Politics & Media
Jul 22, 2008, 05:36AM

The Modern Scarlet Letter

Robert Khayat, successful lawyer, teacher, and former Pro-Bowl placekicker is receiving criticism from his alma mater, the University of Mississippi, for using a university letterhead on a message to a judge which requested leniency for a friend's bribery case. On the surface, it was a simple act of friendship, but many are coining the controversy as "the scarlet letter," after Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel of adultery and public humiliation. Similar situation, right?

I'm sure Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" was on your high school required-reading list. You know the story. Thinking her husband was lost at sea, Hester Prynne has an "affair" with a local minister, becomes pregnant, has a lil' bastard and she's forced to wear around her neck a red "A," which symbolizes adultery. Using an alias, the husband returns and he's not too happy with the state of affairs.

Today we call this "50-some percent of all marriages," but let's substitute "lost at sea" with business trip and "local minister" with his/her best friend.

Anyhow, the book is one of the best takes on the good ol' Court of Public Opinion and you, the Lafayette-Oxford-University community, have informally written the "The Scarlet Letter II."

The plot? Our protagonist, 24-year-old Robert Khayat, is a teacher at a junior high school near the Mississippi coast. Khayat encounters a freshman, Richard Scruggs, and the two develop a rapport akin to a big brother-little brother relationship and enjoy demonstrative success.

In addition to securing his juris doctorate, Khayat becomes a Pro-Bowl placekicker for the Washington Redskins, practices and teaches law and ultimately becomes the chancellor of his alma mater, The University of Mississippi. Scruggs also practices law and achieves legal nirvana in 1998 when he successfully takes on the tobacco industry and forces the industry to pay more than $200 billion in damages. (I would love to see those billable hours.)

The duo has regular correspondence throughout their 46-year friendship, but their most high-profile linkage comes in April 2008, when Khayat uses the university's letterhead to draft a letter requesting leniency from the judge presiding over Scruggs' bribery trial. The letter causes a furor in the community and many detractors accuse Khayat of giving Scruggs the university's endorsement.

This writer refers to Khayat's written letter as the Scarlet Letter. Yet, in displaying their displeasure with our protagonist's actions, many have branded Khayat with the letter "F" for "failure (to meet the public's expectations)," "flunky," or "foolish." So, much like Hester Prynne, our protagonist now stands trial in the Oxford Court of Opinion.


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