BY GEOFF HOBSON
A grim Corey Dillon met his bosses and then met the media. Then he returned to practice today as he tries to put this past weekend's ugly incident behind him in which he was charged with fourth-degree assault on his wife that allegedly bloodied her mouth.
Dillon, the Bengals' star-crossed Pro Bowl running back, continued to proclaim his innocence today and hopes the case will be dropped at a pre-trial hearing Sept. 27 in Federal Way, Wash. Dillon doesn't have to appear then, but the court ordered he is to have no contact with his wife, Desiree Antoine.
"It's been tough for us," said Dillon as he faced reporters this afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium. "I've got a job to do. I've got to play. It's a situation in life that you have to separate and go to work."
Dillon faces no disciplinary action from the team. But according to the NFL personal conduct policy, he is subject to an immediate mandatory evaluation and could be placed in a counseling program. He would only incur a suspension or fine if convicted. The maximum sentence is a year in jail and a $5,000 fine, but Dillon's attorney questioned the charge today from Seattle.
"I've had the opportunity to read her statement in the police report," said Jesse Franklin. "She said she bumped Corey in the chest and then he brought up his hand and struck her in the lip and she doesn't know if Corey's hand was open or closed. That was it. There are things you don't want to see. But this wasn't a donnybrook. This wasn't domestic violence. In my mind, that's not an assault. We feel he's not guilty."
After meeting with Bengals President Mike Brown, head coach Bruce Coslet and running backs coach Jim Anderson this morning, the club indicated it was a personal matter that could be resolved.
"He explained what happened, which is quite a bit different than what is understood publicly," Brown said. "I think that it will be cleared up in time. Meanwhile, he just has to go about his work."
Brown told reporters, "I think people ought to be a little bit patient and wait until we know more about it before they read into something that isn't there. . .It may be pretty simple and may not be quite what people are reading into it. I don't think it is from what I know at this point."
Brown said given the recent spate of violent crimes involving NFL players, he doesn't take the situation lightly.
"But I also don't think it's fair to pre-judge what has happened," Brown said.
Dillon said today he feels he's been pre-judged as initial media reports portrayed him as a "a wife-beater."
"That's not me," Dillon said.
In his report filed with police, Dillon said Antoine punched him several times in the head and arms with a cell phone and in his effort to ward off the blows he accidentally hit her with the back of his hand and she got out of the car saying she would call the police and ruin his career.
According to police reports, this wasn't the first incident between the couple. On June 5, police said witnesses saw Antoine kick and hit Dillon several times at his mother's home after she came into the house spewing profanities. Dillon called police as a victim, but didn't press charges.
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In a strange twist, Dillon met the Bengals' brass upstairs while his teammates were going through an NFL-mandated "life skills," seminar downstairs. In a two-hour session filled with actors role-playing real life situations, players were warned of the pitfalls of being a professional athlete. Brown understands there is more off-field incidents than there should be in college or pro football, but today he was careful not to convict Dillon or the NFL.
"Our guys are young guys. They're not middle-aged or old and that's a factor," Brown said. "Another aspect may be the background of some of our guys. They didn't have the advantages many of us have. A lot of them come from one-parent families. In some cases they don't have a parent at all. It's a grandmother or an aunt or an uncle. That's not uncommon at all.
"I think it's unfair to blame a football team," Brown said. "It's unfair to blame the National Football League. It's unfair to blame the colleges where these guys go before they get to us. It might be that societal issues are to blame. We have to look at it in that light. That doesn't excuse it when people do wrong."
But the Bengals weren't putting the blame on Dillon yet. Instead they were putting their new director of player relations on the case. Eric Ball, a former Bengals running back, admitted it was "a setback," for Dillon, just three weeks after completing a volatile eight-month contract negotiation that ended in a one-year, $3 million deal.
"I think they went all right," said Dillon of the morning meetings. "It's a tragedy this had to happen. I never intended for this situation to bring this cloud over the team . It's bad. Real bad. Hopefully it can be cleared up and I can move on."
Dillon is clearly distraught at the state of his marriage. He wouldn't comment on reports that he has filed for divorce, but chief city prosecutor Gurjit Pandher said today that while Dillon can have no contact with his wife, he may have visitation rights for 20-month-old daughter Cameron if it is part of divorce proceedings filed Monday. Dillon has said the disagreement with his wife stemmed from his desire for Cameron to visit his mother. The club is hoping he can keep his mind on football.
"I think Corey is the kind of person that can bounce back," Ball said.
Dillon is hoping to avoid the fate of former Cardinals running back Mario Bates and Titans cornerback Denard Walker, who have each been suspended for a game on similar domestic incidents after going through the court system. Dillon has the right to have his case heard by Nov. 26, but he can waive his right to a speedy trial.
Franklin isn't sure how the prosecutor's office wants to proceed. He wonders if most people have the wrong idea about his client. After several brushes with the law as a juvenile, Dillon's only problem as a Bengal before this past weekend was an investigation of DUI that was lowered to negligent driving and a suspended license two years ago.
"He did what he was asked to do to the letter," Franklin said. "He fulfilled every olbligation. He didn't have to get dragged back into court. He went though what 15,000 people go through. He did what had to do."