The former Duke star, 14-year NBA veteran, and 2018 MVP of the Big3 geezer hoops league had been accused of rape by Meredith Watson, a Maryland woman who had also leveled rape accusations against Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax. The Clippers referred all questions about Maggette’s job status to Whitney Burak, director of communications for FOX Sports West. Burak declined to comment, or even say when or if Maggette will be allowed back on the broadcasts.
Maggette, the 13th pick in the 1999 NBA draft, is by far the biggest name that has surfaced in a swarm of racist and sexual assault scandals wracking Virginia’s political scene. Maggette plays a key part in the narrative outlined by Watson, to the point where the professional futures of the basketball veteran and the formerly rising star of the Democratic Party would seem to be intertwined. But in the weeks since Watson’s accusations were made public, the case has reached a strange standstill. It’s unclear what, if anything, happens next.
The story began when Governor Ralph Northam was pressured to resign after a photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook showed somebody alleged to be Northam in blackface. If Northam left office, he would be succeeded by Fairfax. But just as Fairfax seemed on the verge of becoming Virginia’s chief executive, Vanessa Tyson, a California college professor, went public with accusations that Fairfax had forced her to perform oral sex during an encounter while the Democratic Party’s 2004 national convention was going on in Boston. Days after Tyson’s accusations, Watson came forward and said she had been raped by Fairfax too.
Deadspin obtained a copy of a letter that Watson’s attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, emailed to Fairfax’s attorney, Beth Wilkinson, around noon on Feb. 8, 2019. In the brief missive, Smith told Wilkinson, a D.C. lawyer who represented Brett Kavanaugh during the Supreme Court justice’s contentious and sexual-assault-accusation-filled confirmation hearings last fall, that Watson wanted the lieutenant governor to resign, and fast.
The entirety of the email from Smith:
Please be advised that I represent Meredith Watson. Justin Fairfax raped my client in 2000 while he was a Senior and she was a Junior at Duke University. My client has fresh complaint witnesses and written confirmation of her previously telling various people about the rape.
My client would like to avoid media attention about this traumatic event which has affected her entire life since, and she is not interested in any financial damages. She is motivated by her strong sense of civic duty to ensure that those seeking or serving in public office are of high character. Mr. Fairfax’s past behavior is obviously disqualifying for any public office. We hope that he reaches the same conclusion. Please respond by 3 p.m. today.
Fairfax didn’t resign, and by nightfall Watson’s legal and PR reps had issued a press release saying Fairfax had raped her at Duke. Watson’s attorney said her client came forward to provide support to Tyson, whose story and credibility were being challenged. Fairfax immediately denied assaulting Watson, and later claimed that the letter from Smith was the first time he’d ever heard of a rape accusation from Watson. Smith then released another statement, which said that Watson had also been raped at Duke by another assailant identified by the attorney only as “a basketball player.” That was pertinent to Watson’s story, Smith said, because Fairfax and Watson were friends at Duke, and she’d told Fairfax about being assaulted by the player. Fairfax’s knowledge of the first rape, Smith said, and his knowledge that the player was not punished, factored into his assault of Watson.
A portion of the statement:
Ms. Watson was raped by a basketball player during her sophomore year at Duke. She went to the Dean, who provided no help and discouraged her from pursuing the claim further. Ms. Watson also told friends, including Justin Fairfax. Mr. Fairfax then used this prior assault against Ms. Watson, as he explained to her during the only encounter she had with him after the rape.
She left a campus party when he arrived, and he followed her out. She turned and asked, ‘Why did you do it?’ Mr. Fairfax answered: ‘I knew that because of what happened to you last year, you’d be too afraid to say anything.’
Mr. Fairfax actually used the prior rape of his “friend” against her when he chose to rape her in a premeditated way.
On Feb. 11, the New York Times put a name to the “basketball player,” reporting that Watson had told friends “Corey Maggette raped her at Duke University 20 years ago and that school officials did not pursue the claim.” The Times also quoted R. Stanton Jones, identified as a childhood friend of Watson’s, saying that she’d told him in 2001 “that she had been raped twice at Duke,” and had named Maggette as one of her attackers.
Karen Kessler of Evergreen Partners, the New Jersey public relations firm working on Watson’s behalf, also gave the Times screenshots, apparently from Facebook messages between Watson and an unnamed friend in March 2017 discussing the assaults. In one, the unnamed friend asked Watson if she had ever reported the Fairfax rape to Duke officials, and Watson responded, “You know I didn’t report it after how the university responded when I reported Corey Maggette.”
