Duke Lacrosse: The Players Already Were Vindicated

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A year after their athletic lives were held in limbo, the Duke University lacrosse players put together a memorable season and in the NCAA Division I championship game on Memorial Day, the Duke Blue Devils lost a hard-fought and very close game to Johns Hopkins, 12—11. I have read more than one article that claims that this season was a season of "vindication and redemption" for the team; I respectfully disagree.

The idea of "vindication and redemption" stems from the fact that a year ago, this team was vilified, accused of gang-raping a black stripper, and three members of the team were indicted for rape, kidnapping, and sexual assault. The entire set of charges was a lie, but nonetheless, the team was attacked in the press and called all sorts of things that border on indecent.

The latest missive comes from Chicago Tribune sportswriter Phillip Hersh, who writes in an article "Duke’s lacrosse success nothing to cheer about":

The idea that the Duke lacrosse team’s success is a feel-good story makes me ill.

There is no allegory of redemption in having Duke play Johns Hopkins Monday for the NCAA men’s title, and there is nothing to the notion that it is a just reward for an injustice perpetrated on the team last year.

The team suffered for its outrageous behavior, even if that behavior did not include the sexual assault three Duke players had been charged with committing.

After those charges were filed, Duke President Richard Brodhead canceled the rest of the team’s 2006 season. That decision is as justifiable now as it was then.

The desire to empathize with the young men falsely charged and teammates made to feel guilty by association makes it easy to forget the circumstances that led to the problems.

  • The Duke players hired exotic dancers for a party at which alcohol was served to minors. At the time, the lacrosse program had a recent history of alcohol-fueled boorishness that was a sad counterpoint to the players’ often-commendable academic and social service records.

  • Some players allegedly yelled racial insults at the women.

  • A couple of hours after the alleged assault, a player e-mailed teammates to say he planned to have some strippers over the next night, then went on to describe in grisly, graphic detail what he would do to them. The player was expelled from school but reinstated after a university official said the e-mail was sent “in jest” and represented only an error in judgment.

The rush to judgment about the three players charged with assault also was an error.

As he dropped the charges in April, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said, “… we believe these three individuals are innocent of these charges.”

But it would be a bigger mistake to believe that means Duke’s lacrosse team was innocent of assault against common decency.

It is difficult to know where to begin debunking this piece, since most of it either is false or it takes the events out of their real context. For example, there were no racial insults hurled at the women while they “performed,” and the only remark that was overheard by a neighbor standing close by was a reply to a vile, racial insult that Kim Roberts-Pittman (one of the strippers) said to one of the players.

The McFayden email — which has been regarded by journalists as a crime against humanity — was a parody on a book, American Psycho, that is required reading in a number of classes at Duke. The reason we know about this email is that police illegally obtained it (McFayden wrote it after the infamous March 13 party) and it was released because McFayden refused to lie to police and to District Attorney Michael B. Nifong on April 5, 2006.

(Police told McFayden that unless he would agree to accuse some of his teammates of committing the alleged rape, the DA would release his email. In other words, Nifong, the police, and Judge Ronald Stephens — who approved the email release — engaged in extortion with illegally obtained “evidence” that was not evidence at all. Yet, Nifong, the police, and Stephens have received not one scrap of criticism in the press for what clearly was a crime of witness intimidation and attempted subornation of perjury.)

While the loss itself — magnified by being in the national championship game — was disappointing, had Duke won the game, the win would not have vindicated nor redeemed the team. I say this because a win would not have any more proven that the charges were a lie than would have a loss. Furthermore, because the team members were not guilty of the horrible conduct for which they were accused, they do not need redemption, least of all from mainstream journalists, who continue to put out the same self-righteous twaddle that has defined their coverage of this team for more than a year.

No, the vindication came on that day when North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper declared the three accused players "innocent," and proceeded to lambaste Nifong as a "rogue prosecutor." As for redemption, that came early, for it was the Duke University lacrosse players who consistently told the truth from the beginning. No one — not one person — from the team lied to police or any other authorities when questioned about this case. However, we cannot say that such behavior was reciprocated by those in positions of authority in Durham and Duke University.

We already are familiar with the lies told by Nifong, his staff, and Durham police, Crystal Mangum, and people in authority at Duke. If one contrasts their behavior with that of the Duke lacrosse players, we begin to see this episode in its proper perspective. As Jason Trumpbour, one of the founders of the Friends of Duke University website has written:

It is worth noting that, to date, the players are the only actors in the entire saga who have expressed any genuine regret for inappropriate behavior on their part and who have been willing to examine themselves with an eye toward improvement. They are better people for this experience and will use what they have learned to make a difference in the world. Who else in all this can say that?

Indeed, as we watch Nifong prepare — unrepentant — for his hearing before the North Carolina State Bar next month, and as we see the City of Durham and the Durham police chief Steve Chalmers put out a report on the lacrosse case that only can be called a work of fiction, we see that a number of other people truly are in need of redemption. There were crimes committed in this affair, many of them felonies. It is just that Duke lacrosse players did not commit any of them.

As for the Duke lacrosse season, I do not call it "redemption" or "vindication." Instead, I call it an athletic triumph. These young men had their season cut short and the university did not even decide to field a team again until June, which cost the team key recruits. Furthermore, lacrosse is both a physical and a skill sport, and these young men went almost a year without being involved in meaningful competition, and it is a wonder that these young men were able to put together a season that came up one goal short of a national championship.

While the players are disappointed tonight (as one would expect, and as a former Division I athlete myself, I know the bitterness that comes with a close loss), as they grow older and gain perspective, they will see what an amazing string of victories they put together this year. Indeed, as athletes they were vindicated, and as men, they already had been vindicated long ago.

May 30, 2007

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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