CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — Kathy Redmond had an important speaking engagement this past summer in Lincoln, the place where she attended college, the place where her rape 21 years earlier catapulted her down a painful path that eventually made her a national crusader against violence by athletes.
Accompanying her to lend support that day was Derek Brown, a football player she'd met when they both were undergraduates at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She had shared her story publicly many times. This time, though, her most improbable audience was the Nebraska football team.
She believes that her story — including her marriage to Brown, a former teammate of the man who attacked her — is a triumphant homecoming narrative.
* * *
Redmond arrived in New York in 1998 at age 24, ready to tell about how she'd been sexually assaulted in her first year at UNL by a freshman football recruit, Christian Peter.
That was seven years after the attack, which staggered a family with deep roots in Lincoln, and about five years after she'd come forward with her accusation, which produced no criminal charges but resulted in an out-of-court settlement of her lawsuit against Peter and the university.
Since then her organization, the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, essentially a one-woman crusade, has fought against a culture of athletic invulnerability. She has become a go-to person for female victims feeling violated and alone. She has consulted on cases involving the University of Colorado, Oklahoma State and Notre Dame, among others. She has advised women confronting famous pros, too, including Kobe Bryant and Johan Santana.
“They call and say, 'I've talked to the coach, the school, and nothing happens,'” Redmond said recently. “They come to me as a last resort. They'll research online and, especially when it's an athlete involved, my organization pops up.”
* * *
One day in October 2010, Redmond was browsing on Facebook and sent a message to Brown, wondering if he remembered her.
“Are you kidding?” he replied.
They caught up slowly, re-creating the kind of soulful talks they'd had in college.
“One of the great things about us is our conversations,” said Brown, now 41.
“And he doesn't talk,” said Redmond, 39, always quick to chime in.
“Right, I'm not a good talker,” he said. “But with my wife, we just get lost in each other's voices.”
When they reconnected, Brown was living in Lincoln again, having spent several years in Louisiana and in his native Southern California. (The NU running back, who rushed for 2,699 yards and 23 touchdowns in three years, had left after the 1992 season to play four years for the New Orleans Saints.) He was working as a locomotive engineer and spending time with his children from another relationship.
Redmond, by then a single mother of a 10-year-old boy, asked during one of their conversations if Brown, perhaps, had heard of what she'd been doing in her spare time over the past dozen years.
Well, no, he had not. He had never heard of the new her.
As they sit in their kitchen in a Denver suburb on a recent Saturday, Redmond pregnant with their child, a television nearby is tuned to the Nebraska-Michigan State game. “Why would you throw the ball on first-and-goal from that close?” Brown blurts to no one in particular. Redmond plays along, college football no longer the sore spot it once was.
* * *
Brown's sophomore season was just starting when Redmond arrived on campus, a lacrosse player from Littleton, Colo., and a family with multigenerational ties to Nebraska.
Redmond's father, Bill, attended high school in Lincoln and was a baseball star at the university. Her great-uncle wrote a Nebraska fight song. Redmond never considered attending any other university.
Upon arrival in Lincoln, because of those family ties, Redmond got the VIP treatment: a ride in a golf cart alongside George Sullivan, a popular athletic trainer, to watch the football team work out.
The blonde at practice did not go unnoticed.
“Beautiful woman. Guys were eyeballing her,” Brown recalls.
A few days later, he happened upon Redmond. They can't agree now, 21 years later, on the exact timing of that meeting: Was it before or shortly after her life-altering encounter with Peter?
Peter, from New Jersey, also was a first-year student, although not yet eligible to play. Redmond met him during her first week of school. Eventually she accused him of luring her to his room and attacking her. The day after the first attack, she said, he burst into her room and sexually assaulted her again, with two of his friends acting as lookouts.
Redmond said she kept the attacks secret for many reasons, including the effect she knew it would have on her family. Even as she grew closer to Brown, she told him nothing, fearing what telling him would do to their relationship and to his football focus.
“I was not doing well at the time,” she said. “But I was able to put on a performance with a lot of people, really knew how to pull it together when I needed to. But I did feel more protected with Derek, more secure ... .
“Your mind lets it come out slowly. And then the more you suppress it, the more powerful it is. When I really had to delve into it, when I'd see Christian Peter on campus and when his friends would try to intimidate me, that's when the flashbacks occurred.”
She pauses, leaving Brown to pick up the narrative.
“If I had known that ...,” he said, his voice trailing off. He rams a fist into an open palm.
