Duke Lacrosse: Convicted or Not, It Hurts

On April 11, the North Carolina Attorney General announced that the three former Duke lacrosse players accused of raping a stripper last March were innocent and that no rape had occurred. While the boys may be free from serving time, the damage to their reputations and to that of lacrosse is irreparable, and they will have to go to great lengths to improve them. Over the past year, the case has received national attention and has been the subject of a national media frenzy, with the combination of clashes between races, sexes and classes that the media previously had only dreamed about. The story could not have been more ideal for a cultural uproar: an African-American woman on welfare is “raped” by three men who play a sport and attend a university characterized by rich white kids in a town that is 44% black. This week’s Newsweek reveals the content of the never-before-seen handwritten statements by the team captains given to the Durham, NC police two days after the incident. The statements provide details that show that evidence was selectively released in favor of the accuser, and the reputations of the players have been treated unfairly by the media. It all started during spring break, when the team had to stay on campus to practice while the rest of the school went to the beach. At a house rented near campus, the three captains decided to order two “dancers” to come to the house to put on a show for the team. According to the Newsweek article, “Strip shows weren’t too unusual at Duke. Frats and other teams, male and female, were known to hire dancers to strut and carry on while students drank beer and hooted.” Throughout the case, the prosecution repeatedly said that the boys made unwarranted racist comments because they had ordered white strippers. While the players’ racial preference when it comes to strippers is otherwise irrelevant, Captain Matthew Zash says that when it became apparent that the strippers were in fact not white, nobody minded, although the captains said that some concerns were raised when one of the dancers, the accuser, came in so drunk she could hardly walk. In the words of Duke lacrosse player David Evans, the drunk dancer’s routine had the team “bored to tears.” It was at this point that the racist remarks began, but not by the lacrosse players. The captains said that in a dispute during the “show,” the racial tension was initiated by the dancers, as one of them made racially charged remarks about the players’ genitalia. After the incident, Duke President Richard Brodhead canceled the team’s season, fired the head coach and placed the students on interim suspension until the charges of a violent crime were dropped. He said, “If our students did what is alleged, it is appalling to the worst degree. If they didn’t do it, whatever they did is bad enough.” Brodhead proceeded to appoint a law professor, James E. Colman, Jr., to head the committee to assess the team’s behavior. Colman, an African-American, found that the team was “neither racist or sexist” and exhibited “exemplary academic and athletic performance.” So why did Brodhead come down so harshly? Because they were drinking? Because they ordered strippers? The reputation of the lacrosse culture has for many years been characterized by playing hard and partying hard. It is rumored that John Hopkins University used to keep a keg on the back of the team bus in the 1970’s. John Underwood of the American Athletic Institute has presented NCAA statistics showing that alcohol and marijuana use among lacrosse players “continues to rank high.” But these statistics do not necessarily indicate bad character. What they do show is that the lacrosse culture has continued to accept an unhealthy lifestyle even at the highest level of play. Thus the lacrosse culture has for many years been one of somewhat ill repute, though not necessarily one of bad character. The Duke scandal made what was just innocent fun look like criminal, racist, sexist and rapist behavior. The blemish on the sport hit harder at home because the three accused men – Evans, Seligmann and Finnerty – represent the three capitals of the lacrosse culture: Maryland, New Jersey and Long Island. The Duke scandal is not the first sex scandal to receive national attention in the lacrosse world, but it has had the largest impact. Whether they like it or not, Duke lacrosse players serve as role models for thousands of youth players around the nation. Unlike other sports, lacrosse at a professional level is not very popular. Most young lacrosse players aspire to play college ball. College lacrosse players are, however, great role models and should act in a manner consistent with the core values of the game.