RAINEY WILL PLAY, BUT THE ISSUE OF WHAT HE SAID AIN'T OVER YET
It was decided late Thursday afternoon by Polk County School District officials that there was no credible evidence to show that Lakeland High School running back Chris Rainey accepted money or other renumeration in violation of Florida High School Activities Association rules, so he will be allowed to play in this evening's Class 5A state championship game at Miami's Dolphin Stadium against St. Thomas Aquinas of Fort Lauderdale.
But the issue won't be over quite yet, as the FHSAA will continue it's own investigation into the comments Rainey made to a Miami Herald reporter earlier this week. The Herald had done a fluff piece about how the Dreadnaughts' success of 44 consecutive wins and playing in it's third straight championship game has affected the community, and the interview with the LHS star was a couple of paragraphs within it.
Rainey said a local clothing vendor recently gave him a bag full of sports jerseys and jewelry in exchange for his autograph. Another time, an elderly woman approached him at a restaurant, gave him a hug and handed him a wad of cash.
''I didn't even count it,'' Rainey said. "When I walk around, people are buying me food, giving me money. I'm like, damn, I'm glad I'm Chris Rainey. It's real nice to be me.''
The running back, who has verbally committed to the University of Florida, is now being represented by one of the area's powerful attorneys, Robert Puterbaugh, among whose clients is Lakeland Regional Medical Center. Rainey released a statement through the lawyer Wednesday stating that his comments to the reporter were meant in a joking fashion and not intended to be taken seriously. Puterbaugh has not permitted FHSAA investigators to interview his client at this point.
Puterbaugh is no stranger to sports related cases. Three years ago, the attorney represented former University of Tennessee trainer Jamie Ann Naughright in a defamation of character lawsuit against former UT and current Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and three other parties which she claimed he ridiculed her in a book, "Manning: A Father, His Sons, and a Football Legacy". The lawsuit was settled after Polk County Circuit Judge Harvey Kornstein ruled there was enough evidence to bring the case before a jury in Bartow. Details of the settlement were not released due to a confidentiality agreement.