisville got good players during this period, but it also missed on many of the more elite recruits it went after.
Regardless, this, for me, is probably the most troubling allegation, along with the allegation that the woman also had sex with some of the fathers who came on recruiting trips.
I know, high school athletes live a different high school existence than most high school kids. But if you, as a parent, send a high school kid to a college campus on a trip sanctioned by the school, and someone in basketball administration is involved in procuring strippers and/or prostitutes for minors, and providing alcohol, that’s disgraceful.
If it happened at a fraternity during rush week, they’d shut it down.
I think U of L understands this. It’s why the university moved so quickly in response.
As for what proof the book offers, there are alleged text messages from McGee mentioning some recruits by name. Others are identified by Powell. There’s the text message screen shot from Blakeney, and the receipt for the money transfer.
Speaking with the Boston Globe today, one of those named, Terry Rozier, said, “When it’s time to answer those questions and deal with that, I will.”
6. THE MONEY. This part, I confess, doesn’t exactly add up to me. If you’re doing a book on this subject, I would think you’d want to arrive at some kind of dollar amount that approximates what you say was given by the school to Powell and the women who worked for her.
The main number we get is “more than $10,000,” not involving tips. I know an exact figure isn’t always available, but how much more?
If it’s $10,000 for 22 parties over four years, then you’re talking about an average of $450 per party for multiple women to dance and have sex with (sometimes) multiple men.
The author needed to do a better job nailing this down, though again, it isn’t exactly easy with a cash enterprise. You don’t write out a lot of receipts in this business. Nobody’s using a debit card to buy their pot.
The other money question, of course, doesn’t come from the book at all. Was McGee spending his own money? Or did it come from the basketball office, or elsewhere?
7. THE BOTTOM LINE. In these situations, there are three kinds of information: Things that are alleged, things you know, things that can be proved.
The first two are good for the gossip press and talk shows. The second kind is good for opinion pieces and the like, but the third is what matters most, especially where the NCAA is concerned.
This book has a lot of the first. It alleges a great many things that, when paired with the circumstantial evidence it presents, looks plausible.
Everyone I see asks me what I think. I think the truth lies somewhere in between likely embellishments in the book and the initial skepticism from U of L coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.
It’s hard to conclude that some kind of relationship didn’t exist between Powell and McGee. If these text messages are legitimate, at a minimum, he arranged for strippers to entertain U of L basketball recruits.
That’s a problem.
But as I cautioned in my first column on these allegations, this is only the beginning. The process will be long. What happens from here?
U of L will compile its own preliminary report and submit it to the NCAA. It’ll be interesting to see if the school is willing to concede any of the allegations, or fights them entirely across the board. And, it’ll be interesting to see what the response from fans will be if it does find that it must concede some of this.
Is it possible that the majority of this is made up? I suppose. Powell says in the book that she has in mind that one day she will write these things. She appears to have tried to hang onto text messages, and kept a journal toward that end.
If you were taking this to court, you wouldn’t have a whole lot to hang your case on. But the NCAA is a different story, and how much the fan base is willing to accept is different still.
The book is choppy, not particularly well-written and fairly hastily put together. McGee is described as a four-year starter at Louisville, for instance. While he did start games in four seasons, he started less than half the games he played in at U of L, and only two games a sophomore. Small things like that slip through the cracks occasionally, making it appear as if the book was put together in a bit of a hurry.
Every time something like this happens, anymore, some of the first words to cross my mind are "Duke lacrosse." In the end, we're all served by letting every side make its case.
If the publishers failed to dot any i’s or cross any t’s on the factual material, they’re going to have a problem.
But if even just the material that is presented from the text message portions of this book is true, it paints not just an unsavory picture, but an unacceptable picture.
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