On April 30, 2021, the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Jackson Carman in the second round out of Clemson University, where he played left tackle, protecting the blind side of the draft’s first overall pick, quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Carman got the call from the Bengals while surrounded by a big group of family, friends, and his former high school coaches at his home in Fairfield, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb. He saw the call from area code 513, and said that he just knew.
“It was an amazing feeling, knowing I was going to be home,” Carman told the Cincinnati media that night. “It was indescribable.”
Reporters asked Carman that night about winning the national championship at Clemson, about his favorite high school football game, about what he expected to be the hardest part of transitioning from tackle to guard, as he’d do in the pros. One of the last questions was about his back injury, a herniated disc that required surgery in January. Was he worried how teams might view that coming into the draft?
The back injury was a minor concern for NFL teams compared to Carman’s other red flag, which one scout who does not work for the Bengals described as “disturbing”; employees for five different teams said it was enough for their teams to consider him undraftable. Employees representing two other teams said theirs knocked him down their draft board and wouldn’t consider him before the fourth round. But no reporters asked Carman about that issue on draft night, likely because it had never been reported on.
“Our security guy had a hell of a time getting the reports,” said one personnel executive who works for an NFL team that also had offensive line needs last year. “They did not want to give them up.”
On May 10, 2020, less than a year before Carman’s draft night, a 17-year-old girl, who we will refer to as Jane Doe, called the Clemson University Police Department and said that Carman had raped her two years earlier, when she was 15 years old and he was 18. Carman told police it was consensual. After a five-month investigation by Clemson police, the county solicitor determined there wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge Carman, and the investigation stayed out of the news while Carman became the highest drafted offensive lineman out of Clemson since 1970.
It is unclear how much the Bengals knew about the police investigation before drafting Carman. The team did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Defector, and did not respond to a request to interview Carman.
Defector also spoke to 13 NFL team employees, a group that included scouts, personnel executives, and coaches, none affiliated with the Bengals, who spoke about what they had heard about Carman before the draft, as well as Carman’s unique pro day, during which a representative of his read aloud a statement about the investigation to scouts in attendance. They all agreed that word of a police investigation started to filter through their community a few weeks before the draft, and with little time to find out more details, their teams either pulled Carman from their draft boards or pushed him down to a lower round. But the Bengals—a team with the smallest scouting department in the league, and owned by a legendarily thrifty owner—did not.
Clemson prepared transcripts of Doe’s two interviews with Clemson Police Lieutenant Michael Collins. In the first interview transcript, and in her subsequent written statement in the case file, Doe said that she first started talking to Carman in May of 2018, after he followed her on Instagram and started liking her photos. She followed him back and they began to directly message each other. She said they messaged each other for about a week, and he asked her questions about her age, hobbies, and school. In May of 2018, Carman hadn’t yet played a single snap for Clemson. But he wasn’t just a random player, either. He was the No. 2 ranked offensive tackle in his recruiting class with 41 scholarship offers, and he had enrolled early at Clemson, starting in January of that year.
According to the first interview transcript, Doe said that it was during this time that she told him she was 15 years old, and he told her he was 18 years old. “He knew the entire time,” she said. They exchanged numbers over Instagram and then began texting each other. Per the transcript, she said that Carman asked her to stay the night at his apartment, which was student housing on Clemson’s campus. The case file listed his address at that time as the Lightsey Bridge complex. She told police she declined to stay over and suggested they go to a movie instead.
She asked him to meet her mom before they went to the movies, and he agreed, she told police. Around May 23 or May 24, Carman met Doe at her house and spoke with her mom and her siblings. Then Carman drove with her to Hollywood Cinemas in Greenville, South Carolina. After the movie, which she said started around 11:00 p.m., Doe said Carman tried to kiss her in his car in the parking lot; Carman made numerous attempts and “used his body strength to his advantage at all times with me,” she told police in her first interview. “He was just very pushy and handsy and he shouldn’t have been.”
She told him that she needed to get home because of the time, and called her mom to let her know she would be late. Carman dropped her off around 1:00 a.m., she told Clemson police.
The next day, she said Carman asked to see her again and invited her to go grocery shopping and run some other errands with him. Doe said her mother always warned her not to go to a guy’s house alone, so she told her not to go to Clemson with Carman, but otherwise approved of their plans to run errands. Doe told police, “I didn’t think anything of it.” Carman picked her up around 12:30 p.m. in his 2009 silver Mazda CX-7. She remembered he was wearing gray sweats and a white t-shirt, and she was wearing a red v-neck t-shirt, bleach-washed denim shorts, and sandals, she told police.
