Fourth and Long

He was bound for football stardom until that night at Notre Dame. Now Abram Elam struggles for redemption.

He phoned home often. "You would not believe the pace of college ball," he would tell friends. Abram was redshirted his freshman year, went home for the summer, and worked hard to improve his stamina. He came back renewed and ready to start. His sophomore year, he found a girlfriend who ran track. By then, he had a few good friends, and he began to find his footing on the field. He appeared in 11 games as a safety, recording 28 tackles and two interceptions. That spring, he also found Lindsay Charles.

An enthusiastic 18-year-old with an infectious laugh, Lindsay was thrilled upon her arrival on the Notre Dame campus. It had been her first-choice college; when her family learned she'd been admitted, they gave her an "I Love Notre Dame" license plate, along with clothing and a key chain.

Lindsay thrived her first two years. By the time she was 20, she had way more friends than she had in her tiny Maine high school, and she joined the sports management club. She was named a manager of Notre Dame's football team, despite never having seen a football game prior to college. At practices, she worked mostly with the defensive backs; setting up cones and packing bags for them. She was friendly with a few of the players and was required to memorize all their names. But most of her good friends came from outside the team.

Even as a youngster, Abram was pegged for football stardom.
Colby Katz
Even as a youngster, Abram was pegged for football stardom.
Above: Coach Budnyk is himself something of a football legend in Palm Beach County. As athletic director of Cardinal Newman High School, he just acquired his 275th career win.  


Right: His senior year, Abram was named Palm Beach County Player of the Year.
Above: Coach Budnyk is himself something of a football legend in Palm Beach County. As athletic director of Cardinal Newman High School, he just acquired his 275th career win.

Right: His senior year, Abram was named Palm Beach County Player of the Year.

By spring quarter, however, the whole sports management thing was wearing thin. The 50-hour-plus workweeks were killing her social life, and her studies suffered too. In March, she finally quit, though she continued to stress over the decision. On March 27, 2002, she instant-messaged her best friend: We need a girls night out, she typed.

Lindsay met three friends at St. Mary's, an all-girls college in South Bend, and they drove to the State, a converted theater downtown that was popular among students. At the club, Lindsay separated from her friends and sidled over to former safety Justin Smith, an engineering major. They spent the last hour on the dance floor, and at the end of the night, Justin asked her to return to his house with him. Lindsay, thinking she was going to a party, agreed.

When they got there, the house was empty. By the end of the night, she would have sex with four football players, according to her testimony. They called it consensual. She called it rape.

Lindsay admits that, after the incident, she willingly spent the rest of the night in Justin's bed. The next morning, he drove her back to her dorm room. Five days later, at the urging of her parents, Lindsay reported the incident at a hospital. Her parents alerted Notre Dame.

School officials held a hearing to decide the players' fate. Lindsay submitted a seven-page report of the incident to the school's assault committee. All four players were expelled.

But Abram, the first to stand trial, was confident the jury would exonerate him. He denied forcing himself on Lindsay and insisted everything was consensual. Jurors apparently didn't find him convincing: After six days in the courtroom, he was found guilty of sexual battery and given an 18-month sentence (which was later suspended), two years of probation, and 200 hours of community service. He was acquitted on the more serious charges of conspiracy to commit rape and criminal deviant conduct.

Donald Dykes was later found not guilty of rape, and criminal charges against the other two men were dropped. Last week, Lindsay Charles filed a civil suit against the school and the four players. She declined comment for this article.

"We both know what went on that night, and it wasn't rape," Abram says today, though he did not appeal the verdict.


Abram weathered most of his probation back in Riviera Beach, where it seemed all anyone talked about was the golden boy turned sex felon. He tried to ignore the buzz: He got a job as a dental assistant, signed up for classes at Palm Beach Community College, and worked out every day. He threw footballs with his oldest son and refused to speak to reporters.

When his cousin would call and ask him to hang out, Abram would say, "No, man; I have to study."

At workouts with an area rec football team, the other players would try to lift his spirits.

"It will all work out, man," they'd say.

"I know it will," he'd reply, then change the subject.

Abram went to church; he ran "suicide" sprints up and down the sand on Riviera Beach until he thought he would die.

To parents and friends, he could only keep apologizing. "I'm sorry," he would say. "I don't approve of the conduct that was performed that night. It was a situation I regret. I ask God for forgiveness of it."

His mother, hearing his words, rocked back and forth. Her hair grew frazzled, and the loose threads of curls that framed her face began to fray. She was worn, the wrinkles in her forehead so fine they looked as if they were etched with a felt-tipped pen.

This is all a conspiracy of the devil, she thought. The devil wants to destroy those whom God has blessed. He wants to distract Abram from his destiny.

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