Fox Sports West issued a statement to the Times: “FOX Sports takes allegations of misconduct seriously, and we are looking into the matter. We have no further comment at this time.” The network removed Maggette from the Clippers broadcast crew that day.
Maggette has all but disappeared since the New York Times report. He has not mounted any public defense of the charges since that statement was first released, and he is still not back on the broadcasts. Maggette’s agent, Debbie Spander of the Wasserman agency, referred questions about the Watson’s accusation to a Chicago public relations firm. That firm declined to respond to Deadspin’s questions, and instead reissued a statement from Maggette denying any previous knowledge of the charges made by Watson:
“It has only been through media accounts and a statement from Meredith Watson’s lawyer that I first learned or heard of anything about these sexual assault allegations. I have never sexually assaulted anyone in my life and I completely and categorically deny any such charge.
Meanwhile, Fairfax’s side has been trying to use Maggette to poke holes in Watson’s story. They point to the omission of Maggette from an article that appeared under Watson’s byline in the Washington Post’s opinion section on Feb. 18. In that piece, Watson blasted Virginia legislators and the media for what she saw as growing disinterest in her case. Fairfax backers insist Maggette’s exclusion shows Watson is more interested in bringing a politician down than in getting justice or calling attention to sexual assault.
“We find it interesting that [Nancy Erika Smith] brought up ‘a Duke basketball player,’” says Lauren Burke, Fairfax’s spokesperson. “Strange that Nancy Erika Smith hasn’t brought Maggette up since.”
It might be too late for anybody to make Maggette vanish from the narrative, however. Maggette’s alleged role also means this investigation could have implications beyond Fox Sports West. If Watson’s accusations hold, not only will Fairfax be out of office and Maggette out of a job, but Duke will have to answer questions about what went on 20 years ago when Watson first told school officials she’d been raped by the star athlete. When Watson’s allegations against Maggette first became news, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has been at the university since 1980, said he had “no knowledge” of a sexual assault accusation against Maggette, who left Duke for the NBA at the end of the 1998-1999 school year (becoming the school’s first “one and done” player). Duke would also have to explain why a dean at the school, as Watson’s attorney has alleged, “discouraged her from pursuing the claim further.”
Yet it’s been more than a month since Watson made her story public, and despite the seriousness of the allegations and the high public profiles of those accused, there has been very little movement towards any meaningful answers. Duke officials seem no closer to being ready to confirm or deny the incredibly serious allegations Watson leveled against the school and its former basketball star. A university spokesman, Mike Schoenfeld, declined to respond to Deadspin’s questions about the Maggette and Fairfax matters, other than to email the following statement:
We are gathering information to determine what processes and procedures were in place during the time period in which these events were alleged to have occurred, and whether they were activated and followed. We are not able to provide further information or comment on any individual at this time.
(Schoenfeld issued the same statement, word for word, to the New York Times more than a month ago, when Maggette’s name first surfaced.)
Watson, through her attorney and in her Post op-ed, has tried to move things along by repeatedly calling on Virginia lawmakers to hold hearings in Richmond regarding her allegations, and has said she would testify publicly in the statehouse. Tyson has also said she would testify about being assaulted. There’s no reason to believe such a hearing will happen anytime soon, though. The legislature went out of session for the year on Feb. 24, without scheduling any action related to the accusations against Fairfax. Burke, the lieutenant governor’s spokesperson, says that lawmakers would have to schedule a special session for the hearings if they’re to be held in 2019, and that it’s unlikely anything would be put on books before fall.
Fairfax has instead called for state and federal law enforcement agencies to investigate the charges against him. There’s no indication Watson has pursued a criminal case against either Fairfax or Maggette. “What we want them to do is file a criminal case,” Burke said. “If a crime occurred, law enforcement should involved. That’s what everybody should be asking: Why isn’t law enforcement involved?”
Fairfax’s advocates have also been spreading around the name of a former Duke dean who they claim is the person to whom Watson reported being raped by Maggette, though their reasons for doing so aren’t entirely clear.
Deadspin could not reach the former dean, who was recently placed on leave from a job at a California university for an incident unrelated to Watson’s allegations. That person did not respond to an interview request forwarded through colleagues at the school.