BY Art Thiel 07:54PM 05/08/2015

Thiel: Carroll, Clark are joined in a leap of faith

Frank Clark made a favorable first impression Friday. But it’s all about deeds, not words, for the Seahawks’ top pick as he tries to dig out from a controversial past at Michigan.

Frank Clark, man on the spot, handled himself fairly well in his first public presser as a Seahawk. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

RENTON — What specifically happened in that Ohio hotel room Nov. 15 that caused Frank Clark to end up in jail, then thrown off the Michigan football team, likely will remain conjecture. All the Seahawks’ controversial top draft choice could do Friday afternoon in his first public encounter in Seattle was explain himself as best a 21-year-old could.

“It matters,” he said, “because at the end of the day you don’t want to be labeled as what some call a woman-beater, or things of that nature. But at the same time, it doesn’t bother me because I know what I did and what I didn’t do. I don’t want to get into the specifics of the case.

“But the coaches and the staff here . . . they had the faith in drafting me and they did their job in what they did. They showed faith in me.”

From here on regarding Clark’s place with the Seahawks, faith is the coin of the realm, because the facts of his altercation with then-girlfriend Diamond Hurt that caused her injuries have been adjudicated. Observers can choose what to believe.

The Seahawks didn’t help by stumbling in their own fact-checking. That isn’t Clark’s responsibility. For more than 15 minutes, he  stood in the sun of Seattle’s warmest day of the year and  patiently tried to be earnest, sincere and humble.

He was asked what he wanted people to know about him.

“Basically that I’m a great guy — I’m still a kid in some people’s eyes,” said Clark. “I’m not a complete person. I’m a person that’s still learning. I’m a player who is still learning. I’m a player who still needs coaching. I’m a person that still needs to get talked to by my elders and still taught the way of life . . . I don’t know it all.

“I believe I’ve got a lot of people on my team that’s helping me do that.”

Some people with long experience in dealing with spousal abuse will heave sighs and shake their world-weary heads — they’ve heard it before. Those people are certainly entitled to their eye rolls. Others will say a court has ruled, everyone deserves another chance, and Pete Carroll’s record of positive influence in young men’s lives is good. They’re entitled to the view too.

I don’t know how Clark’s selection will turn out. What I do know is that most patrol cops will tell you that among the regular calls they most dread are episodes of domestic violence. Sorting the passions and agendas in a quarreling household, usually without reliable, independent evidence, is often close to impossible.

Yet the Seahawks walked directly into the firestorm of domestic violence that has whipped up around the NFL following the Ray Rice saga — as well as many other cases that were previously ignored or marginalized — and took a guy who fell off the draft boards of some teams because of the DV charges.

While GM John Schneider said the Seahawks did “a ton of research” on Clark, none of it included three people at the hotel who responded to the altercation and found a dazed, injured woman on the floor who told police she had been punched. When reporters learned of their accounts of the scene, their stories this week made the Seahawks’ research look lame.

But after an Ohio prosecutor interviewed Clark and Hurt separately, she concluded the altercation didn’t rise to the level of domestic violence and recommended Clark be charged with disorderly conduct. But when a judge agreed to accept the misdemeanor plea April 10, that left 20 days before the draft for the Seahawks to make sure Clark’s version checked out before they all walked into the local and national storm. They didn’t.

But as Seahawks fans have come to know, Carroll is quite confident where others fear to tread.

“We kind of live in the world of optimism around here,” Carroll said Friday, smiling. “We think that something good is going to happen and we’re going to be able to take care of all situations.”

You know, like second-and-goal at the 1-yard line.

Yes, it’s permissible to laugh, fergawdsakes.

Carroll is almost defiant in his willingness to take on gang-banger wannabes and other kids on the edge from all sorts of travail in their upbringings.

“Where others might see time to turn away, we’re going to try and outlast the situation — we’re going to hang,” he said. “Keep fighting and clawing to see if we can’t come up with a solution that makes some sense to help a guy find his best.

