Jelani Scott | Sports Editor
On February 6, 2003, Marcus Dixon, an 18-year-old football player from Rome, Georgia, accepted a scholarship to play for Vanderbilt University.
A month later, he had his scholarship rescinded and found himself sitting in a jail cell, presumably guilty for a crime that he was not yet convicted of. It has been 13 years since the incident that resulted in Dixon serving 15 months in prison took place on February 10, 2003.
Dixon was accused of raping Kristie Brown, a 15-year-old white classmate and, two days later, was called into the principal’s office at his school in Floyd County to be arrested.
He was charged with six counts, including statutory rape and aggravated child molestation.
“At the end, the only thing she told me was like, ‘My dad cannot find out about us having sex.’ Because in my town, black people having sex with white girls is not something you do,” said Dixon at the time.
Before Dixon was able to achieve his athletic goals, he had to deal with a high-profile sexual assault case that nearly ruined his career and his life.
He maintained his innocence, but a record stained by past sexual incidents at school which included exposing himself as a prank and inappropriately touching a girl, gave Floyd County detective Gary Conway all the evidence he thought he needed.
“That’s all reason to believe he’s a pedophile,” said Conway to ABC’s “Nightline.” “And if he got away with this, he would do another one.”
The trial made the lives of Dixon’s white guardians, Ken and Peri Jones, and their son, Casey, a nightmare.
The Joneses had to deal with their share of racism since taking in a young Dixon. Mrs. Jones felt that the case was about judging color, not justice.
“[Racism] just underlies the whole thing,” she said. “If that had been Casey instead of Marcus, they would have said, ‘OK, this is a good kid — they wouldn’t have done that.’ But they didn’t do that with Marcus.”
A jury of nine whites and three blacks acquitted him of four charges that suggested force but, due to the victim’s age, found him guilty in May 2003 of the other charges, which were a misdemeanor and a felony.
The decision resulted in a 10-year sentence, which shocked everyone including the jurors and corporate attorney David Balser, who read about the case and believed Dixon was wronged. He took the case pro-bono.
Congressman John Lewis and the NAACP voiced their support for Dixon. The President of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman called it a “legal lynching”.
Oprah Winfrey and HBO Real Sports’ Bryant Gumbel both featured his story on their shows.
On May 3, 2004, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that Dixon was wrongly sentenced and he was released.
The Georgia legislature subsequently changed the law that was used to convict Dixon of child molestation and it is now no longer a felony when teens have consensual sex.
Soon after, Hampton University offered Dixon a shot at redemption.
The defensive end started his freshman season and was a three-time team captain and a member of an athletic leadership committee.
He was named second team All-MEAC in 2006 and was named to the first team in 2007 after earning six sacks and a team-high 16 tackles for losses. His focus on the field transferred to the classroom and, in 2008, he was named the Arthur Ashe Jr. Male Sports Scholar of the Year.
Upon graduating, Dixon played for the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs and in the Canadian Football League. He retired in April 2015 at age 31.
In 2013, on Oprah’s “Where Are They Now,” Dixon said that, although he has to deal with the case for the rest of his life, he forgave Brown because his grandmother told him that if you hold a grudge, “all you are doing is holding your life back.”