It was much worse than we thought.
When Chris Boyd was named in an arrest warrant one week after four of his former teammates were indicted on sexual battery and aggravated rape charges, Vanderbilt fans were surprised. He hadn't been named as a witness prior to that day, and his case seemed to hinge on the fact that he had received a despicable video message from a drunk, stupid teammate and told him to delete it. Boyd, the Eagle Scout who never even sniffed trouble as a Commodore, couldn't have been involved in more than that.
But he was. The court records read at today's hearing, in which the fourth-year junior filed a conditional plea to a lesser case of being an accessory after the fact, uncovered the unsettling details about his role.
Boyd talked to Brandon Vandenburg, the man prosecutors are painting as the catalyst behind the alleged rape on Vanderbilt's campus, several times that night. He told him to delete the video in question, yes, but he also (along with two teammates) helped move the victim from a dorm hallway into Vandenburg's bed later that evening after speaking with the first-year player on the phone. He spoke with other accused (former) teammates through text, telling them that he "cleared everything up" and that the victim didn't remember any of it. He met with them at Popeye's to discuss the incident a day later. He kept many of these details from police when he was questioned later.
Starting wide receiver Chris Boyd covered up a rape. Every step the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department took on August 16th was entirely justified. Boyd wasn't unfairly linked to the incident - he impeded a police investigation into a felony that will forever change one victim's life.
Legally, Boyd will be in good standing. If he cooperates with the District Attorney's case against the other four players involved in the alleged rape and stays out of trouble in the next year, he'll have his charge dismissed. According to the courts, it will be like the whole thing never happened. Officials at Vanderbilt are currently examining his case and will make a decision about his ongoing suspension in the near future.
But, do Vanderbilt fans even want him to come back? Do they want a player who went out of his way to cover up a sex crime on their campus to represent this school once again? Is the reward of having an NFL-caliber wide receiver take the field on Saturdays worth the regret of starting a player who abetted a rape that involved four of his teammates?
Not in Nashville. For decades, all this program had to stake its name on was an academic reputation and a roster full of high-character young men. Commodore fans didn't have wins; we had graduation rates and squeaky clean arrest blotters. We had the confidence that our athletes were good people - regardless of whether or not that was true - because they did the right things on and off the field. The identity of the Vanderbilt Commodores, even under James Franklin's "Brand New Vandy", is that of a program that puts academics and character first.
To preserve that, they'll have to deal with Boyd like they would any other student who pled to a serious crime.
Personally, Chris Boyd was one of my favorite players on this team. He came to Vanderbilt as one of Bobby Johnson's lottery pick recruits - a young man with a stellar track record and the ability to become an All-SEC player with a bit of hard work and polish. For three years, that seemed to be exactly what he was destined for. And then, on one dumb, hazy summer night, everything he worked for went down the drain.
Boyd was put in a tough spot. He tried to help his friends, and in a less abhorrent situation, that could have been admirable. But this, if the DA's comments and timeline are correct, was too much. Too far. Too deep below the surface of what could have been morally reasonable.
Chris Boyd is a great receiver. He was a great ambassador for this school. But he messed up. And I don't think he can come back from this one. How are Vanderbilt fans supposed to support him on the football field now that they know what he did off of it? How is the school going to uphold the standards it places on its student athletes if he gets to come back to the field this October?
Things like this shouldn't happen anywhere, but they do. What makes Vanderbilt different - what has made us find solace in 2-10 seasons and coaches like Woody Widenhofer and Robbie Caldwell - is that the consequences are real, and these rare problems are dealt with in a way that lets fans like us move on. If Boyd comes back, Vandy loses that aspect. We lose the thing that made being a fan of this team - this school - so special. If Boyd dons the black and gold again, the Commodores will become just another football program.
That's not what Vanderbilt is.