“Sometimes they just don’t want to. They’re just not ready for it and those are very disappointing challenges to me. There have been times in the past when I thought we could reach a guy, we could find a way to communicate with him, we could bring him to his best. And we just weren’t able to do that. I always take that as a failing on my part.”

As has been written here recently, that reference would include Percy Harvin, the talented wide receiver who came at great cost to the Seahawks, at Carroll’s insistence, and tossed away at midseason, to great uproar. Carroll might say he failed Harvin, but there are people whose pathologies are beyond the reach of football coaches.

Whether he knows his limits will be a question that lingers over his Seahawks tenure. His case is bolstered by consecutive Super Bowls with a good shot at a third. His skill will be tested by the selection of Clark, whose resume includes an episode where NFL culture has been most vulnerable.

The 2015 season looked formidable enough with its requirement to mitigate the most shocking outcome in Super Bowl history via successful Pursuit of the Lost Yard. Now Carroll is asking players, coaches, 12s and the football nation who care, to have faith in him and Clark for the rest of their Seattle time together.

Karl Wallenda, you have met your match.


YourThoughts

  • woofer

    The happy news with Frank Clark is that because of him Nate Boyer is going to have an opportunity to live out his childhood dream. Bringing in the 34-year old Army vet Boyer is the program’s high-profile feel-good counterweight to drafting Clark. Of course, once the Clark flap calms down, Boyer will be quietly cut. But he will have had his chance to romp with the big guys.

    • art thiel

      Boyer’s arrival was not an accident.

      • jafabian

        Do you expect him to make the team then? Or at least the practice squad?

        • art thiel

          No. It’s feel good story that’s window dressing.

    • Bayview Herb

      Hear, hear, hear. What if any of this prejudgement has been proven.

  • notaboomer

    and now we hear that clark threatened to hit the hotel manager just like he hit his girlfriend. http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/hotel-clerk-says-frank-clark-threatened-her-admitted-hitting-girlfriend/

    • Bruce McDermott

      And we also find a hotel manager who variously explains her utter failure to mention this when she first was interviewed as (1) she “forgot”, AND 2) she was afraid of retaliation. That would make for some fine cross-examination at trial by a competent defense attorney.

      • art thiel

        Her report of the threat was in the public record. Seahawks could have found it ahead of reporters.

        • Bruce McDermott

          You and I are discussing two different, though related issues, Art. One is whether the Hawks investigated enough, given their protestations that they did. That seems to be your focus. The other is whether the evidence to which the prosecutor had access would have supported a DV finding by a jury. That’s mine, because at the end of the day the question, at least to me, is whether it can be proven that Clark committed DV. If the evidence was there, and the Hawks ignored it, then they have violated their promise not to draft a player who hit a woman. In the case of the hotel clerk, my point is whether the Hawks saw her “report in the public record” or not, it is not something on which the prosecutor would have hung her case, to put it mildly.

  • notaboomer

    has anyone figured out what diamond hurt’s take will be of the frank clark contract yet? the agent arranged it and the seahawks are playing along.

    • art thiel

      The situation the Seahawks created promotes the cynicism with which you write.

      • notaboomer

        well that and just pete carroll’s demeanor in general.

  • just passing thru

    I want to suspend judgement, but the released stories do not paint a good picture so far.

    • art thiel

      None of this is anything close to a good picture.

  • John M

    I don’t think we should rush to judgement. Clark was a 21 year old athlete with loads of adrenalin and that day in that room he was very pissed about something we don’t know. He had a rough background and somehow made it this far, he’s a Seahawk. Let’s see how he handles it from here . . .

    • art thiel

      I understand the urge for compassion. I also understand the Seahawks put him and themselves in very awkward positions.

      • Bayview Herb

        No, Art. You have.

        • jafabian

          Disagree. Clark did when he initiated the circumstances that put all this into motion.

