Cleaning a Permanent Stain: A Fan's Struggle To Accept Daniel Hood

tre wellsCorrespondent IMay 8, 2009

He said he froze.

Daniel Hood, 13 at the time, stood in his bedroom on Aug. 11, 2003, and watched as his 17-year-old friend, Robert Sanico, raped a 14-year-old girl. The girl was sodomized with a foreign object while her body lay helplessly wrapped in duct tape.

To compound the matter, Hood helped wrap her in the duct tape.

As if this wasn’t a disgusting enough act, the girl was Hood’s first cousin.

He said he froze.

Instead of defending his family member, or running for help, Hood said he just froze. He wishes he had done differently, but he didn’t.

"I witnessed a brutal rape that I'm guilty of not being able to stop," said Hood, according to Chris Low of "I didn't participate in it, but I was in the room. I was there...and I didn't stop it."

Fast forward almost six years to find that Hood has been offered and has accepted a scholarship to play football at the University of Tennessee.

What happened in these last six years will shock you almost as much as the despicable act that took place that fateful night.

Hood was found to be delinquent by the Sullivan County (Tenn.) Juvenile Court and was handed over to the Department of Children's Services (DCS).

He then completed a rehabilitation program at Mountain View Youth Development Center before enrolling at Catholic High School in Knoxville as a sophomore.

Hood brings to the University of Tennessee a 3.8 GPA and a 27 on his ACT, but how in the world could head coach Lane Kiffin—and even more so, athletic director Mike Hamilton—agree to give a second chance to someone who was complicit in such a heinous act?

To try and understand the thought process, you have to take into account the testimonies of those who have watched the evolution of Hood’s mental and spiritual makeup since the crime.

Catholic High School principal Dickie Sompayrac had this to say in Hood’s defense:

"We certainly don't want to minimize the terrible incident he was a part of six years ago. But it was six years ago. We would have never taken a chance on Daniel had it not been for all the character references he received and everybody that came forward. He's exceeded all of our expectations here at Catholic and has been a model student. The support he's received within our community is really unprecedented."

It should be known that dozens of schools had shown interest in Hood’s athletic ability, but rescinded their scholarship offers when court records were released detailing Hood’s actions.

The Tennessee Volunteers were the only school afterwards to offer Hood a full scholarship.

Many NCAA fans with knowledge of Tennessee’s football program have snickered that this is typical of the program; admitting a criminal into school just to bolster their sport’s success.

While this may be a justified feeling, why would Kiffin, who has already been a lightning rod for questionable calls in his rookie year, bring on a controversy of epic proportions such as this?

Some will argue that Kiffin is filling a position of need. Offensive line is as paper thin of a spot on the team as they come, and Hood is considered by many as a good prospect with a high motor, good frame, and capable of being a top-notch tackle.

From a football-only stand point, he is a quality lineman with quick feet and projects to be a tackle capable of getting out quickly on stretch plays to block downfield.

But the risk is just too much for someone of even Kiffin’s brass to handle without serious consideration as to the person Hood has become since the incident.

Many believe Hood deserves a second chance. They look at his age at the time, the fact that he didn’t actually participate in the rape, and his spotless record since the event as their defense for giving the young adult another shot at life.

You'd better believe Tiffany Carpenter, Tennessee's director of public relations, made sure extensive research was done with just about anyone and everyone who has come into contact with Hood over the past several years.

"Everybody we talked to had glowing things to say about him and felt like he deserved this opportunity," Carpenter said. "Catholic gave him a second chance, and he had a flawless record at Catholic. He knows he's on a very short leash here, but I'm not sure he ever even received a demerit at Catholic."

But the most shocking endorsement of them all came from the victim herself.

In a letter written to the university by her, and obtained by, she states:

"[Hood] is becoming a very mature adult and will be a great asset to any college and to society as a whole. If anyone has any concerns about our relationship or Daniel's remorse about the situation, feel free to contact me."

According to multiple sources, Hood and his cousin have actually spoken several times over the past few years and are working to rebuild their relationship.

Hood hasn’t attempted to run from the horrifying event that will forever shape his life.

In an interview with The Knoxville News Sentinel, Hood said:

“I had a good friend tell me I should go as far west as possible, but I don't think that it's a situation that I should try to avoid. It was heinous. It was awful. Any bad thing you could say about it would probably fit it. But I think it's not trying to put it in a corner and forget it ever happened. I think you have to take it and learn from it and grow from it...I've got a debt to [the victim] that I can never repay, just trying to throw it away like it never happened would be the worst thing I could do for her."

He has owned it. And that is at least a step in the right direction.

The words floating around the talk shows lately are "second chances," but I believe he already has had a second chance at Catholic High School and passed with flying colors. The truth will come from his life as he leads it every day from here on.

There is also repeating chatter that this is a huge “gamble” for Kiffin, but that would actually mean that Kiffin has a mountainous profit to possibly stand to gain from this. Even if Hood became a three-time All-American, the fact remains he still stood by and watched his cousin get raped that night. 

Naysayers will still point to the fact that UT let another criminal into its program. This is more of a lose-lose situation than it is a gamble.

I am a Volunteers fan, and this act is indefensible. But how long should a man pay for such an act? At what point should opportunities start being offered again, if ever?

There is no finish line for Hood.

There is no day that he can reach when the horrific act that took place on Aug. 11, 2003, will be erased from history. He will live with it for the rest of his life. Should he not be allowed to further his education and pursue his dream?

That is not for me to answer. I have my own struggles with it. But the victim thinks he does deserve to pursue his dream. She has come out and openly supported him.

Why can’t I?


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