Doe told police that they first stopped at a music store in Easley, S.C. to buy a new string for Carman’s guitar, but the store was closed, so he drove to a Walmart in Clemson where he spent time looking at toys. Doe told police that she remembered he bought a remote control car, but no groceries. While they were at Walmart, Doe’s mother called her, and she lied, saying they were still in Easley because she knew her mom would be upset that she was in Clemson with Carman.
When Carman was done shopping at Walmart, Doe told police that he told her that he needed to drop his stuff off at his dorm. She thought it would be a quick stop, so she agreed. “I thought OK, we drop your stuff off, we can drop it off and go,” she told police in her first interview. But once they were inside his dorm, Carman started playing with his new toys and singing to her while playing his guitar, she told police. He gave her a tour that ended in his bedroom. Doe said she didn’t see anyone else in the dorm, and Carman asked her to sit on his bed with him. He turned on an anime show because she had told him earlier that she hated anime. She said she laid on the right side of the bed and Carman laid on the left side and they weren’t touching at all. She closed her eyes because she wasn’t interested in the show. Then Carman rolled over on top of her, she told police, and they started kissing.
Doe told police that at first she was “interacting with it, and then it was, like, too aggressive and I was like no, you just—no.” She said Carman propped himself up on his right elbow and, with his left hand, he held her face, “not in, like a calming way. It was, like, keeping me—keeping me there.” Then, she said, Carman reached down and tried to unzip her shorts. She told him that she wasn’t ready.
“And he wouldn’t stop,” she told police in her first interview. “And I told him no. I was like please don’t do this, and he did it anyway.”
She said she couldn’t move because Carman was laying across her body. “He was a big dude,” she told police in her first interview. Clemson’s media guide listed Carman as 6-foot-6 and 350 pounds. She said Carman took off her shorts and underwear at the same time and threw the clothing across the room.
“He was on top of me the entire time and at that point if I had already told you no a few times and you’re continuing to do it I was just scared at that point,” she told police. “I didn’t feel like there was much I could do, so.”
When Carman got her shorts off, Doe said she covered her face. “I was embarrassed because I felt like I had no power,” she said. “… I was kind of in denial of what was going on at the moment.”
“I was like, ‘No, no, I’m—I’m not ready yet I don’t want to do this.’ And he then took off his sweats and I can’t sit here and tell you I don’t know if he wore protection. I don’t know. I never looked at him. I didn’t—”
Doe told police Carman stepped off the bed briefly to take off his sweatpants, and when he got back on, she told him no another time. “Again, I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this, I’m not ready,’” she told police. “And then before I knew it, he was putting his big penis inside of me.”
Lt. Collins asked Doe how she would describe what Carman was doing. “Forcing himself on me,” she said. “Rape.”
Doe told Collins that her phone was on the side table next to the bed, but she never tried to grab it because she was scared. She said Carman ejaculated after five or 10 minutes, but not inside of her. She told police that she thought he ejaculated on the bed, but she didn’t look. “I didn’t want to,” she said. “I just wasn’t—that wasn’t my focus at the time.”
After recounting what she said happened to Lt. Collins, Doe started crying. He offered her a tissue and left the room. In the supplemental narrative Collins filed about his interview with Doe, he wrote that Doe had to wipe tears from her face during the interview and at one point had to stop so she could “gather all her emotions before continuing.”
When Doe resumed her interview with Collins, she said that while she was telling Carman no, he told her, “Come on, it’s OK, it’s not a big deal, you’ll be fine.”
Per the first interview transcript, Doe said that Carman left the room after he finished, and as soon as he did, she started crying. When she heard Carman walking back into the room, she said she wiped away her tears and got up to go to the bathroom, just around the corner from Carman’s bedroom. Once inside the bathroom, Doe called her friend to tell her that ”something really bad just happened,” and that Carman forced himself on her. “I was crying and I couldn’t get my words out correctly,” she told police. Her friend told her to tell Carman to take her home as soon as possible, and to let her know when she got home so that she could come over right away, she told police.
Doe then left the bathroom and went back into the bedroom, where Carman was sitting in the chair by his bed and playing with his remote control car. She told police she told him she’d appreciate it if he could take her home. “He grabbed my hand and like pulled me to his lap and was like, ‘I’m sorry,’” she told police. “He was like, ‘are you okay?’ And I was like, ‘no, I’m not okay.’”