        • art thiel

          The Seahawks put themselves in this position by drafting Clark without proper diligence, and Clark put himself in this position with the altercation. Journalists are left to piece together an honest story of what happened. It’s the fundamental function of journalism, protected by the Constitution. C’mon, Herb.

          • Bruce McDermott

            Art, not to pester you, but “an honest story of what happened” on what burden of proof? Does that matter to you? Are you, acting as a jury of one on incomplete evidence and without a trial, willing to conclude for yourself and your readers that Clark committed DV beyond a reasonable doubt? Because if not, smearing him for committing DV is way out of line. In fact, even it you are so willing, not only would that be reckless in the extreme, it would be profoundly antithetical to other sections of that very same Constitution whose “functions” you exalt when it serves your purposes. C’mon, Art.

            You ARE a journalist, but you are neither judge nor jury.

          • anotherthought

            Do you really want a model where journalists are only able to report on possible (or even definite) criminal activity after someone is convicted?

            There is a bunch of due process stuff in the constitution as the drafters wanted to set a high bar before government could impair liberty interests (i.e., throw them in jail). That is not antithetical to freedom of speech.

            There are real limitations on freedom of speech but a bar on discussing items that have been through the justice system is certainly not one of them….

          • Bruce McDermott

            Of course not. And that is clearly not what I’m saying. Art can always say what he wants. It’s just if he wants to call himself a responsible journalist, he doesn’t say stuff like Clark has a “DV issue”, when in fact Clark does not have such an issue as a matter of law.

            Suppose a defendant is accused of first degree murder, but then pleads to involuntary manslaughter after the prosecutor realizes either that he or she can’t prove murder or that the facts as he or she now believes them to be in fact don’t support a murder charge.

            Would Art then write that the defendant nonetheless has “a murder issue”, because he has independently, if certainly incompletely, “investigated” the situation and believes that the plea should not have been offered? To do so is at best sloppy and irresponsible, and at worst simply malicious. Yet that is exactly what he is doing to Clark by asserting that he has a “DV issue”. It’s bogus, and disrespectful of the Constitution that elsewhere protects his rights as a journalist.

          • anotherthought

            Art –

            I agree that the core function of journalism is to craft an honest story of what happened. But I think there are two stories here.

            Absent a video record, I just don’t think it is possible to accurately reconstruct what happened in the room. We know that Clark did not just turn and walk away (leaving the unit) after the remote was thrown at him. That would have been the smart move. After that….

            But there is also another story here (that has been talked about before and to some extent here as well). How well did the Seahawks really check out Clark? They did a “ton of research” but did not contact some key players.

            It may not possible to really know what happened in the room but wouldn’t someone doing a ton of research at least want to talk to as many people who were there as they could?

          • art thiel

            I refer you to my response to Bruce above. In a word, yes, the Seahawks could have and should have done better.

  • jafabian

    I’m amazed at how the NFL in DV cases will take the victim’s word at face value. If they truly did “a ton of research” a lot of times they mistakenly view themselves as the one at fault. They don’t see themselves as a victim, among other reasons. Still will reserve judgement but I question just how hard the club looked into Clark. They also need to work with him on what to say with the media. Understandably he’s a 21 year old just kicking off his NFL career but the words “it doesn’t bother me” should never come out of his mouth when answering questions about the case. No matter what context it’s used in. Accountability and contriteness should be on his mind when discussing it.

    • art thiel

      Obviously the Seahawks are finding out things in this case, via public documents and officials, they didn’t know. Shouldn’t have happened.

      Regarding Clark’s media presence, in fairness, the kid just showed up and he’s very unpolished. I always have been uncomfortable with interviews with kids thrust into a spotlight for which they are not ready.

      • jafabian

        At first I thought that the club needs to work with Clark on coaching him how he should handle the media regarding the case but it seems like the club itself needs that as well. The league should have their DV specialist work with them on that. But then, if the league has to have a DV specialist then that shows that the league itself has a lot of problems. But then, we knew that didn’t we?

