Saturday, April 08, 2006

Duke Lacrosse

In response to the overwhelming outcry for my thoughts on the Duke University lacrosse situation, let me begin by saying that I would rather write about the great injustice done to Mandisa by the American Idol voters, the Wizards' steadily improving play as they approach the playoffs, the Orioles' stranglehold on first place in the American League East (which may have dissipated by the time I post this), or the curious fact that breakfast at my house routinely requires the opening of seven different boxes of cereal (eight if you include the Doc's oatmeal). But, as was pointed out below, I did spend 12 years working in college athletics, five at Johns Hopkins University, where lacrosse is a pretty big deal, and since I often expound at length about sports, it seems reasonable that I should tackle this horribly troubling issue.

So, what do I think? I think I am going to try not to get too hysterically carried away just yet. Sports plays a large but not dominant role in my life, and it always pains me when these types of stories bring forth attacks on athletics as an institution, with accusations usually made by people with a predetermined agenda bolstered by ignorant presumptions. The problems at Duke, like the recent scandals at the University of Colorado, Baylor University and the Naval Academy, just to name a few, tarnish the image of an experience that I and many others have valued for its positive impact on our lives. So, in light of the seriousness of the situation, I would like to try to avoid speculation and generalization and start with the specifics of what I know, and let's just see if I get around to what I think.

I know that the three captains of the Duke lacrosse team had a party for the team at their house during spring break, and they hired two strippers to perform at the party. Not surprisingly, underaged players drank alcohol at the party, and probably to great excess. College parties with underaged drinking and strippers took place when I was at Cornell University 20 years ago, and they were not solely the domain of varsity athletes. The hiring of strippers was not nearly as commonplace as the drinking, but it was not unheard of.

One of the women - both of whom were black - hired by the Duke players, told police that she was attacked and raped by three of the men at the party. The players deny that any sexual assault took place. A medical examination supported her claim of sexual assault. Ten days after the party, the 46 white members of the lacrosse team submitted DNA samples at the behest of a court order. The police obtained warrants to search the house, at least one vehicle, and the dorm room of one of the players. No charges have been filed yet. The lacrosse season has been cancelled, the coach has resigned, and one player has been suspended from the University. So, that's what I know as facts.

Mostly, this whole situation makes me angry. It makes me angry because someone is lying about a horrific crime and the resulting furor has brought out the worst assumptions and stereotypes about race, class and gender for both the lacrosse players and their accuser.

If the players are lying, and they are guilty, then they should be given the maximum sentence allowed, and if their teammates have withheld information, they should be prosecuted as well. No code of team unity should supercede basic human decency. Furthermore, no punishment will heal the wounds this woman has suffered, if she is telling the truth.

Rape is a heinous crime with lasting impact on the victim. Beyond my anger at the situation as a whole, my greatest emotion goes toward the alleged victim. It is extremely difficult for women to report sexual assaults in the first place, to admit that they have been violated, and even more difficult to endure the scrutiny that comes with such accusations. Because of the stigma of the circumstance, the authorities must vigorously investigate her report, and I applaud them for doing so.

If, on the other hand, the woman is lying, she has wreaked havoc on the lives of everyone associated with the Duke lacrosse program and, to some extent, the University. Even if the players are exonerated, tremendous damage has already been done, and its repercussions may never go away.

I have lived long enough that the veracity of either scenario would come as no shock, nor would it surprise me to learn that truth lies somewhere between the statements both sides have made thus far. So, either way, I am angry and disheartened, and not just by the people at the party.

The Durham district attorney made several statements in the Charlotte News and Observer that struck me as irresponsible to say the least. Perhaps he sees this as the best way to move his case forward, but he has come close to denying any presumption of innocence. He has also said that charges could be forthcoming next week. Until then, I plan to watch "The Accused," and reread "Bonfire of the Vanities" and "To Kill a Mockingbird." However, nothing could make me watch the movie "Bonfire of the Vanities."


Erin O'Brien said...

I read this post with great interest. Your observations are level-headed and dead-on. Kudos.

I know entirely too much about men to offer my own opinions. (And in typing that sentence, I discolse entirely too much about what I know about men and my opinions on this topic.)


Mehopes justice reigns.

Nice post, Fitz.

(like that name: Fitz)

Blaine from Maine said...

Nicely done, Blogmeister Fitz.

slushy said...

hi bill,
i started a blog (itwasswell). and there's a sports reference on a recent post that needs some defining. i turn to you with your estimable sports knowledge and expertise to define, if you please, 'middle reliever' for those who don't know. can you do me that favor and post a comment explaining it?

Puddles said...

A measured and thougtful take on a very troubling situation Fitz.

Bill Fitzgerald said...

Thanks all for the kind words. I am hoping for justice as well, but I think this thing will get even messier before any resolution, if there is one.

slushy said...

this is a really smart post. i meant to say so earlier. and i didn't mean to demean the seriousness of this episode or its longterm and broader ramifications by posting a comment not linked to it. please excuse the callousness.