Casey facing third and long: Assault charges don't fit Penn State QB's personality and profile
It was a Friday night in October of 1994 and Hoboken was just about to secure the HCIAA American Conference football championship with a victory against Marist.
Hoboken's junior quarterback, Rashard Casey, was about to score the game-clinching touchdown in the final minute on a quarterback keeper. It would be a fitting touchdown for a player who had endured his share of verbal and physical abuse throughout the course of the game from opponents who had once been his teammates. Before transferring to Hoboken, Casey had been a student at the Bayonne school.
Throughout the game, Casey had been battered with horrific comments from the Marist players, who accused him of being a traitor for leaving Marist. The verbal taunts were vicious, the late hits and illegal blows worse.
When Casey went into the end zone to score the touchdown that sealed the win, a few of the Marist players got in late shots at Casey in a display that said, "Take that, that's for leaving us."
Soon after, a horrific brawl ensued, with players from both teams emptying on to the field, and with fans strewing down from the stands. One player was spotted swinging his helmet wildly, using the piece of equipment like a weapon. The scene carried on for a few minutes.
I watched the entire incident in horror, not believing what I was seeing. But I also vividly recall one memorable image of that incident nearly six years ago.
That was the image of Rashard Casey, standing far away from the fracas, not daring to get in the middle of the vicious and nasty scrum. Casey stood off by himself, alone, watching the entire brawl unfold.
Casey might have been the centerpiece to the hostility that eventually led to the fight, but he had nothing to do with the altercation and wanted nothing to do with it.
After the game, I asked him why he didn't want to aid the teammates that came to his defense.
"I didn't have to retaliate," Casey said. "We won the game and I scored the touchdown. I don't want to fight. Some of the guys on that team are my friends. We didn't need to fight. It was stupid."
He wouldn't fight
I gained a lot of respect for Rashard Casey that night. He had every reason to retaliate and go after the players that were causing him pain. He chose to get the last word by scoring the touchdown and by leaving the result that boldly flashed on the scoreboard afterwards.
Casey's brilliance continued on that year, leading Hoboken to its first of a string of six state championships. A year later, Casey led the Red Wings to their second straight Group III state crown, earned the Gatorade Player of the Year honors and was named 1995-96 Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Year.
That's why the news that Casey was arrested and charged with aggravated assault on an off-duty Hoboken police officer early last Sunday morning really doesn't fit the character and the personality that I've gotten to know for the last 12 years.
The arrest and charges don't seem to be associated to the same Rashard Casey I've known ever since Casey was roaming the outfields of the Hoboken Little League, where he was the second-best player on his team (the best was some kid named Angela Zampella).
The details of the arrest are very sketchy. Apparently, there are two radically different versions as to what transpired in front of the River Street bar in Hoboken.
Hoboken Police Chief Carmen LaBruno says that Casey and former teammate Desmond Miller were involved with a racially-biased attack on off-duty officer Patrick Fitzsimmons, stating boldly that Casey and Miller beat and kicked Fitzsimmons for the sole reason that Fitzsimmons, who is white, was spotted with a black female.
"What are you doing with him? You should be with us. You're one of us," is what LaBruno reports that Casey told the woman spotted with Fitzsimmons that night. LaBruno said that Casey and Miller then followed Fitzsimmons to his car and beat him unconscious, kicking him in the head while he was down on the ground.
However, Casey's attorney, Dennis McAlevy, said that Casey didn't touch Fitzsimmons, that the comment made was more like, "Hey, why don't you two get a room?" McAlevy says Casey was defending himself from the woman and Fitzsimmons when the altercation got more heated.
At his arraignment on Monday morning, McAlevy made Casey show his hands to members of the media to show that he had no cuts and scrapes.
Casey entered a plea of not guilty and was released on $5,000 bail. He went back to Penn State, where he is to be starting quarterback, and awaits word whether a Hudson County Grand Jury has enough evidence to indict Casey on the assault charges.
"Rashard Casey didn't do a damn thing," McAlevy said last week. "I have four witnesses that will prove that and another six more coming forward. I've known Rashard Casey since he was 6 years old and he's about as good and as decent of a kid as there is. The charges are so far fetched. If you know this kid, you know he did nothing wrong."
Then again ...
Unfortunately, Casey did two things very wrong. He was guilty by association and guilty of bad judgment, for being out and about near closing time, when trouble is bound to occur. Considering that Casey has a brilliant future - first, his senior season as the signal-caller for the Nittany Lions, then, very possibly, a career in the National Football League - he has too much to risk. He has too much to risk to even be associated with a kid with a criminal record like Desmond Miller and has too much to risk by being out on the town at the witching hour in Hoboken.
As Hoboken's best-known celebrity since Frank Sinatra, Rashard Casey has his status in the community at stake every time he leaves his house. So, in that respect, he's guilty of very bad judgement.
However, to level charges against Casey - racially biased charges at that - makes no sense. Bad kids usually remain bad kids. And the same goes for the good ones. Rashard Casey has always been one of the most respectful, decent and honorable kids I've ever covered.
He's been almost quiet and sullen to a fault. Doing interviews with him sometimes get tedious, because it's tough to get words out of him, unless he's talking about the love he has for his mother, Barbara, or the pride he has for younger brother, Dion.
Someone that would beat up a police officer? Simply because he was white and with a black woman? Sorry. In this corner's opinion, that's simply not Rashard Casey. No way, no how.
"Rashard Casey is no more of a bigot than I am and you can ask anyone of that," McAlevy said. "He knows to walk away."
Casey had already proven that in 1994 when he was a 16-year-old high school junior, when that fight broke out around him and he did nothing. Now that he's a 22-year-old man, have his morals changed? He has way too much more at stake now.
Here's to hoping that justice is served in this case and that Rashard Casey's name and character return to the status that they once had and strongly deserve.