Though jury cleared ex-Illini star Terrence Shannon Jr., others might not

Now what?

What does the NBA do now that Terrence Shannon Jr. has been cleared? Found not guilty on sexual assault charges of a 2023 accusation that he publicly violated an 18-year-old woman at a bar in Kansas after an Illini-Jayhawks football game.

Do certain lottery teams now restructure their original plans of drafting another player besides Shannon? Does the league welcome him with open arms and erase the incident from his past in a similar way it did with Kobe Bryant? Or does the young man continue to carry the fate of something he didn’t do?

Innocent until proven guilty, right? But everyone doesn’t get to live innocently after being found not guilty. Some circumstances are much harder to escape. Even when they don’t happen. So the greater question becomes: What does Terrence Shannon do?

Sexual assault accusations, even when found not guilty of the crime, do not go away immediately or sometimes ever. The burden of proof that favors the accused when not culpable for the crime remains a burden in the lives of the people involved whether a crime was committed or not. And Shannon might be about to discover that on the other end of being not guilty awaits the reality that total freedom doesn’t always accompany innocence.

TSJ’s “all glory to god #NOTGUILTY” post on X says it all. The 59-second clip of a young man putting the worst part of his life behind him through the lens of basketball to show the world he’s not who we were thinking he was for the last seven months. The liberation. The exhale. It’s beautiful.

But beautiful is in the eyes, hands, minds, beliefs of the beholders who don’t necessarily or often enough side with forgiveness even for the unguilty. Judgement, we must never forget, is often an impossibility to overcome. Or escape. Or shed our past from.

Because of the way he balled and carried the Illini on his back through the Big Ten Tournament and “the Big Dance” (averaging 27.9 points per game), Shannon would have been generating the same interest and noise for the upcoming NBA Draft and his future as Cody Williams, Ron Holland or Dalton Knecht, could have copped a Slam cover like Stephon Castle and Donovan Clingan, could have potentially held the same meetings with NBA teams and execs as a Reed Sheppard, had he not had this false implication hanging over his life.

Instead, the untruth became him. But he didn’t allow it to become him. He carried it with his head held upright until the verdict cleared him. Not all of him, just the part he didn’t do. For the stain left from the picture painted of and about him might remain for a while. Or at least leave a mark.

“To my Young (King) Terrance Shannon Jr!” LeBron James tweeted. “Love and Salute you! Proud of you!! God is Good! The apologies should be 30X louder than the hate he got but we know how it goes. Anyways back to the regular scheduled program. Great days ahead!”

Hopefully, LeBron’s optimism plays out for Shannon in a way that makes the incrimination irrelevant in a few years. It’s hard for people to unsee the word “rape” when it’s attached to your being, to the degree that it can make the words “not guilty” a footnote.

Just watch Ismail Al-Amin’s “False Positive” documentary on Butch Reynolds to get an understanding (albeit totally different circumstances) of how a false accusation even when proven false can be a part of someone’s life for the rest of their lives. Especially an athlete’s.

Going through an episode of ecumenical mischaracterization often changes not only some people’s lives but also their views on life itself and how they move forward in it. For both the accuser and the accused.

Some survive. Many don’t.

It doesn’t seem like Shannon is going to personally have a problem putting the falsehood and what he had to go through because of the falsehood behind him. Unknown is whether the rest of the world finds the ability to do the same.

Know two things, he most: Just because this incident is over doesn’t mean it’s over, and the target practice on you and your future is probably never going to stop. Reminders in life, even when you are not wrong, remain undefeated.

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