Doe said he told her she didn’t have to leave right then, that they could find something else to do, but she told him, “I don’t want to be here” and she grabbed her keys and wallet from the side of the bed she’d been laying on and she started walking out to his car. He followed shortly after.
During the drive back to her house, she said Carman tried to make conversation “as if nothing had happened.” She said she did not reply to him. When they pulled into her driveway around 6:30 p.m., she told police she got out of the car immediately. Carman rolled down his window. “He was like, ‘Can we talk about this?’” She said no and went inside. “I said, ‘Whatever this is, it’s done.’ I was like, ‘You know what you did was wrong.’”
Once inside, she said Carman kept texting her telling her to come back outside to talk. Doe provided a screenshot of Carman’s texts to police. “I don’t want to waste a Saturday,” the message said. Doe said her mom asked her what was wrong, but she didn’t want to tell her what happened right then. She told her mom that Carman was still outside, and her mom told her to go tell him to leave if she didn’t want him there. So she went back outside. “He was crying at that point,” she told police. “He was like, ‘Can we—can we try and fix this?’”
She told police that she told Carman to get off her property and he finally did. She said that right after he left, he texted her again. This time saying, “I feel like I pushed you.” She told police that she’s switched phones since then and lost the screenshot of his next message, but she remembered that “he justified what he did by saying that sex is a form of expressing emotions and showing, like, expressing love and that’s why he did what he did.”
“That was the end of that conversation because I told him he was sick and I blocked him,” she told police.
After Carman drove away that night, Doe said her mom could tell something was still wrong. “My energy was completely off,” she told police. “I was not the welcoming person to have around because I didn’t really know how to feel. I didn’t know how to—I didn’t know what to tell. I didn’t know who to tell.”
She said her mom told her she could confide in her, so she did. She remembered that her mom was laying down when she told her, and as soon as she said it she sat up right away. Her mom told her they needed to report it to the police right away, but Doe told the police in 2020 that she begged her mom not to report it at the time.
“I always thought because he’s a Clemson football player, who would listen to me, so that was why I didn’t go out—I didn’t come out with it at first,” Doe told police in her first interview.
Doe’s mom relented, as long as she agreed to cut off all contact with Carman. She did, and she said she also told her siblings about what happened. According to Collins’s notes from his interview with Doe’s mom, she said that she told her daughter that the longer she waited to report it, “the more likelihood there would be nothing the police could do.” Her mom also told Collins that she felt like her daughter would eventually want to report it, but she was surprised it took as long as it did for her to do so.
When Doe first called Clemson police to report the rape, she spoke to Clemson Police Sergeant Janet Brock. Brock wrote in her police narrative that Doe said that the friend she had called from the bathroom came over to her house that night and they decided to drive to Clemson to collect proof of Carman’s identity. She took a photo of his silver Mazda’s license plate and his apartment number. (Two years later, she sent those photos, along with several screenshots of messages from Carman, to the Clemson police.)
After that night, Doe said in the first interview transcript, she blocked Carman on iMessage. Then she said she blocked him on Snapchat when he went to that app to contact her when he realized she’d blocked him on messages, and then she blocked him on Instagram, too. She said that a few days before her birthday in August of that same year, he tried to Facetime her from his Gmail (because his phone number was blocked). She sent a screenshot of his Facetime call to the police. She said he later requested her on Facebook and Twitter. She then blocked him on those apps as well.
Doe told Lt. Collins that she decided to report it in 2020 because she had recently found out that a childhood friend of hers was seeing Carman. “I told her, not because I’m jealous, but for the safety of her,” Doe said.
“She did not believe me, and told me she was going to call him to verify the story,” Doe wrote in her first written statement to the police. “This is what prompted me to finally come forward with [the] story. He’s just getting too close now.”
Lt. Collins was the commander in charge of investigations for Clemson police. Before he was a Clemson police officer, he was a Clemson football player and student assistant coach.
Collins played for the Tigers in 2003 and 2004. He was a wide receiver who earned two varsity letters and graduated with a degree in sociology in 2005. A degenerative hip condition forced him to retire with one year of eligibility left, so he worked as a student assistant coach for the 2005 season. Clemson’s student affairs team interviewed him for a podcast in 2019, shortly after he was hired; Clemson promoted it on the website by writing that Collins was once a wide receiver in the same room as “a young, up-and-coming position coach by the name of Dabo Swinney.”
