Opinions on the Duke Lacrosse Case

I know nothing about lacrosse. Before this story, I thought that lacrosse was played by English schoolgirls in boarding school (think Enid Blyton.) Apparently, it is a huge deal to some people. Wow.

So I started reading up on it. The case is messy. It's also disturbingly high profile that it's going to be hard to find an unpolluted jury pool. There's so much information you don't know who to believe anymore.

There are a couple of good columns on it, from the NYT & the Orlando Sentinel. There's also one that's biased and irrelevant from the AP.

Anyway, here are the columns:

Blue Devils Made Them Do It

Chapel Hill, N.C.

NO charges have been brought yet. True, the coach has resigned; one student has been suspended; three white players still stand accused of raping and sodomizing a black "exotic" dancer hired to dance at a party at their school-leased pad.

Innocent until proven guilty, yes. But everybody has an opinion. Certainly here, where Topic A — A.C.C. basketball — just ended with both Duke and North Carolina falling short. March Madness takes on new meaning.

Lacrosse was our Eden's first team sport. The Cherokees called it "the little brother of war." They swore it offered superb battle training. It bred loyalty among players, a solidarity demonstrated by the code of silence among Duke's party attendees. These included the team's one black member and only Durham native.

Postparty, the sole player now banished from campus (for his own protection) sent a group e-mail message. It promised another bash, one whose invited women would be killed, then skinned. O.K. Innocent until proven guilty. I know his parents love him; I hope they get him help. This young man's lawyer actually cited his sudden concentration upon skinning as proof that rape had not occurred.

From north of here, this story must seem like yet another involving Southern frat boys run wild, besmirching the great-granddaughters of their own ancestral slaves. But Duke's lacrosse team is largely recruited from Northeastern prep schools. The player who showed such lively interest in peeling skin off his next stripper has a white S.U.V. with New Jersey plates.

Though Duke is in Durham, N.C., whose namesake family made its billions in tobacco, most of Duke's students hail from elsewhere. The university's popularity as an alternative to the Ivy League has been refined in recent years. Students fondly call the campus Gothic Wonderland.

This Disney reference acknowledges the incongruity of its gray-stone Oxbridge architecture, constructed in the 1930's as a wishful invocation of Europe: real culture, faux antiquity. It could not, like Chapel Hill's 18th-century campus, be built of native red brick. Why? The tobacco warehouses visible from the Duke campus are all brick.

As a native North Carolinian, one too familiar with the state's code of privilege and fraternity, I left home early. I went north to school, taking my chances among strangers rather than trusting the old-boy network that might've worked for me. But after decades elsewhere, I came back, bought an Arts and Crafts house, settled here to grow a garden, love my friends. I daily observe and adore this place.

I know firsthand the good will of the Durham community. Through Duke's Center for Documentary Studies, I have taught fourth graders writing and drawing. My class included professors' children as well as children of the cleaning crews who nightly scrub their labs and offices. It is criminal that this sexual and racial accusation might seem typical. It's sad that the university administration's three-week silence appeared to sanction such acts.

I have also taught at Duke. My students have been exemplary. Certain young writers from my class proved idealistic enough to go teach at rough public schools, one in a section of Durham far from the calming sight of Duke's cathedral-sized chapel. The level of teaching at the university is superlative. And it is done by actual professors, not teaching assistants. One-third of Duke's students are members of minority groups. Duke is hardly the lily-white institution some suppose.

Like all universities, though, this one lives or dies by attracting top students. That means convincing college-shopping high schoolers that Duke is sexy and fun. (I still find it hard to believe that anyone would choose a college based on how well its basketball team played the previous year; but, about so many things, I seem to be the last to understand.)

Lacrosse is a draw. Glamorous boarding-school sports are magnets for the attractive, competitive and wealthy young people that increasingly define Duke's student body.

Ivy League colleges do not, they assure us, give athletic scholarships per se. Here, there's no such interdiction. To enlist — then hold onto — a major player, promises must be made. Talent has its privileges, especially in lacrosse, that bailiwick of Abercrombie allure.