        • art thiel

          If they avoid players with DV in their past, they cut some numbers. But the teams can’t hire PR people to tell players how to speak, They have a half-dozen PR people already who hover over interviews. Enough.

  • Bayview Herb

    Let it go. You guys are burying Clark before he even reports. He either will work out or he won’t. Ganging up on him this early is bad journalism and in bad taste. The old saw, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

    • art thiel

      Herb, it’s not about his football play. It’s about the personal behavior standards that the NFL and the Seahawks have set in light of their longtime neglect of domestic violence among the players. Apparently It’s not important to you but it’s important to many fans. Schneider said in 2012 he would not take a player with a DV episode.

  • Bruce McDermott

    Actually, this is much more even-handed than Art’s last piece. So there’s that. I think the point made here–that the Hawks were not as ready as they should have been for questions that could have been anticipated from diligent journalists–is a good one. Pete has ultimate faith in his own judgment, on and off the football field. He’s right a lot. He’s also wrong sometimes. But being wrong doesn’t seem to chasten him at all, which is both a blessing and a curse.

    • art thiel

      You get it this time, Bruce. But it’s not exactly about questions from journalists — it’s about claiming honest assessments, then ignoring or avoiding research that spoils the ambition.

      The Seahawks owed it to themselves and Clark to be thorough with public records and officials. The police chief has a different view than the prosecutor, and the hotel’s night manager included her threat from Clark in a public record. With the football and cultural stakes so high, it’s the least the Seahawks could have done, for the benefit of all.

      The events in the hotel remain in some dispute, but there’s little doubt that the Seahawks fell short of diligence and of Schneider’s claims in 2012 of avoiding players with a DV episode.

      • Bruce McDermott

        Well, I think I “got it” last time, Art, and what I “got” there was an unbalanced, selective set of quotations, without analysis as to why they might not reflect the truth, designed to work people up. But what’s past is past.

        On this comment, I was with you until the last, where you committed a little sleight of hand quite common in these contexts. Clark, by definition, does NOT have a “DV episode”. He has a DV CHARGE, that the prosecutor dropped. Under the law, and quite rightly so, there is a big, big difference. It is this distinction that will not go away, no matter how much you, Larry Stone or anyone else tries to bury it, and it is at the crux of the Hawks’ decision here.

        • art thiel

          Bruce, if you’re not a lawyer, you should be. But parts of this story are beyond the law.

          Clark’s fitness to be a Seahawk, based on the standard previously articulated by Schneider and backed by “elevated awareness” from Carroll, is not based on whether a specific episode rises to the legal definition of DV, particularly in the absence of video or direct eyewitness. Offering and accepting a lesser charge, as you know, can often be a preferred legal outcome for a prosecutor when the woman chooses not to testify, for whatever reason. But being unable to prove DV in court doesn’t mean Clark didn’t breach the NFL/Schneider standard.

          My guess is that the Seahawks looked at the situation as you have: Once Clark pleaded down April 10, that ended the need to investigate further, because only the law matters. But they had 20 days before the draft to examine public records and talk to officials as well as the three women who encountered the immediate aftermath to be sure, to the extent possible, they understood what happened.

          Regarding DV, the NFL’s heightened sensitivity is the new standard, and the Seahawks fell short. The law matters, certainly; so does honesty.

          • Bruce McDermott

            Whether the Hawks met their own standards for vigorous or heightened scrutiny is up for debate. I get that. Personally, from the outside, I am strongly inclined to rely on a prosecutor’s conclusion, separate from the reduction in charge, that the man did not hit or slap or “batter” the woman. That goes a long way for me with the Hawks.