In a statement to Defector, Clemson Police Chief Greg Mullen said all criminal investigations were assigned to available officers in that division. “There was no conflict of interest in this case, and at no point did Lt. Collins demonstrate any conduct that he wouldn’t fairly investigate a crime no matter the victim or accused,” Mullen wrote.
In November of 2020, Collins left his job at Clemson. In a statement to Defector, Mullen said Collins returned to South Carolina’s State Law Enforcement Division. Defector requested Collins’s personnel file, but the university’s general counsel denied the request on grounds that the records in his file were exempt under South Carolina’s FOIA code because they contain information “of a personal nature.” Defector also requested all emails and text messages between Collins and Doe, but Clemson’s assistant general counsel said there were no emails, and he was unable to retrieve any text messages because Collins no longer worked for Clemson.
Collins began the investigation by interviewing Doe and her mother at the Clemson University Police Department on May 12, 2020. He then interviewed her sister, brother, and five different friends, according to the case file. All seven people said that they remembered Doe telling them about the incident at some point over the two-year span. Three of them said that Doe told them she was raped, three others said Doe told them she was sexually assaulted, one said she said that Carman forced himself on her. Five of those people recalled her telling them what happened within the first two months.
On May 14, two days after he interviewed Doe, Collins reached out to the friend that Doe said she called from the bathroom. The friend told Collins that she did not remember Doe calling her that night. She did remember going over to her house; she said that was when Doe told her what happened. The friend recalled Doe telling her that “she did not say ‘no’ to Carman because she was afraid of how he would react” but she did not want to have sex with him. The friend told Collins that Doe was not able to put into words what happened to her so she didn’t know all the details of what happened, but she knew, per Collins’s report of his interview with her, that “it was not completely consensual.” She said Doe was emotional when talking to her about it. In a follow-up interview on June 5, the friend also confirmed that she took Doe back to Clemson that night to get photos of Carman’s license plate and door number.
A second friend, who told Collins that she is best friends with Doe, told him that Doe told her about the incident about a year after it happened, in May of 2019. She told Collins that Doe didn’t tell her a lot of details, but that Carman “forced her to do some things she did not want to do,” and that he raped her. Collins wrote that at first, the best friend didn’t remember Carman’s name, just that he played football for Clemson and his last name started with a “C.” After looking back through texts with Doe, the friend located his name. She remembered that Doe told her she didn’t report the incident because she felt embarrassed, and Collins wrote in his report, “like she was a weak woman because she was not able to get him off of her and she had no control over the situation.”
This friend also remembered Doe telling her that one of her old friends had fallen in love with a boy who turned out to be Carman, and that she told that friend about the assault, which led to Doe’s decision to contact law enforcement.
Collins then interviewed a male friend, who said that Doe told him about the incident in the fall of 2018, during a phone call. He said she wasn’t comfortable going into details but she told him that she was assaulted by a guy named Jackson. He told Collins that he thought that she was reporting the incident because “it had always bothered her and she was afraid, but now she was ready.”
Doe’s sister told Collins that Doe called her and told her about the incident two or three weeks after it happened. She remembered Doe telling her that Carman picked her up at home and the two of them went back to his apartment in Clemson, where he forced himself on her and raped her. Per Collins’s report, the sister said that Doe told Carman no, “screamed and tried to get away,” and “yelled and tried to fight Carman off but was unable to because of the difference in size and strength.” She said she did not know if Doe initially granted consent and then withdrew it, or if she never consented at all. She remembered that Doe didn’t want to report the incident at the time because she was scared. She was 15 years old and she didn’t want her friends at school to find out, and she was afraid of what Carman would do or how it might affect him. The sister said that she noticed a change in Doe, emotionally and mentally, afterward. Collins’s report of the interview with the sister said, “[Doe] was not as bubbly, spunky, or as outgoing.”
The sister told Collins that, when she talked to Doe about what happened and about finally deciding to report it, Doe didn’t seem as sad or embarrassed about it, and she got the impression she was looking for justice.
Doe’s brother told Collins that he first heard about it from his mother, and then he called Doe to ask about it, but she didn’t want to talk about it then. A couple months later, she told him about it in person. Collins wrote that, initially, the brother didn’t recall Carman’s name, just that he played football at Clemson. The brother said Doe told him that the man got on top of her and she was not able to get up. He said she didn’t tell him everything about what happened, but she did say that she was raped. He remembered that she told Carman no, and told him to stop. The brother told Collins that he had told his sister not to go to the guy’s apartment because after he first met Carman before the movie date “he did not feel right about him.” Collins wrote in his report that the brother “thought it was odd that a college student wanted to be with a 15-year-old.”