One perk of belonging to a sports team: preferred living quarters, close to campus but far from adult supervision. The lacrosse team's 610 North Buchanan house is, even among such Animal Houses, notorious. Friends in the neighborhood painstakingly restored an old home; they sold it the instant Duke planted a sports team next door.

Young male students are apt to take on the nature of their particular sport. One early explorer, after witnessing an Indian game involving hundreds of stick-wielding players, wrote, "Almost everything short of murder is allowable."

The Duke team is known on campus as the Meatheads. Nights before the dancer's visit, complaints were lodged in a nearby restaurant as players chanted with the wit typical of such groups, "Duke La—crosse! Duke La—crosse!" No one quite dared confront them. Though they pass as ordinary citizens — unlike the pituitary cases found among basketball stars — they're still guys of serious, strenuous bulk.

Their coach, now resigned, preached, "Work hard, play hard." This seems to have meant, "If you turn up and give me your all at practice, what happens after hours is strictly 'Don't Ask.' " The "Don't Tell" part involved not snitching on one another. Neighbors complained to the university to little avail. Middle-class white residents, come to ask for late-night noise reduction, were routinely cursed. The beer-can litter and the welter of S.U.V.'s suggested what went unmonitored inside the house.

The police report did more than hint. Its allegations of rape and sodomy prove weirdly well written, more gripping reading than most detective novels. Its author is anonymous but he might be advised to take a writing class at, well, Duke … its night school, of course.

"Two males pulled the victim into the bathroom. Someone closed the door and said, 'Sweetheart, you can't leave'…The victim's four red polished fingernails were recovered inside the residence consistent to her version of the attack."

Peter Wood, a history professor at Duke and himself a lacrosse player at Harvard, warned the administration two years ago that players were cutting class for morning practice — his course in Native American history, the culture that had given them their game. But what administrator is going to risk driving away a winning team from a winning university? How soon Boys Will Be Boys become Administrators Who Administrate in Defense of Such Boys. This lacrosse season, until rape accusations ended it, featured six wins and two losses. Code for "Leave them alone."

Of the 40 or so players required to give DNA samples, nearly one-third showed previous arrests for under-age drinking and public urination. One member of the team had been ordered to perform 25 hours of community service in connection with the assault of a man in Washington. He had asked the player and two friends to stop yelling he was gay. Beating ensued.

It would be far too easy to scapegoat one university for allowing boys to be brutes. But in the institution's hurry to protect its students, right or wrong, it seemed to forget its role of educating and reassuring a community larger than itself.

The university once offered respite from our country's most rabid competitive impulses. Once upon a time, there was even a core curriculum assuring that every student in every field had read the same great works, including sacred texts, Shakespeare, the Greeks. Once science reigned unchallenged by religious strictures. Once institutions of higher learning ranked … higher.

Now corporate America, athletic America, Defense Department America form a unified competitive team. Duke's head basketball coach was recently offered tens of millions to lead a pro team. He refused, receiving a fancier leadership title and the full attention of Duke's new president.

A man nabbed for using Duke stationery to support his favorite Republican Senate candidate, Mike Krzyzewski gives inspirational talks to Fortune 500 corporations. Though silent about the scandal, he still appears in ads for American Express and Chevy. Does he keep the money, or his school? Guess.

When the children of privilege feel vividly alive only while victimizing, even torturing, we must all ask why. This question is first personal then goes Ethical soon National. Boys 18 to 25 are natural warriors: bodies have wildly outgrown reason, the sexual imperative outranks everything. They are insurance risks. They need (and crave) true leadership, genuine order. But left alone, granted absolute power, their deeds can terrify.

The imperative to win, and damn all collateral costs, is not peculiar to Durham — and it is killing us.

Why is there no one to admire?

Allan Gurganus, the author of "The Practical Heart," is a Guggenheim Fellow for 2006.