            But what REALLY bothers me is when people speak of a person initially accused of a crime, with the accusation later dropped, as having an “issue” with respect to that crime. Wrong. The criminal justice system has spoken. He is not guilty of DV, because at the end of the day he wasn’t even charged with it, let alone tried and convicted. He has no “DV issue.” Does his admitted “bad choice” put us on alert for his future? Sure. But it doesn’t, it can’t, mean more than that.

          • art thiel

            Your legal point is well-taken, and if I used a flabby term like “issue” I would be wrong, I don’t think I did.

            The key in the incident here is that Hurt told police that evening that Clark punched her face. In subsequent interviews with the prosecutor, she said he did not. We both know that represents a familiar pattern with DV, but we still cannot tell which version is true. The prosecutor obviously made her choice, based on conversations she had with both that she declined to share, bu hinted at.

            Parsing the legal definition of DV has nothing to do with what the Seahawks said were their higher standards for player selection. They did not do what reporters did and pick up the phone to call the persons named in the police report to verify their accounts. The night manager gave the report of Clark’s threat to the police, and was made a public record.

            Had the Seahawks done proper discovery, they may have made a different decision. Your point is reasoned when it comes to fairness for the defendant, but the NFL, responding to criticism of decades neglect on DV, is finally paying attention to fairness for the victims, many of whom have been battered but subsequently decline to pursue charges (many states allow prosecution without the victim’s consent).

            As the claims dribble out in this unwieldy mess, the only court remaining, since the case has been adjudicated, is the court of public opinion, a chaotic nightmare. It is one in which the Seahawks have chosen to play.

          • Bruce McDermott

            You are right, Art. You didn’t say “DV issue.” You said “DV episode”: To wit, from your post in this very conversation yesterday:

            “The events in the hotel remain in some dispute, but there’s little doubt that the Seahawks fell short of diligence and of Schneider’s claims in 2012 of avoiding players with a DV episode.”

            THAT is what I reacted to. 1) He doesn’t have one. 2) To say he does is unfair to him, and doesn’t provide ANY more fairness to the victim. 3) The Hawks chose to rely heavily on this fact, and the prosecutor’s separate declaration that she was dropping the charge NOT because she felt that it was valid, though supported by insufficient evidence, but because she didn’t believe it happened at all. I personally am ok with that decision.

            Optically, I think Schneider and Carroll were naive to assume that this approach was going to be sufficiently thorough (though we don’t know exactly what they did do) to constitute, or justify their description of, an exhaustive investigation. So they played up the depth of an investigation that was missing actions that many people would consider necessary to make that claim. The prosecutor seems to have provided them the beacon that shone through the fog that typifies many criminal investigations.

            I am not a criminal defense lawyer, nor have I or any of my family or close friends ever been a criminal defendant, for that matter, but the protections of our Constitution for those accused of a crime are critical to any system of ordered liberty. Lay off Clark, focus if you will on the Hawks. They can take it. He is much more vulnerable.

          • art thiel

            Schneider’s own rather imprecise quote in 2012 that was the basis for the charge of hypocrisy: “Suffice it to say, we would never, ever take a player that struck
            a female, or had a domestic dispute like that, or did anything like
            that.’’

            My estimate is that the altercation, as best we can know, falls into the category of “domestic dispute like that or did anything like that.”

            The altercation didn’t rise to the level of the law’s definition of DV. So the case was adjudicated. But what say you to the fit under Schneider’s description of Seahawks draft policy? Is it an episode?

            Agreed that Clark is vulnerable. How, then, do you describe Diamond Hurt?

          • Bruce McDermott

            Well, first of all, whatever it was, it was NOT a “DV episode”, which is what you called it.

            Second, I’m not sure what a “domestic dispute like that or did anything like that” was referring to. Was Schneider talking about a particular fact pattern involving another player at the time? I do not recall. If he was, then we would have to analyze that fact pattern to determine whether it was sufficiently close to the Clark incident to conclude that the Hawks violated their own stated policy by drafting him.

