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Friday, March 31, 2006

The Duke Lacrosse Situation

First, trial by newspaper and blog and public opinion is not a good thing. I honestly hope that the prosecutors and investigators can get their job done quickly and conclude the investigation as to what happened in that house at that bachelor party. There are numerous links to reports on the alleged incident, the response of the Duke lacrosse captains (who categorically deny the allegations and state that DNA tests will exonerate all Duke lacrosse players) and the response of the Duke administration (which has suspended the Duke lax team, which lost in last year's national title game, until the investigation concludes). Tensions are high in Durham because of the nature of the crime and because the the races of the victims and the lacrosse players.

Second, this certainly isn't something you would expect from students at a school like Duke, the same way you wouldn't have expected the Navy QB to be brought up on sexual assault charges either. Duke likes to hold itself out as another Ivy, the Harvard of the South, the Stanford of the East, you name the metaphor. As such, that university would appear to want to hold itself and its entire community to higher standards. That's not to say that they're running a Jesuit monastery down in Durham. People in their late teens and early 20's are not fully formed, they do make mistakes, especially when they mix revelry with excess. Now, before you start to contend that I'm indicting the Duke lacrosse team for this crime, stop right there. I'm not. But in the next paragraph I will indict the Duke administration and the Duke lacrosse coaches for something very troubling if less horrifying than an alleged gang rape.

Third, as has been reported in various newspapers and by the AP (thanks to Deadspin for the link), 15 of the 47 Duke lax players have misdemeanor records for various types of misbehavior, from public drunkenness to public urination -- over the past three years. If there were one or two kids, you could cite statistics, say that you had a couple of kids with problems and that they were dealt with by the University administration. But almost 1/3 of the kids on the team have this type of record -- one that has gone beyond the University authorities to the police? Sounds like in this particular area this is more than a case of boys will be boys. Sounds like there's a culture of drinking that needs to be addressed (because I doubt that it's simply been a matter of bad luck that these young men were having their one beer of the week and happened to get caught outside with an open container by a policeman; typically, excesses occur, police get summoned, and they have to put a lid on over-the-top behavior. It's probably the case that either the campus or Durham police or both just love this particular Duke sports team).

Where is the coach here? Where is the Athletic Director? Where is the Dean of Students? Where is the University president? (I would think that many Duke kids who get a little frightened when popular athletes get wasted stay far away from the Duke men's lax team when they try to blow off steam.) That's not to say, of course, that this level of citations for public disrputions and intoxication means that the Duke lacrosse team committed the awful crimes that are alleged. But what it does say is that Duke has permitted a culture of irresponsibility permeate one of its athletic teams. No college athlete should be entitled to be above the University's rules and the law. Colleges and the towns they populate, however, are entitled to a standard of conduct that honors town and gown and doesn't demean them.

Fourth, if you don't stop bad trends, they can change into bolder, more dangerous ones. Now, because of the Buckley Amendment, Duke has to keep student records confidential. It may be that these kids, depending on their misdeeds, were suspended from the team, were compelled to take a year off, were put on disciplinary probation, what have you. After all, you shouldn't treat students differently, whether they're lacrosse players, oboists or children of influential alumni. But if there's a trend on one team, something more distinct has to be done than simply putting kids severally -- on a one-by-one, case-by-case basis -- on disciplinary probation or seeing them plead guilty to misdemeanors. The problem needs to be treated jointly -- as a team problem -- even if it means that certain kids are kicked off the team for good.

Fifth, yes, boys will be boys, but there is a certain time in their lives when they must act like men (Read this book, which, interestingly, is about a football program at an elite Baltimore school that also has a great lacrosse program). Being a faceoff specialist, a great feeder, an attackman, a long-stick defenseman or a flashy goalie is not enough. Instead of being bathed in entitlement, these students should be expected to show leadership. That means that they should respect their campus, respect their fellow students, respect the town in which their school is situated and honor the entire University community. The last time I checked, even a national-championship caliber sports program remains an extracurricular activity and certainly not what school is all about, especially at a place like Duke.

I think that Duke's president the right thing by suspending the lacrosse team at this time, even if it seems the school whiffed on previous disturbing trends surrounding this particular team. The University should investigate its disciplinary practices, especially as to the members of the lacrosse team and the disturbing trend about public misbehavior that rose beyond the dean's office to the local police -- and regardless of the outcome of the current investigation in the particular incident that has put the Duke lacrosse team in the spotlight. If you're a top-notch academic institution like Duke is, you also have to question your priorities.

Parents send their hard-working, earnest, still young kids to major universitities to help them better themselves. Yes, they get to move away from home if they're fortunate, and they'll get to meet kids from all walks of life, build life-long friendships and figure out who they are. Colleges, in and of themselves, are and should be celebrations of the best our youth have to offer. Duke is at the vanguard of all colleges, but now is gut-check time for this proud institution. Duke cannot have it both ways -- it has to hold all students to the standards that have created a brand name that stands for excellence. If the Duke administration fails in this regard, then the brand name could well evolve into one that represents compromised priorities, to say the least.

Again, to be clear on the point, I'm not throwing the Duke team under the bus for the alleged incident at this time and mean it when I say that the authorities need to do their jobs and reach their conclusions. Something happened in that house, that is for sure. Time will tell whether Duke lacrosse players were involved. But even if they weren't, the back story here, about the history of trouble of material number of Duke lax playerrs, is troubling in and of itself and shouldn't get swept under the rug should the investigators exonerate the Duke men's lacrosse team in this particular incident.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

>Second, this certainly isn't
>something you would expect from
>students at a school like Duke

What planet are you from? This is *exactly* the kind of behavior you'd expect from the Division I scum at *every* school.

4:23 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

It may happen, but why should we expect it? Why shouldn't we hold students at all of these schools to higher standards? And what's with the "Division I scum" and throwing everyone under the bus?

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If anything, SportsProf understated the situation. If you look at the national crime statistics for gang rape, a white on black attack just doesn't happen. And that's with the population at large. Duke students are far less prone to crime or violence, on the whole, than the general white population. This fact alone should have alerted everyone to the fact that the accusers story deserved far more initial scrutiny than it deserved. As it was, the Duke administration instead chose to take the word of a single prostitute with a history of criminal and mental issues claiminig a type of attack that is almost statistically non-existent over the word of 47 of their own students. Basketball may be immune, but I suspect the rest of the sports program and the undergraduate program itself is going to pay a heavy price for the stance of the administration.

12:47 PM  

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