Patrick Witt ’12 told the News Tuesday night that he decided to play in the Nov. 19 Yale-Harvard Game before he was notified that the Rhodes Trust had asked Yale to re-endorse his candidacy.
In a phone interview, the former quarterback clarified his account after a story published in the New York Times last Thursday sparked days of speculation as to why Witt ended his Rhodes Scholarship candidacy. The Times reported that Witt’s Rhodes candidacy would require re-endorsement from Yale, as it had been “suspended” because of an informal sexual assault complaint filed against him in September by a female student. Without the University’s backing, Witt would have had no choice between playing in The Game and attending his Rhodes interview, scheduled that same day in Georgia, the Times reported. But Witt told the News that he had chosen to play against Harvard before he was informed that his candidacy required an additional endorsement letter.
Witt said he first learned his candidacy had been called into question when he received a phone call from Yale Director for National Fellowships Katherine Dailinger on either the evening of Nov. 9 or morning of Nov. 10. In the call, Witt said Dailinger informed him that he would need re-endorsement from Yale to remain eligible for the scholarship.
By that time, however, Witt said he had already chosen to play in The Game rather than pursue the Rhodes. He told Dailinger that, as a result, he would not need University re-endorsement.
“I told her at that time I had already made my decision due to a conversation that I had with the regional secretary by email, who told me on the eighth that I was going to have to choose between the two decisions,” Witt said. “Essentially it was an ultimatum. After getting that confirmation from the regional secretary, I told my parents, told my coaches, told people in the Athletic[s] Department that I was going to play in The Game. And so when Kate Dailinger called me on the night of the ninth or the morning of the 10th to let me know about the second letter, it was essentially a moot point.”
Dailinger could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Witt said once he was named a finalist, “his stance all along” was to attend The Game over the interview if the two conflicted.
“From day one when I was selected as a finalist, the first thing I did was call my folks to tell them the good news,” he said. “And the second thing I did was to see [my coaches] and say, ‘Look, if they make me choose between the two, I’m playing in The Game and I want you to know that.’”
Former head football coach Tom Williams could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
The Rhodes Trust informed Witt that he could not reschedule his interview in a series of Nov. 8 emails from Daniel Promislow, regional secretary for the district representing Witt’s home state of Georgia, which Witt’s spokesman, Mark Magazu, provided the News.
In a final attempt to reconcile the two commitments, Witt had written to Promislow earlier that afternoon requesting permission to attend a morning interview on Nov. 19 and risk missing a “potential callback.” But Promislow responded the night of Nov. 8 saying all candidates must be present for potential reinterviews, and that Witt would “need to decide between one of [his] two opportunities.”
Faced with that dilemma, Witt said he told officials at the Yale Athletics Department on Nov. 9 that he would play in The Game.
At 8:58 a.m. the next morning, Dailinger told Witt she supported his decision and advised him to thank Promislow for the opportunity to interview for the Rhodes, according to an email that Magazu provided the News. Witt said the email came after he had spoken with Dailinger about his decision over the phone.
“This has of course all been very difficult, but if I might be able to help in any way I would be more than glad to do so,” Dailinger wrote in the email. “I do still think that your decision to decline this interview is a good one, and the best way to preserve your options going forward.”
Though Witt said he had already notified Yale Athletics and the football team’s coaches of his choice, he decided to wait until Yale competed against Princeton on Nov. 12 before publicly announcing his choice the next day.
“I will be playing in the Yale-Harvard game this Saturday,” he said in a Nov. 13 press release from the Yale Athletics Department. “I have withdrawn my application for the Rhodes scholarship.”
The Times article, which reported that Witt’s candidacy had been “suspended” before his official announcement, noted that his statement did not directly link his decision to end his Rhodes candidacy with his choice to play in The Game. Rather, the statement created a “misimpression” about Witt’s reasoning that neither Yale nor the quarterback attempted to correct, the Times alleged.
But Witt flatly denied claims that he knowingly misled the public.
“I didn’t keep it a secret from any of my friends and the New York Times’ insinuation that I was circulating a media circus is ludicrous,” he said. “I’m not talented enough to do that. I’m not a media expert.”
Witt is currently in California training for the National Football League Combine, a professional recruiting event that will be held in Indianapolis, Ind., at the end of February this year.