Saved by the Bell: Lost in the Transfer—A Christmas Carol

Be patient. There’s a Christmas story buried in this column, albeit a warped and disturbing and wholly abstract one—a postmodern sketch that differs a fair amount from Frosty, Rudolph and other, more familiar tales. This one involves lawsuits, a beating and Joseph Heller. And Harvard football.

Okay, kids, gather ’round. Let’s say you once publicly sued Harvard for admission based on the claim that head football coach Tim Murphy reneged after promising you a spot in the Class of 2004. What do you do for an encore?

Well, if you’re Marco Minuto, you find yourself back in the headlines a year later, brought up along with your sister on charges of aggravated assault. According to Bergen County, N.J., police who arrested Marco and Elena Minuto this summer, Marco held a 15-year-old girl down as his sister, 18, hit and kicked and choked her.

Marco Minuto? Why do we care?

We don’t, really. We may have, had Minuto stretched his 15 minutes of fame two summers ago into a lengthy legal action.

A day after Independence Day in 2001 (this could only be an American Christmas story), Minuto filed suit against Harvard for, among other things, breach of contract after his transfer request was denied. A redshirt freshman at Tulane University who had once starred at quarterback for Northern Highlands Regional High School in New Jersey, Minuto contended that Murphy and then-assistant Bruce Tall promised him that his transfer request would be successful, that the rest of the admissions process was a formality and that he should drop his Tulane commitments and any other transfer plans to pack his bags for Cambridge.

Excited by this prospect, the suit says, Minuto quit the team at Tulane—forfeiting an athletic scholarship the Green Wave had supposedly promised him in the process.

Harvard, not surprisingly, claimed otherwise. Harvard’s documents argued that Minuto and his father misrepresented his football credentials to the Harvard coaching staff, that Murphy had made it clear that he was “not the Dean of Admissions” and that Minuto’s academic credentials made him anything but a sure thing.

Minuto’s brief claimed that Murphy had promised him a shot at a starting wide receiver’s job since one of the starters would have to take a year off—an interesting note, since one such Crimson player did end up missing the team’s perfect 2001 season. Nevertheless, Minuto dropped the suit abruptly in under a month.

Why? It may have been the heap of counterevidence—including sworn affidavits by Tulane and Harvard coaches suggesting Minuto had exaggerated his football credentials to Murphy and Tall. Or it may have been the sheer implausibility of winning admission on the strength of alleged promises by an Ivy League football coach—especially since Harvard admissions offers described Minuto as “very weak academically.” (Minuto’s transfer application, public record since being introduced in the suit, reveals a 3.33 grade point average at Tulane his first semester, a 1260 SAT score and an admiration of Joseph Heller’s “extensive vocabulary and use of words from the war and time period” in the novel Catch-22).

Given the reality that only 7 percent of Harvard’s transfer applicants were admitted at the time, these weren’t good signs. Minuto dropped the suit, and Harvard representatives declared the result a vindication of both the admissions and athletic departments.

And so, the converted wide receiver ultimately returned to Tulane, a football player without a position—at least until, police say, he and his sister teamed up to play a little defensive tackle at a party in northern New Jersey, roughing up a 15-year-old girl.

According to the Bergen Record, police say that harsh words were exchanged between Elena, a former midfielder for Northfield Regional’s field hockey team, and the alleged victim in July. (Marco’s attorney has said that the girl used offensive anti-Italian remarks). The argument moved upstairs and, according to police, Marco eventually held the victim by the stomach as Elena pummeled her.

Oddly enough, the Record reports that Northfield Regional’s field hockey team booted 14 seniors that year for overseeing bizarre, sexually inappropriate hazing incidents. There were 14 seniors on the team’s roster that year. Do the math. All told, it’s been quite a two-year stretch for the Minutos, with twists and turns worthy of HBO primetime.

If such a television series did exist, this year’s Christmas episode would be a bleak one for our protagonist. The charges are still pending, according to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, with grand jury action set for next month. And, of course, there’s no Harvard life in which to find solace, to lose oneself in as the wheels of justice turn. Randy Gomes and Suzanne Pomey, the two Harvard students charged with embezzling funds from the Hasty Pudding last year, at least had that.

* * *

So let’s get back to the Christmas story. What is this time of year supposed to be about? Giving and receiving? Santa? Family? Redemption? Heavenly peace?

Giving and receiving. Give thanks, Coach Murphy, that the matter involving this receiver didn’t get as complicated as it could have.

Santa. Feel bad, if you wish, for young Marco Minuto—if only for his first misadventure. We weren’t there, and can’t know for sure what “Santa” actually promised him. Some of his actions then and since would suggest he wasn’t promised anything at all, that Marco is in fact the type who would have tried to pull the wool over Santa’s eyes. And we know that naughty little boys who try that stuff get nothing but coal in the end. Yet at some point, Minuto must have thought his suit could succeed. Who knows?

Family. Marco’s youngest sister, DeShanna, was a Division I First Team Field Hockey All Star this season—which probably salvaged some awkward family dinners. Family is good, especially in the worst of times. Here’s hoping they’re no worse for the wear.

Redemption. Feel further redeemed, Harvard, about this matter—to the extent that it’s appropriate. To be honest, I don’t know what that extent is.

And the rest of you Harvard types? You occupy a space in the world some would do anything—anything—to enjoy. You got a heck of a gift in the form of a fat envelope at some point, many of you right around this time of year. Not everyone was, or is, as lucky. Be humble, be grateful and be at peace.

What is it angels say, the multitude of the heavenly host? “Glory to God in the highest / And on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

In this case, I guess it’s really just “peace to those on whom his favor rests on earth.” For who can really tell about the other thing?

Merry Christmas.

—Staff writer Martin S. Bell can be reached at msbell@fas.harvard.edu.