The brother told Collins that he told his mom he was worried about this guy before the incident, and he remembered Doe showing him some messages from Carman. He couldn’t remember the exact words in the messages, but Collins wrote in his report that the brother “felt like the messages showed that Carman admitted to what had occurred.”
The childhood friend who was dating Carman told Collins that she and Doe used to be close, but had a falling out over a boy while in high school; they didn’t talk much anymore, but stayed in touch over social media. She said that on May 8 or May 9 of 2020, she contacted Doe over Snapchat and told her that she was seeing someone and she sent Doe a picture of herself with the guy. She said that Doe recognized Carman right away and told her that she needed to be careful with him. The childhood friend asked Doe for more information, but she said Doe didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
About five or 10 minutes later, the childhood friend said, Doe sent her a message and told her to call her when she got home. So she called, and according to Collins’s interview notes, Doe told her that Carman “had forced himself on her.” The childhood friend said Doe didn’t give a lot of details, but said it happened in Carman’s dorm room. The childhood friend told Collins that she was shocked by the story and she told Doe she was going to talk to Carman about it.
Per Collins’s interview notes, the childhood friend told him that she Facetimed Carman and asked him what happened between him and Doe. She said Carman was confused about why she was asking because it was so long ago and he didn’t know the two knew each other. She said that Carman told her that Doe was in his dorm room, that he performed oral sex on her, and that she asked him to go further. She said Carman told her that Doe put a condom on him and they had sex. The childhood friend told Collins that Carman told her that Doe “acted weird” during the drive from his dorm to her house and, when they got to her house, she asked him to leave her alone. Per Collins’s report, she said that Carman told her that Doe “got her feelings hurt because she wanted a relationship and he did not.”
Carman never spoke to police about what happened. He retained two local criminal defense attorneys, Sid Mitchell and Ryan Beasley. On May 21, Collins wrote in his report that Beasley agreed to Carman being interviewed at CUPD on May 26. But when Beasley and Carman arrived that day, Beasley told Collins that he would only allow Carman to provide a written statement and he would not be answering any questions. Collins wrote in his report that Beasley told him Carman had already passed a polygraph test, “in reference to the sexual encounter with the woman being consensual.”
Carman’s written statement was one sentence: “I had sex with [redacted] approximately 2 years ago when I was 18 years old and it was consensual.”
Carman’s legal team also provided Clemson police with a copy of results from a polygraph test done by Robert Drdak. It said that Carman was asked three questions, which he was allowed to review ahead of time: Did you force [redacted] to engage in any sexual act with you? When you had sex with [redacted], did you believe she was a consenting participant? When you had sex with [redacted], did she ask you if you had a condom? He was deemed “non-deceptive.”
The results of polygraph tests generally are considered of dubious evidentiary value and typically are not allowed in courts. In South Carolina, the general rule is that no mention of a polygraph test should be made in front of a jury, and that if a reference is made, the court is supposed to ensure that no improper inference can be made from it.
Collins had agents from South Carolina’s State Law Enforcement Division review Carman’s polygraph result. The examiners from the state agency had a different reading of Carman’s chart: “No opinion.” Collins asked Beasley if Carman would take another polygraph, this time with SLED as the examiner. Beasley replied by asking Collins if Doe had been made to take a polygraph test. Collins said no, and she would only need to if the Solicitor’s Office decided it was necessary. Beasley told Collins he didn’t think it was fair for his client to take two polygraphs when Doe had not taken one.
On May 29, Collins interviewed Doe for a second time and asked questions based on the answers Carman gave in his polygraph result, as well as on what her childhood friend had said.
“So you remember specifically verbalizing no?” Collins asked, according to a transcript provided by Clemson.
“Yes I’ve said that numerous times,” Doe said.
“No oral?” Collins asked a few questions later.
“No,” she answered.
“What about you on him?” Collins asked.
“No,” she answered again.
She told Collins that she initially consented to kissing Carman while they were on his bed, but when he put his hand down her shorts, she told him no.
“It was no the entire time?” Collins asked.
“It was no the entire time,” she said.
She said that Carman did not hold her down or threaten her to have sex with him, but she wasn’t able to get out from underneath him because of his weight. She said she never told Carman to get off of her because she had already told him no and he still refused to stop.
