Since last April, I have written nearly 40 articles on the Duke Lacrosse Non-Rape, Non-Kidnapping, and Non-Sexual Assault Case, yet there was one thing I never had done during that time: meet anyone associated with Duke’s lacrosse team. This past weekend, I was able to rectify that deficiency, and in the process came to realize even more what truly "Fantastic Lies" (more on that later) have served as the basis for this ordeal.
I traveled to College Park, Maryland, on Friday, March 2, to see the Duke-Maryland lacrosse match. Since I was scheduled to speak the next day at the annual convention of the Maryland Libertarian Party (on the Duke Lacrosse Non-Rape, Non-Kidnapping, and Non-Sexual Assault Case), I figured I would make a weekend of lacrosse.
Before the sorry saga began last spring, I knew very little about lacrosse, and still do not know much. I knew that once upon a time, Jim Brown of Syracuse, when he was not mowing down defenders on the football field, dominated lacrosse, his dominance ultimately leading to some rule changes. Furthermore, I knew nothing of Duke lacrosse or even Duke University, other than it was in Durham, that University of North Carolina fans call it "dook," and that it had a well-known basketball program. (My oldest daughter once wanted to go to Duke, but ultimately chose to go elsewhere.)
So, when I started writing about the Duke Lacrosse Non-Rape, Non-Kidnapping, and Non-Sexual Assault Case, I knew none of the people involved and very little about the sport around which the controversy swirled. However, I was familiar with dishonest prosecutors and hard-left college faculty members who liked to use words as a means to obfuscate the truth. Furthermore, from the beginning, the charges simply did not make sense to me, and my experience with writing on crime and justice issues made me even more suspicious.
Thus, I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, but other than some email contact with a few lacrosse parents and a couple of former players, as well as phone conversations with one lacrosse parent, I never had made face-to-face personal contact with any of the people involved. That is why I went to the match, and from that experience, I realized even more that this case not only is a fraud, but a vicious criminal fraud in which many more people than Michael B. Nifong deserve to spend hard time in prison.
My evening started with meeting some lacrosse parents at a nearby restaurant. I then rode to the game with Sally and Robert Fogarty, whose son, Gibbs, plays for Duke. (Sally and I have communicated often since last spring.) At the game, I was privileged to meet a number of other parents, including Rae Evans, the mother of David Evans, who still faces false charges, and who is an attractive and very strong woman who set the broadcasting world on its ear with her comments to Leslie Stahl on "60 Minutes" last January.
(She said that Nifong had "gone after the wrong families," and that he would pay for what he has done "every day for the rest of [his] life." She did not say those words with the raspy Sicilian accent of a Don Corleone, but they were as piercing and hard and absolute just the same. I have no doubt that Michael B. Nifong will pay dearly for his criminal misconduct, and he will pay for a long, long time. And Rae also graciously gave me a button that says "Fantastic Lies," which was what her son, David, called the allegations at a press conference last May after his arrest.)
I also met Stuart Taylor of the National Journal, and his wife. Stuart and Professor K.C. Johnson, whose blog "Durham-in-Wonderland" has helped to show this case is a farce, are writing what will be the definitive book on this case, although the shock waves will go on long after the book is in print. There were many others I met, all of them gracious, and all of them classy. They certainly were not the Second Coming of the Ku Klux Klan, as a large portion of the news media and the Duke University faculty would have us believe.
There were some incidents coming from the Maryland fans. Some people held a huge "No Means No" sign behind the Duke bench, and one young fan turned and yelled "No means no!" at us. As soon as he had stopped, an adult Maryland fan was in his face, and soon some police officers escorted the young miscreant out of the stadium.
(Unfortunately, as the Duke women’s lacrosse coach, Kirsten Kimmel told me the next day, when her team was practicing on the Maryland campus the day before their Saturday, March 3 game, a bunch of Maryland students were screaming things at them, such as calling them defenders of "rapists" and the ubiquitous "F*ck Duke.")
As for the game itself, I was able to gain some insights into why the various groups went after the lacrosse players. Lacrosse is a game that for now has mostly white players. Now, there is nothing in the game itself that forces any racial classification. Basketball, at one time, was dominated by Jewish kids from the cities before black youths gravitated to it. For that matter, the aforementioned Jim Brown is considered the greatest lacrosse player ever.
The reason, I believe, that lacrosse is not more widely played is that other higher-profile sports such as football and basketball and, now, soccer, have drawn athletes who might otherwise star in a sport like lacrosse. (For that matter, track and field does not attract as many young athletes as it once did, due to the growth of scholastic and youth soccer programs.)
Lacrosse requires a number of things besides pure athleticism. First, lacrosse players must be highly disciplined, as much of the game is technical. Second, it requires good hand-eye coordination (which would have eliminated me), and third, players have to be able to make quick decisions. Again, I see no reason why a good basketball or football player could not be a good lacrosse player, as high-level basketball and football require all of the above.
