Jeremiah Masoli is asking you to open your mind, to consider the possibility that, regardless of what you've read or heard, he is not a thug. That would be an easier sell, of course, if he hadn't spent nearly three months in a juvenile facility in 2005 for robbery; if he hadn't pled guilty in March of this year to burglarizing a fraternity house; if his career as the starting quarterback -- and a potential Heisman contender -- at Oregon hadn't ended last month after police found him driving with marijuana in his car.
But here's the thing with Masoli: there are always extenuating circumstances. Less than 48 hours after Oregon coach Chip Kelly kicked him off the team, Masoli is sitting in the living room of his parents' cramped row house in Daly City, Calif., a working-class suburb of San Francisco, trying to explain those circumstances. His hair, once a flowing mane, is trimmed short, befitting a young man eager to rebuild his image. The dual-threat quarterback who specialized in mystifying ball fakes is wrestling nervously with a throw pillow as he asks those who have judged him to look beyond his police record and consider his personal account of the events that led to his downfall -- an account that brings to light a number of previously unknown details, many of them backed up by police and court records, eyewitness accounts, and other sources.
Masoli admits that he lied about whether he was at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house on Jan. 24, 2010. He lied to Kelly, to police, to his parents. He lied, he says, for reasons he hopes others will understand. He also admits to poor judgment. He is where he is today, "because I let all this happen. I put myself in some bad situations. That was the whole mistake." But he insists that he did not steal. His misdeeds took place in that wide area between black and white, between absolute guilt and innocence. He is asking you to see the gray.
Around 12:40 a.m., on Sunday, Jan. 24, Oregon sophomore Max Wolfard began walking up the east stairs in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house, whose maze of halls and rooms hosted a multitude of small parties in progress. As Wolfard went up, two Ducks football players -- Masoli and Garrett Embry, a backup receiver who had been kicked off the team on Jan. 8 for undisclosed violations of team rules -- descended the stairs toward him.
Wolfard later told police that he was "elated to see Masoli in the fraternity house." Then he brushed past Embry and noticed him trying to hide a digital projector close to his side.
"Hey, that's mine," Wolfard said to Embry. "What are you doing?"
Masoli and Embry said nothing, exiting the house through a door at the foot of the stairs and heading in opposite directions. Masoli walked toward Taylor's Bar & Grill -- a popular campus hangout across the street from SAE -- and Embry sprinted around the frat house and into an alley. Wolfard hadn't seen anything in Masoli's hands, so he took off after Embry.
The most plausible reason that Wolfard, a biology major who played high school football only briefly, caught up with a Division I-A receiver like Embry, is the one corroborated by several sources (including Embry himself in a phone call recorded by police) -- that Embry had been drinking heavily that night. After about four blocks, Embry stopped, turned, handed Wolfard his projector, and according to what Wolfard told police, said, "You got it back, just get out of here."
As Wolfard walked back to the house, his heart rate descending, he thought about letting the incident slide. Then he returned to his room and found his Apple MacBook laptop and electric guitar missing. Another SAE brother said his MacBook was gone too.
LISTEN TO THE 911 CALL
The Eugene policeman who responded to Wolfard's 911 call moments later found Wolfard (who described himself to police as a "huge Duck fan") "visibly upset that [Masoli and Embry] could be involved with the stolen property," according to the police report.
"I asked Wolfard if he saw Masoli with anything in his possession," the report continued, "and he said he did not ..."
The story Masoli tells from his parents' couch is that, yes, he was there that night, but he didn't steal anything. He admits that's not what he told Kelly when the coach called about nine hours after the incident to ask about the burglary rumor going around town. "Masoli said he didn't have anything to do with it ... " Kelly later told police. "Masoli denied being at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house."