“I was scared,” she told Collins in her second interview. “I felt alone. I knew no one could hear me so I thought if I screamed it would do no help.”
She said again that she didn’t know if he had used a condom because she was covering her face. She added that before they got to his apartment, they stopped and ate sushi and ramen at a restaurant in Clemson. She said that after Carman dropped her off that night, she showered immediately and laid in bed until the friend she called from his bathroom came over. Then the friend drove her back to Carman’s apartment on Clemson’s campus so she could take a photo of his room number and his license plate. “She thought that would just be a good idea in case I wanted to report it after,” Doe told Collins. “But I never ended up doing it.”
On July 1, Collins completed his investigation and submitted the case file to the assistant solicitor, Britni McCall. On Aug. 28, McCall contacted Collins to request follow-up items related to the case. That specific list of items was not included in the case file but, based on Collins’s next steps, one of the requests involved tracking down Doe’s phone records from the time of the incident and from the time she reported to police. Her mom could not remember Doe’s phone number then or the provider, but didn’t think she was on their family plan at the time and said that her daughter had gone through several phones and phone numbers and possibly service providers since then. The mom also said that her daughter had just recently gotten a new number, and she gave that number to Collins.
Collins called Doe to tell her that the Solicitor’s Office had requested more information, and she said that she did not remember her phone number or service provider from May 2018, either.
Collins then called back the first friend, whom Doe said she had called from Carman’s bathroom; she gave him the phone number she thought Doe was using in 2018 at the time of the incident. But the number turned out to be the same number from when Doe reported to police in May of 2020.
On Sept. 15, Collins submitted a search warrant to Doe’s cell phone company for her phone records from May 1, 2020 to May 18, 2020. One day later, on Sept. 16, Solicitor W. Walter Wilkins determined there was insufficient evidence to support criminal charges that could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Wilkins noted the outstanding search warrant and wrote that the case could be resubmitted with that evidence when it became available.
By that date, Carman had started Clemson’s first game of the 2020 season, a win at Wake Forest. He was never suspended or put on probation. Clemson’s student-athlete handbook for 2020-21 says that a student-athlete will be suspended immediately if arrested for, or criminally charged with criminal sexual conduct, which Carman was not. A spokesperson for Clemson athletics told Defector that shortly before the team left to travel to the season opener at Wake Forest, Clemson Athletics’ designated staff liaison to local police got a phone call that the Solicitor’s Office would not be charging Carman. Defector requested all correspondence between Clemson police and Clemson’s athletic department and football staff regarding Carman, but records pertaining to a student are exempt from disclosure under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that protects student education records.
On March 15, 2021, Sergeant Janet Brock of Clemson police reviewed Doe’s cell phone records from the search warrant and wrote “nothing was found that could corroborate the victim’s statement.” On May 12, the case was officially closed. Defector received a copy of the search warrant cell phone records, but all the information was redacted.
When asked for comment on why he decided the evidence was insufficient, Solicitor Wilkins told Defector that he does not comment on the specifics of his internal legal analysis, but added that he did not take the polygraph into account as evidence. “We determined we could not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
Defector spoke to two NFL scouts who visited Clemson in person during the 2020 college football season. Neither scout knew about the allegations brought against Carman until late in the draft process, sometime in early April of last year.
“They never talked about that shit,” the first scout said.
Every time he visits a school and talks to coaches about a specific player, the first scout said he’ll ask a blanket question: Is there anything off the field about this guy that we need to know about?
During his interview with Defector, he read from his notes from his Fall 2020 visit: “No off the field issues with the law. Will have a miss here or there, he’s immature, he does things last minute, accountability issues. I left there not knowing anything about this thing.”
The second scout, the one who interviewed Carman in the draft process, said it’s unusual for information as serious as this to come out so late in the draft process, and that the limited in-person availability with prospects and college coaches because of COVID-19 protocol during the 2020 season “100 percent” impacted the flow of information that year. He doesn’t remember exactly how he found out about the allegation. “It was a four-week scramble,” the scout says.
But he’s not surprised that no one at Clemson mentioned anything other than vague immaturity as a concern for Carman. (A spokesperson for Clemson Athletics said that their designated staff liaison to local police was notified in May 2020 that CUPD had opened an investigation into allegations against Carman).
“You want to protect the kid, you are in this together at that point, once you take a guy like that,” the second scout said. “Especially since this information wasn’t public at the time, there wasn’t really much incentive—incentive is probably the wrong word—for Clemson to disclose this stuff.”
