The National Basketball Players’ Association won an arbitration ruling against the NBA over the league’s intention to fine any team willing to sign a former top-50 prep recruit who has been at the center of two separate collegiate sexual assault allegations, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe.
The news comes as Brandon Austin — who was never charged criminally but found responsible by both Providence College and the University of Oregon for “lewd, indecent and obscene” behavior at each institution — worked out for the 76ers this week, per the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey.
Austin also worked out for the Sixers, among other teams, in 2016, when the NBA reportedly sent a memo to teams regarding his potential future in the league. More from Lowe’s report on Friday:
Last summer, the league sent a memo to all 30 teams instructing any team interested in signing either player to call the NBA office, sources say. Teams that called were told about the allegations, and that the players could face discipline — including suspensions or fines — in the event any team signed them, sources say. No NBA or D-League team did.
The NBPA reportedly objected to the memo, raising concerns about a precedent for disciplining players for prior transgressions. Per Lowe, arbitrators ruled behind closed doors that the NBA could not fine or suspend a player under contract for alleged transgressions prior to joining the league, although the NBA does still hold the right to bar a morally problematic player from ever being signed.
Austin and a Providence teammate were accused of raping a female student in 2013, but a grand jury found insufficient evidence to bring charges against them. The school overturned an initial one-year banishment from campus and placed him on disciplinary probation upon finding him “responsible for engaging in behavior that was lewd, indecent and obscene.” He was barred from playing for the Friars.
Austin then transferred to Oregon, where a female student soon accused him and two teammates of another rape in 2014, the graphic allegations of which are detailed in a police report published by The Oregonian. Authorities again found insufficient evidence to charge the alleged assailants, although the university held all three responsible for sexual misconduct and banned them from campus.
Soon afterward, Austin joined the basketball team at Northwest Florida State College, where he won the JUCO national championship as a freshman. He opted to forego his sophomore season in pursuit of a professional basketball career. Un-drafted out of college, Austin played briefly for the National Basketball League of Canada’s Orangeville A’s in 2015-16, averaging nine points over five games.
Austin reportedly worked out for the 76ers, Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks in the summer of 2016, when the NBA released the memo that the NBPA believed hindered his chances of a contract offer. That’s when Austin maintained to reporters at a Sixers workout, “I didn’t do anything wrong”:
“Everything was consensual. I didn’t do anything wrong. The intention wasn’t wrong. I just made a mistake. A lot of people make mistakes. I just grew from it, and I continue to [grow] today.”
A year removed from not extending Austin a contract offer, the 76ers apparently believe the now 23-year-old is still deserving of a third chance — one perhaps paved by NBPA executive director Michele Roberts’ willingness to take the NBA to arbitration over a player twice accused of sexual assault.
It’s important to remember the players’ association was likely more concerned about how a potential fine or suspension for Austin would affect future players accused of less severe crimes. After calling a 24-game suspension of former Charlotte Hornets big man Jeff Taylor “excessive” and “without precedent” in 2014, the NBPA allowed for a more detailed domestic violence policy in the collective bargaining agreement that begins this summer. Still, Lowe’s report that the players’ association was willing to take the league to task in defense of someone twice accused of rape is no less jarring.
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