Rush to judgment at Duke

Kathleen Parker

April 16, 2006

'We don't know all the facts about the alleged Duke lacrosse rape, but . . ."

That's more or less how most commentators have introduced their remarks on the case that has reduced the Durham, N.C., community to prayers, tears and recriminations.

Let me interpret the code for you: Men are bad.

Even though we don't know what happened, we're not going to let the absence of facts interfere with our indictment of a team, a coach, a school, but more to the point — of boys.

About the only thing to emerge with any clarity since a black exotic dancer claimed that three white lacrosse players raped her last month is our willingness to believe the worst about males.

That belief is all the more rewarding if the males happen to be white, as well as athletes, and especially if they're perceived to be privileged. If there's one thing we can't bear in this country, it's spoiled white boys who think the world owes them a good time.

I'm not about to impugn the reputation of the woman in question or to disbelieve entirely her story. She left four red-painted fingernails in the party house where the alleged rape took place, corroborating at least part of her story.

And, despite negative DNA tests indicating that none of the team's players had sexual intercourse with the woman, the Durham County district attorney is expected to produce at least one indictment, possibly as soon as Monday, when the grand jury is scheduled to convene.

Probably no one gets a citizenship award in this case, based on the facts we do know. Something happened in that house on the night in question about which, apparently, no one is proud. The team's silence and the coach's sudden resignation all contribute to the sense that something untoward took place, if perhaps something less than the alleged gang rape.

That said, it is unsurprising in these bilious times that an athletic team, some of whose members could face very serious charges, would opt for silence, most likely on the advice of attorneys. A mob formed almost instantaneously to condemn the lacrosse players, and, as history has taught us, once a mob gets a whiff of blood, nothing but blood will do.

Whatever transpires in the days and months ahead, what's most stunning isn't the revelation that a group of young men, lubricated by testosterone and brew, might become sexually aroused by a woman displaying her wares, but that we assume without evidence that they acted on their basest instincts.

The idea that males can't control themselves and that females can't be blamed — ever for anything — has been taking shape in the culture for the past several decades and now is firmly embedded in the zeitgeist. Reaction to Duke's sad chapter is but the inevitable full flowering of the anti-male seeds planted a generation ago.

Thus, we need little prompting to assume that where there's a guy, there's a potential rapist; where there's an athlete, there's seething brute force; where there's an SUV, there's a privileged, gluttonous, imperialistic brat who deserves to be found guilty, even if he isn't.

These biases have been on display the past couple of weeks, vividly so in an op-ed by North Carolina author Allan Gurganus, writing for last Sunday's New York Times.

Joining the chorus of commentators who clearly found the rape charge believable if unproven, Gurganus set the stage for class resentment with key phrases like "glamorous boarding-school sports" and "wealthy young people," and highlighted other details to suggest that these are probably bad boys.

"Of the 40 or so players required to give DNA samples, nearly one-third showed previous arrests for underage drinking and public urination," he wrote.

That pounding you hear is the sound of nails being driven into the hangman's gallows. Everybody knows, after all, that there's just a wink and a six-pack's difference between drinking and tinkling outdoors and gang-raping a stripper.

While we wait to hear what the grand jury decides, we might turn our harsh judgment inward and recognize that the anti-male groupthink that permitted a presumption of guilt in Durham is little different than the lynch-mob mentality that once channeled rage against blacks.

Obviously, no woman deserves to be raped for any reason, under any circumstances. But nor do men deserve to be presumed guilty just because they're men.

When Peer Pressure, Not a Conscience, Is Your Guide  


Published: March 31, 2006

ON the front page of Wednesday's USA Today, there was a photo of a man wearing a T-shirt with a traffic sign and a message for rat finks written in graffiti type: "Stop Snitching."

As the story detailed, this is the bold new wardrobe of drug dealers and gang members engaged in an anti-snitch campaign that is frustrating authorities.

