Oklahoma says it conducted a background check on Dede Westbrook after it began recruiting the wide receiver in 2014, just as it does for all prospective student-athletes. The investigation turned up nothing that would preclude him from joining the Sooners, and the junior college transfer arrived in Norman in 2015. This year, he finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting after catching 74 passes for 1,456 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Here’s what that background check missed: According to police documents and court reports obtained by the Tulsa World’s Cody Stavenhagen, Westbrook had twice been arrested on domestic violence charges in Texas over incidents involving the mother of his two children. In 2012, she accused him of throwing her to the ground. Less than a year later, she told police that Westbrook bit her on the arm and punched her in the jaw with a closed fist.
Both charges were dropped, the latter because of an “inability to locate state’s witness,” according to court records. In other words, the woman refused to cooperate with prosecutors, failing to respond to written questions and not appearing at Westbrook’s indictment. Nevertheless, he is the fourth Oklahoma player with connections to violence against women in recent years, a troubling trend for one of the nation’s most prominent football programs.
- In 2014, a university-initiated Title IX investigation found linebacker Frank Shannon responsible for a sexual assault (prosecutors declined to pursue criminal charges in the case). Oklahoma suspended Shannon, the team’s leading tackler in 2013, for one year. He returned for his final college season in 2015.
- Oklahoma allowed wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham to transfer into the program even though he was dismissed from the Missouri football team because of numerous legal issues, the last when he was accused of pushing a female student down a flight of stairs. No charges were filed in that case, as police said witnesses feared retribution and were reluctant to cooperate. Green-Beckham spent a year on the Sooners’ scout team while sitting out as a transfer before declaring for the NFL draft in 2015.
- In July 2014, incoming Sooners running back Joe Mixon punched a woman so hard that it broke bones in her jaw and cheekbone, an assault that was captured on surveillance cameras. Mixon accepted a plea deal in the case and was suspended for the 2014 season. He has since returned to become one of the nation’s top running backs and is seen as a surefire NFL prospect. The video footage of the punch is expected to be released soon, however, and the woman has a pending lawsuit against Mixon in federal court.
As noted by the Oklahoma’s Jenni Carlson, the Mixon incident took place on July 25, 2014. Westbrook signed his letter-of-intent to play for the Sooners on Dec. 17, 2014.
“The university conducts independent background checks on every entering student-athlete,” Oklahoma said in a written statement about Westbrook’s uncovered domestic violence arrests. “While the university has declined to extend offers in other circumstances as a result of gathered information, nothing was reported in this case.”
Sooners Coach Bob Stoops said much of the same at a news conference Tuesday, adding that he has nothing to do with the background checks.
Of course, there’s a vast difference between “nothing was reported” and “nothing was found,” and the fact that a newspaper reporter investigated things more thoroughly than a resource-laden athletic department that brought in $134 million in revenue during the 2014-15 school year says a lot. As a result, a troubling story line about the school’s storied football program has a new chapter.