            The comparison to Diamond Hurt is a red herring in this discussion. Watching out for people who are vulnerable is not a zero sum game. Taking care not to assassinate Clark’s character by continuing to invoke DV in connection with him does NOTHING to help OR harm Diamond Hurt.

          • art thiel

            Bruce, you’re parsing this like the lawyer you are, and if I needed it, I’d be pleased to have you represent me. But the case is over, and the Seahawks are in the court of public opinion regarding whether their stated standards and practices have been breached by the draft of Clark. That does not excuse any denigration of Clark, which I don’t think I, or anyone else I’ve read, have done.

            But post-adjudication claims have been made against Clark’s version of the story that give pause to accepting the Seahawks’ assumption of innocence. As far as I know, no one is suggesting the Clark case be re-opened; only that the NFL/Seahawks standard of personal behavior, which is higher than than the mandatory minimum of law, has been violated.

            The hotel night manager’s version of events is no more or less verifiable than Clark’s; for you to assume a good defense attorney would take down her testimony is to suggest the prosecutor could not do the same with Clark.

            You know what? I’d be willing to invest the cost of two beers to discuss this face to face. I never do this, but I appreciate a reader who really cares enough to put his name publicly to a strongly held conviction.

          • Bruce McDermott

            Art, do you really believe that neither you nor anyone else has denigrated Clark? Then you haven’t read much on this subject beyond your own writings, I’m afraid. I’ve read posts that would curl your hair about “Clark the woman beater”, and many more oblique references to his probable “guilt”. And, further to my point, you ARE denigrating him when you refer to his “DV episode” after the charge was dropped.

            The distinctions between Clark and the hotel manager are pretty obvious, actually. There is nothing in Clark’s story that is inherently contradictory. There are gaps he refuses to fill, but the hotel manager’s problems are different. She professes that he told her “I’ll hit you like I hit her”, but that she “forgot” to report that to the first interviewer (even when she understood that the entire purpose of the interview was to determine whether Clark had hit Hurt), and then later switched her story regarding her failure to include that quote in her version of the night’s events from a failure of memory to a fear of retaliation. Can you see, therefore, how a lawyer’s task on cross would be much different with Clark than with the manager? As for crossing Clark, that was a prospect the prosecutor here, for reasons she has made clear, did not relish.

            In any event, though, sure, beers sound good to me. We can discuss the rights and responsibilities of journalists under the First Amendment, New York Times v. Sullivan, and a couple of other Amendments in play here that are personal favorites of mine :)

          • art thiel

            I don’t doubt angry people have had their e-way with Clark, but my day is full defending myself. And I won’t make further reference to DV after his April 10 plea was reduced.

            Regarding the hotel mgr, her version of the threat was a written statement given to police the day after the incident and on public file. Her reluctance to speak to it later is secondary. Clark has been evasive and oblique in his statements about what happened, understandably. But a cross under oath might prove illuminating.

            I will email your workplace. Before meeting, I will need a weekend to brush up on the law degree I meant to get :)

          • Bruce McDermott

            The price for having the public’s ear is having its mouth as well :)

            If the chronology you suggest is true, then the manager’s shifting explanations are even stranger, in my view.

            I look forward to your e-mail. Should be fun.

  • 1coolguy

    There were still approx 200 players left in the draft. I think it would have been wise to have selected someone else. The downside outweighs potential upside and his talent could have been matched by
    others. Why go there?

    • art thiel

      As I think you probably know, Carroll believes he can reach everyone. Percy Harvin is one big example where his reach exceeded his grasp.

  • Warchild_70

    I wait though cautiously optimistic I feel the fact’s are yet been proven there is a lot to be determined if in FACT he did harm to his girlfriend. His playing ability speaks for it’s self. His past should be highlighted until all is said and done and concluded. When that happens and it comes out A OK then we will have a beast to unleash and that’s when I will rejoice for the great section to buttress up our D line.