An agent who recruited Carman that fall said he didn’t know anything about the allegation either. A local news station requested the police report in September 2020, but the case hadn’t been officially closed yet, so Clemson denied that request.
The personnel executive for the team with a need for an offensive lineman said he also didn’t find out about the allegation until April, when his team’s college scouting director called him to tell him he’d heard there was something in Carman’s past they needed to pull a report on. And until his team’s security director got the police report from Clemson, he said they were strongly considering drafting Carman and had him rated above the offensive lineman they ultimately chose. The executive said the team’s owner had instructed the front office to remove any prospect with a history of domestic violence or sexual assault (though at the time of the 2021 NFL draft, the team had a player on the roster who had recently been charged with assaulting a woman) and his general manager was “really disturbed” after he read through the police report. The team changed Carman’s character grade to an F, highlighted in a bright red box in their internal database.
Four NFL teams directly requested the police report from Clemson, but the Bengals were not one of them. Security directors working for the Seahawks, Jets, Bears, and Texans sent in requests in March and April of 2021. Two private investigators working for the same firm on behalf of “several professional sports organizations” also requested the report, as did another individual for a company “contracted by multiple NFL teams to do due diligence on prospects in the draft.” Defector contacted all three independent investigators and each declined to say if they were working for the Bengals, or reveal which NFL teams had hired them.
At his press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine this March, Defector asked Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin if the Bengals outsource any of their off-the-field background work on prospects to other companies or investigative firms.
“No, our guys do it all,” Tobin said. “And they have a great feel. And they have a lot of contacts around the league. We belong to NFS (National Football Scouting), but our information comes from our scouts and what they gather and the feel that they have for their sources, as well as what they have seen with their own eyes.”
The second scout who visited Clemson, the same one who interviewed Carman, said he asked Carman about the rape allegation in a Zoom interview shortly after he found out about it last April. He said he spoke to Carman about it over Zoom for about 30 minutes.
“I wanted him to describe it multiple times to figure out if he was somebody who was honest,” the scout said. “I wanted to gauge if he was remorseful or if he thought he had any culpability in it, so you go through those things where you are asking for descriptive things and then pulling on threads as he goes through to just get a sense for how he feels about it.”
The second scout declined to say how Carman answered his questions or what he thought of those answers, but said his team knew that Carman would likely be drafted higher than they’d ever consider him taking him. The rape allegation wasn’t the ultimate dealbreaker for this team, because they already were uncomfortable with his injury history and behavioral issues—several scouts mentioned accountability and decision-making. The first scout who visited Clemson said Carman had “weight and class” issues, meaning he was overweight and had trouble attending all of his classes.
“We did not think this was a great decision maker with a lot of emotional maturity,” the second scout said.
When Clemson held their pro day in March of 2021, Carman was still recovering from surgery for his herniated disc, so he waited a few weeks and had his own workout for NFL teams at Clemson on April 15, 2021. The personnel executive with offensive line need was not there that day, but his team sent another representative who reported back to the team that a representative for Carman read a statement to the reported 18 representatives of teams present, saying the sex with Doe was consensual. A request to Clemson police from The Tatnuck Group, a firm working for NFL teams to do background work on prospects, also mentioned the statement, but said that Carman read it.
An NFL offensive line coach who attended Carman’s pro day did not remember the details of the representative’s statement, but said that Carman did answer a few questions from teams. “That might have been the first time that was brought up,” the coach said. “I think it was a surprise to people, I don’t think anybody had heard that.”
Defector asked Clemson for the record of who attended Carman’s pro day, but Clemson said there was no responsive record. A spokesperson for Clemson Athletics said that at Carman’s pro day, Clemson staff “referred any questions about the incident to [Carman’s] representation, which was on-site.” Carman’s agents did not respond to Defector’s phone calls or text.
By the time most NFL teams finally found out about the rape allegation, only a few weeks remained before the draft to get all the information from Clemson.
Defector submitted an initial open records request to Clemson’s police department for any records on Carman on Sept. 7, 2021 and did not receive the case file until Oct. 25, 34 business days after the initial request. Defector then requested Doe’s interview transcripts, for both of Doe’s interviews with police, and Clemson charged us $674 for the hours an employee spent transcribing and then redacting Doe’s interviews. Clemson took 29 business days to fulfill the request after the date we paid, and then only delivered one of the two interviews requested. When asked, Clemson’s assistant general counsel said their office only had one interview file. After another back and forth that lasted 12 business days, the assistant general counsel said on March 8 that he received the CD of the second interview file from Clemson police. Defector paid $225 for the second interview transcript and Clemson sent it to us 21 business days later.