Imagine a T-shirt as a tool of witness intimidation. Now imagine it as the undershirt of the male athlete in a locker-room culture devoted to its own code of silence, of a male athlete who thrives inside hostile arenas where the Vegas rule of "what goes on here, stays here" creates the tacit acceptance of denigrating behavior.

On a team, there are players reared on misplaced war-room jargon, conditioned to equate teammates with soldiers, locker rooms with foxholes and Patton with the coach. In an arena, fans are roped off from the norms of decent behavior, provided anonymity by the cover of a crowd, free to mock their foils without repercussions.

Want to challenge an opponent's manhood? Mock him by turning the serenade of "Brokeback Mountain" into a gay slur. Care to test the tolerance of an adversary who has been arrested? Taunt him with the rattle of handcuffs. Go ahead and break any social code necessary for the sake of the team.

At the intersection of entitlement and enablement, there is Duke University, virtuous on the outside, debauched on the inside. This is the home of Coach K's white-glove morality and the Cameron Crazies' celebrated vulgarity.

The season is over, but the paradox lives on in Duke's lacrosse team, a group of privileged players of fine pedigree entangled in a night that threatens to belie their social standing as human beings.

Something happened March 13, when a woman, hired to dance at a private party, alleged that three lacrosse players sexually assaulted her in a bathroom for 30 minutes. According to reported court documents, she was raped, robbed, strangled and was the victim of a hate crime. She was also reportedly treated at a hospital for vaginal and anal injuries consistent with sexual assault and rape.

Players have been forced to give up their DNA, but to the dismay of investigators, none have come forward to reveal an eyewitness account.

Maybe the team captains are right. Maybe the allegations are baseless.

But why is it so hard to gather the facts? Why is any whisper of a detail akin to snitching?

"The idea of breaking ranks within a team is identified as weak," said Katie Gentile, an assistant professor and the director of the Women's Center at John Jay College, adding, "The bottom line is, your self-esteem is more valuable to you than someone else's life."

There is research Gentile cites to back up the analysis. What do women fear the most? Rape and murder. What do men fear most? Ridicule.

The stigma as a traitor — and the threat of repercussion and isolation — is more powerful than the instinct to do what's right, a pattern perpetuated on every level of sports, from prep to pro.

At Long Island's Mepham High School, older members of the football team were accused of sodomizing junior varsity players with broomsticks, golf balls and pine cones at a camp in 2003. It took nearly a month and 12 subpoenas to prompt the team's cooperation with authorities.

On a lake in Minnesota last fall, a group of Vikings were accused of treating their boat cruise hostesses as grab bags. With teammates employing a "loose lips sink ships" strategy when questioned on the incident, the most salacious disclosure from the case thus far has been a legal debate over what constitutes a lap dance.

There are more cases all the time, often depicting a group of players against one woman. Some involve male players sexually molesting a handful of rookies in hazing rituals. Is it heterocentrism, homophobia or homoeroticism?

Whatever the root, there is a common thread: a desire for teammates to exploit the vulnerable without heeding a conscience.

At Duke, a day after the team provided DNA samples to the police, players went back to practice as normal. "All our focus is on trying to beat the Hoyas now," the lacrosse coach, Mike Pressler, said.

Public outrage had more traction than Pressler's warped priorities. For now, the season has been suspended while the investigation continues. For days, Durham residents and Duke students have rallied on behalf of sexual-assault victims, banging pots and pans, hoping to stir more action out of Duke's president, Richard H. Brodhead.

The indignation has been heartening, but it may also be hypocritical.

How many of the offended are among the offensive? Have any of them cheered when the Cameron Crazies — who have been known to deride an opponent accused of a sex crime with a sign that read, "Did you send her flowers?" — cross the boundaries of decency?

Has President Brodhead reveled in the Crazies' witty ability to belittle villains in an environment that only serves to nurture the entitlement of his own athletes?

Does President Brodhead dare to confront the culture behind the lacrosse team's code of silence or would he fear being ridiculed as a snitch?


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