Peter soon established a reputation for trouble, Brown said. “We all thought he was one blown fuse from blowing up. But my understanding was that this was going on long before he got to college, a control thing for him where he intimidated people, in football and out.”
The larger issue, Brown said, is how players like Peter took advantage of the belief that they could do no wrong in the eyes of the community.
“It was alarming, to be honest, when you saw how some of the players believed they were demigods,” the former football star said.
* * *
Brown left for the NFL never knowing what had happened between Peter and Redmond. She told no one until after her freshman year, when her mother, Sharon, questioned her sullen behavior. For months, even after Sharon Redmond approached a football assistant with her daughter's story, they withheld the information from her father, knowing he would be devastated.
“I had been in the dark,” said Bill Redmond, “but I knew in my gut that something was wrong. ... One day I said, 'We're going to stay up all night until I find out what's going on.'”
The Vietnam veteran had to be talked out of getting in the car and driving overnight to Lincoln once the story spilled out.
What felt “like the ultimate betrayal,” he said, was made worse by anonymous calls and threats once the family finally went to the university police and the story became public.
One caller told him, “You better get your daughter off Nebraska's back.”
He took off his varsity ring and put it in a drawer. He and his wife resigned their co-presidencies of Coloradans for Nebraska. He vowed to never again set foot on the Nebraska campus.
“I thought, 'How can I be proud of my university when you hurt my daughter and tried to cover it up?'” he said.
Osborne disputes the view that he and the university neglected their responsibilities. Once the police decided not to press charges, he said, “I really didn't have anything to hang my hat on.”
The furor over her story took its toll on Redmond, who continued to attend UNL, graduating in 3½ years while battling depression and bulimia, convinced she did not have a single friend in Lincoln.
There was one voice from afar, though, that helped as she moved forward with her lawsuit, which alleged that Nebraska failed to protect women on campus and was responsible for the behavior of the athletes it recruited.
“It was actually the last time we spoke on the phone,” Redmond said, looking at Brown. “And I was about to go into depositions on the lawsuit. I didn't really want any more of it, felt that I was done. And you said ...”
“I said, 'You know, he should be in jail.'”
“Derek,” she said, her eyes moistening, “had been one of the stars of the program. You get that kind of support from one special person, it drives you forward.”
* * *
By then, more folks had realized that Redmond's word held up well against Peter's. She was not his only accuser. In 1993, Melissa DeMuth accused him of sexual assault. He also was arrested for grabbing Natalie Kuijvenhoven, a former Miss Nebraska, by the crotch in a bar. He received 18 months of probation for sexual assault and was convicted four times of various offenses.
His only punishment from the football program, apparently, was to be held out of a spring game. “I didn't want a lot of negative consequences to result,” Osborne said, while acknowledging that he perhaps should have taken a tougher line with such players.
Osborne retired as coach in 1997, one year before Redmond started her organization. As she gained media attention, she and Osborne became long-distance adversaries.
In 2000, Osborne ran for Congress. Not long after he took office, the telephone rang in Redmond's home. She had just given birth to her son, Adam, who was born with a heart ailment and was about to have the first of three operations needed to fix it. It was Osborne on the line.
Osborne had called to express regret over how events had played out. Already an emotional wreck, she told him an apology was all she ever wanted.
Did Osborne call because the last thing a congressman needed was a public feud with an anti-rape crusader? Did his shift from coach to lawmaker produce an epiphany?
“I had heard she'd had a son with a heart issue, and I reached out,” he said. “We never had any hard feelings for Kathy, and I wanted to make her feel like we cared.”
Although she maintained occasional contact with Osborne during those years, Redmond immersed herself in her work, developing an aggressive approach with the women who contacted her for help.
“I was more direct than what they'd get in a rape crisis center,” she said. “I'd say, 'Do you think you can live with yourself knowing you had the opportunity to have done something and didn't?'”
At the same time, she was struggling with the reality that the system continued to protect and reward her predator. In 2006, after his NFL career was over, Peter was inducted into Nebraska's Football Hall of Fame. While with the New York Giants, he received treatment and counseling for alcoholism and attention deficit disorder.
“I've hurt a lot of people. I'm sorry for all that,” Peter said in 1997.
In a brief phone conversation, he seemed surprised at the news of Redmond's marriage to Brown, but he declined to comment.
Redmond received $50,000 out of court from Nebraska and an undisclosed amount — but no apology or admission of guilt — from Peter. The money only papered over the pain.
“I held so much bitterness for such a long time,” she said. “Yeah, there's the issue of rape and trying to get through all of that. But I tell you what — anger, rage, hate? It eats away at you.”