According to the case file, Clemson’s Title IX coordinator asked Collins for the accuser and her mother’s contact info on July 1, 2020. Defector asked for that Title IX report, but was told that it was exempt from disclosure under FERPA.
Cincinnati’s team website lists just eight total employees in the organization’s player personnel staff—only six of whom, according to Sports Illustrated, are actually involved in scouting players in the college and pro ranks. It’s the NFL’s smallest such staff by a huge margin. The other AFC North division teams, for example, average 27 employees in their equivalent departments (labeled as football operations or player personnel). This means that Cincinnati scouts have bigger areas, with more schools to visit and more players to write up every year.
Today, the Bengals have three employees listed with the title, “scout.” In 2009, they had just one scout listed. “It’s not fair to the coaches and scouts that are expected to do so much more since they’re so short staffed,” said one NFL agent. A second personnel executive put it this way: “The [Bengals] are cheap for sure, they are cheap as fuck.”
The Bengals as a franchise have a well-known reputation for being miserly. Former players have told stories about the team not spending on jock straps, Gatorade, or hotel rooms for home games. The Bengals are only just now making plans to build an indoor practice facility; with the exception of the teams in sunny California, every other NFL club already has one.
An NFL agent said that he had a free agent who was in camp with the Bills and then the Bengals. In Buffalo, the player told him the team gave a presentation saying they would pay for whatever was needed to make him a better football player. In Cincinnati, the player told the agent, the team’s presentation included a slide about billing players for the deductible if they needed LASIK eye surgery.
Other teams and agents regularly question the Bengals tiny scouting department, but Tobin, the director of player personnel, publicly raves about his staff. “It’s exactly the size that I want,” he said at his combine press conference. “I think it’s a cohesive staff and when you have guys that work together and know each other, there’s a real benefit to that. When they know that their job is important, that what they are doing on that day is important, you do it better. If you’re out there and you know that six other people are going to be doing the same job as you on a different day, the importance really truly isn’t quite as high. We rely on our guys to get it right and they are really good scouts and they do that.”
All three personnel executives for other teams told me that they weren’t surprised when the Bengals drafted Carman, because it fits within what they perceived as Cincinnati’s reputation for seeing players with problems as potential bargains—though they are far from the only team ever to take that view. Three NFL employees interviewed for this story said that their team owners dictate they should remove any player who has a history of violence against a woman from their draft board, but each of these teams has recently shown an interest in or a tolerance for players with a record of violence against women. There is always a sliding scale for talented players.
A day after they drafted Carman, the Bengals signed undrafted free agent running back Pooka Williams. In December of 2018, after his freshman season as Kansas, Williams was charged and arrested for domestic battery after he punched an 18-year-old woman in the stomach and grabbed her throat. He signed a diversion agreement in March of 2019 to end the criminal case against him. The agreement required him to complete community service, an anger management program, and a domestic violence offender assessment.
The Bengals don’t have a general manager in title; since assuming ownership after his father’s death in 1991, Mike Brown has also been the de facto general manager. Tobin makes most of the scouting and draft decisions, but Brown has the final say. Until the 2010s, Brown was the only decision maker, but over the last 10 years, he’s delegated most of that power to Tobin and to his own daughter, Katie Blackburn, the team’s executive vice president.
“There are teams like Cincinnati and Dallas where ownership is closer to the selection process, where some of your risk aversion is mitigated because you don’t have these layers of people who have to protect their job,” said the scout who interviewed Carman. “You can take bigger swings … you can probably quantify a team’s risk just based on how many layers they have.”
“It’s a unique situation there,” said the first scout who visited Clemson, “where the owner is also the GM, he’s everything.”
At the end of her first interview, Lt. Collins asked Doe if she still wanted to move forward with a criminal investigation. “I mean, I’m very nervous,” she said. “Since I’ve called Sunday I’ve—I’ve been uneasy about the entire situation. Just because you think you’re strong enough and it’s just, like, it’s hard. But I’m not doing this for like, vengeance or money or anything. I just want people to know what he did and to hopefully, if he’s done it to somebody else, that they seek justice as well. So, it’s hard but I guess as far as wanting to continue, my answer is yes.”
Unless the Bengals decide to answer questions about the decision-making process that went into drafting Carman, it’s impossible to know whether anyone in the organization read those words before selecting him in the 2021 NFL Draft.