ALLEN PARK — Lions coach Matt Patricia was scheduled to address the media on Thursday to discuss this weekend’s rookie minicamp.
Instead he stood behind the podium for nearly seven minutes in front of a jam-packed media room, to address the Detroit News story that reported he was indicted but not tried in a sexual assault case when he was 21 years old on spring break.
“I’m here to defend my honor and clear my name,’’ Patricia said in his opening statement.
Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford, who rarely attends news conferences, was in attendance displaying her support, along with general manager Bob Quinn, team president Rod Wood and Lions counsel Jay Colvin.
The team issued a statement on Wednesday night giving their full backing to Patricia. Their attendance on Thursday emphasized their support.
“Mrs. Ford, her family, Rod and Bob are unbelievable people. I can’t express to you how amazing human beings they are, compassionate and understanding,’’ said Patricia who was hired in January to replace Jim Caldwell.
After thanking the Lions’ organization, he stated: “Twenty-two years ago I was falsely accused of something very serious, very serious allegations. There were claims made about me that never happened. I am thankful on one level that the process worked and the case was dismissed. At the same time, I was never given the opportunity to defend myself or to allow push-back with the truth to clear my name. This was something that was very traumatic to me. I was 21 years old. Once it was finally addressed I tried to put it behind me.’’
The first-time head coach said the issue never came up in the interview process with the Lions or at any time during his career.
“I started interviewing for jobs 22 years ago, in a time where one year after this incident happened where I interviewed, and these situations never came up, never asked. It was never an issue through the course of my career. The case was dismissed and I’m innocent,’’ said Patricia who spent the past 14 seasons with the New England Patriots.
Even though the charges were dismissed, it has now become an issue due to the Detroit News story which offered no update on the situation. The News reported: “The relevance of even old and untried charges raises questions for the Lions at the height of the ‘Me Too’ movement, which has brought new scrutiny to sexual misconduct allegations.’’
Patricia managed to keep his emotions intact through the press conference.
“I lived with the mental torture of a situation where facts can be completely ignored or misrepresented with disregard for the consequences and pain it would create for another person,’’ Patricia said in his statement.
“I find it unfair and upsetting that someone would bring this claim up over two decades later for the sole purpose of hurting my family, my friends and this organization with the intention of trying to damage my character and my credibility. I was innocent then and I’m innocent now,’’ he said.
Under Quinn — and even before he was hired — a player’s good character has been an important factor on whether they were drafted or signed by the Lions.
“I talked to the team today and told them exactly what I said to you guys, told them the truth,’’ Patricia said. “I also took this opportunity again to one more time focus on the fact that in this time we need to be sensitive and responsible. I used this as a learning moment with them so we can all try to be together.’’