“Poisons the soul,” adds Brown, nodding.
* * *
Her exorcism began two years later when Osborne returned to Nebraska as the athletic director. As summer football practice approached in 2008, he told Keith Zimmer, the associate athletic director for life skills, to consider having Redmond speak to the team.
“Tom said she had offered,” Zimmer said. “I agreed that there was so much to learn from what she had to share.”
And maybe from what Nebraska football had learned as an institution, said Osborne, 75, who is retiring Jan. 1.
“I would say we're all more sophisticated today — or should be — than we were then,” he said. “Kathy's had something to do with that, no question.”
Redmond said the invitation to speak seemed like “a huge message” from the university and a sort of public apology from Osborne.
On her first trip back to Lincoln since graduation, she felt as if she had cleared an obstacle. She visited her grandmother's grave and noticed it was next to that of a former Nebraska athletic director, Adolph Lewandowski, with her uncle buried two sites away.
“I'm looking at this saying, 'They were all buddies. This runs so deep. It's in my blood.'”
Lincoln was home to her parents. She felt guilty of having taken it from them by being unable to make peace with her past. Within weeks of her 2008 talk, she persuaded her father to attend a game in Memorial Stadium.
“I could see she was beginning to reconcile, making a positive out of a bad negative,” he said. He put on his varsity ring again.
And that brought her to October 2010, to her Facebook message to Brown, to the resumption of their relationship.
It was last March when Brown called, asked her to come to Lincoln and told her she was the one. For Redmond, that meant more seven-hour drives from Colorado to plan their future, more coming to grips with the past.
One day, the two casually strolled into the dorm where they had met. She had the urge to revisit her freshman room.
“I could look around and replay the entire rape scene and see everything as clear as day,” she said. “I'm sure I would have broken down had he not been there. But at the same time, I was also remembering positive stuff, where my answering machine was and how it would play Derek's voice. For the first time, campus didn't mean one thing to me, one horrible thing.”
Redmond and Brown are Christians. They have come to believe that God's plan was for her to move forward with her life through forgiveness, to make peace with Osborne and Nebraska football, even with Peter.
* * *
Redmond is certain her campaign has “made a dent.”
Brown accompanied her in August on her second trip to speak to the Huskers because he knew how meaningful it would be for her. And he wanted to see how young men living the all-consuming football life — “sheltered to the point of scary,” he said — would respond to her story and to him, once one of them, standing by her.
“I think a lot them — like a lot of people in general — probably thought that she was against athletes, all athletes,” he said.
Against all athletes?
She married one a couple of weeks after talking to the Nebraska team. Suddenly the name on her Facebook page was Katherine Redmond Brown, and she was answering messages from curious friends, many of whom knew her only as the activist.
“Who would have thought that I'd marry a Nebraska football player?” she said. Who'd have thought she'd encamp with the enemy? That she'd make peace with Osborne, even joining him and his family in his suite with Adam, now 12, when the Huskers hosted Michigan in October?
“People may still question me,” she said. “And that is fine. I think what Tom did, in the end, sets him apart. And as long as we — my family — have our home back, and I can forgive those I need to forgive, even Christian Peter, then I can live with myself.
“There is no closure in the true sense, but I wish all victims could experience what I have experienced in terms of the healing that has taken place in my life.”
Osborne says he never felt at odds with Redmond
Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne, in an interview last week, sought to clarify a few details that appear in this New York Times piece:
» Former Husker Christian Peter, who was accused of sexual assault by Redmond, was not a member of the football team at the time of the alleged crime, according to Osborne. Peter took classes but did not practice, Osborne said. Peter redshirted the next season. During his three years playing for Nebraska, Peter was “no angel” and he was disciplined for “whatever I knew for sure had happened,” Osborne said.
» Osborne was not aware of Redmond's allegation until “a year and a half” after the alleged incident. At that point, “it was investigated by every possible legal authority that we were able to bring into it — and they didn't file charges,” Osborne said.
» Osborne said he and Redmond have had phone conversations and have exchanged letters since. “At no time were Kathy and I ever at odds, at least from my standpoint,” Osborne said.
» Redmond is one of several speakers Nebraska has invited to talk about sexual misconduct with the NU football team over the years, Osborne said. “We've always, since the 1980s, covered the issue,” he said. According to Osborne, the topic has typically been addressed at the start of the season, often part of a two- or three-day seminar in August that covers many issues players might face — from handling personal finances, to adhering to NCAA rules, to dealing with sports agents.
— Jon Nyatawa