The other element is speed and the ability of people to change directions while on the run. Some of these characteristics are natural, and many must be learned through repetition and practice. Furthermore, as I watched how players moved around the goal, I realized that a player must be able to concentrate on his or her assignment without being distracted by the waving sticks, shouts, and constant movement of other players. (Perhaps this is why many lacrosse players become good floor traders in markets for securities and commodities.)
Lastly, the game is rough, but not particularly dirty. In fact, the kind of dirty play that one sees regularly in football and basketball is discouraged in lacrosse. Even though some aspects of the sport are similar to ice hockey, I did not see anyone fighting, which is pretty typical in hockey, where the joke is that "I went to see a fight, and a hockey game broke out." In other words, there seems to be a strong code of staying within the rules, and the players themselves show a great respect for the game.
Because most players are white and come from middle and upper-income homes, that is enough for people like the Duke professors who signed the infamous "Social Disaster" newspaper advertisement last April to see them as being singularly evil. When one adds the emphasis upon teamwork and fair play that accompanies lacrosse, not to mention that most of them do well in the classroom and often take high-paying jobs upon graduation, it is not hard to see that people who have a Hobbesian view of the world (believing that only the state can impose true discipline) are going to look down upon lacrosse players.
After the game, I met a number of players and watched them interact with their parents. I watched black and white parents interact as well, and saw something of the character of those families. And then it hit me squarely; there was no way that this group of young men participated in anything close to a gang rape last year. There was no way that these players stonewalled anything.
At the beginning, David Evans and the two other captains of the team immediately went to the police station on request without lawyers, and spoke with police investigators for several hours. They showed police around the house and answered all questions. They were not evasive; these were young men who believed that the police and prosecutors were honest people and simply wanted to know the truth. It never even occurred to them that the people in authority would act otherwise.
I suspect that they and their parents must have been shocked when police and Nifong then declared that the players were "stonewalling" the investigation and "putting up a blue wall of silence." When Samiha Khanna and Anne Blythe of the Raleigh News & Observer wrote "Dancer gives details of ordeal" as though the alleged gang rape was a proven fact, and all that was left was to arrest and convict the perpetrators, the players must have been in disbelief. They were further stunned to read:
“We’re asking someone from the lacrosse team to step forward,” Durham police Cpl. David Addison said. “We will be relentless in finding out who committed this crime.”
That is because the players had come forward. True, they had told authorities what actually happened at the party, as opposed to a fanciful tale of gang rape, but they did come forward. They just did not tell the authorities what they wanted to hear, even though the police and prosecutorial staff knew even then that there had been no rape or attack on Mangum or anyone else.
As this case has progressed, they have watched a district attorney call them "hooligans," they saw him declare that he "believed" Crystal Gail Mangum, despite the numerous changing stories she told, and despite the fact that Nifong never interviewed her. They saw their classmates at Duke hold signs calling for their castration, they saw "wanted" posters of themselves with their pictures on them.
Furthermore, they saw Richard Brodhead, the president of Duke University, openly deny what he knew — that the players had fully cooperated with the police — and then demand that players start cooperating with the investigation. They heard Brodhead condemn the players for hiring lawyers — and this after Nifong openly asserted that the players definitely had committed rape, and that he was going to indict a bunch of people who attended the party for being accessories to rape. In other words, the players did what they needed to do when Nifong announced he might charge all of them with crimes: hire counsel. And for that, the president of Duke University openly declared he was "disappointed" in them for exercising their Constitutional Rights.
Furthermore, they saw themselves openly being called liars because of their race and supposed status, while the authorities and many at Duke declared they believed Mangum precisely because she was black, and a prostitute. They watched TV pundits like Nancy Grace and Wendy Murphy openly call them rapists, all the while they either were twisting the evidence or making things up out of whole cloth. In other words, the players saw the world turned upside down, where lies were considered to be truth and the truth was a lie.
The lacrosse players and their parents watched in horror as people in official positions of trust — from the D.A. to the police to Brodhead to Duke Chairman Robert Steel to many on the Duke faculty — openly embrace what only could be termed "fantastic lies." These players and their parents have received a very difficult education this past year, one that has cost them much money, certainly their health and their sense that others in positions of trust actually can be trusted.
But, for this evening, those things were background material. Charges remain against Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans that could put them away for decades if they were found guilty in a court of law, but everyone senses that this pack of lies will not make it to a trial, although the State of North Carolina continues to hold these young men and their families hostage, at least for the time being.
Instead, the parents and friends cheered, and Duke whipped Maryland 14-7, a victory that would result in the team being ranked first in the country in the latest collegiate lacrosse poll. It was a night to remember, and for all of the right reasons. And I was quite happy and proud to be there to take in this moment of sanity and decency in what has been an episode in state-commissioned criminal behavior by people who really could learn something from the lacrosse players and their families about truth, decency, and fair play.
March 6, 2007