Blogs > Cliopatria > Duke Lacrosse

Mar 30, 2006 6:15 am

Duke Lacrosse

My friend, Another Damned Medievalist, sent me an e-mail yesterday, asking why no one at Cliopatria had posted about the scandal of Duke's lacrosse team."I'm surprised no one at Cliopatria has picked up the Duke Lacrosse team story yet," says she,"since it does seem to be all about class and race ..." I can't speak for my colleagues, of course, but I'm the only Blue Devil among us, so ADM's question seems pointed at me.

First, a couple of preliminaries: a) no one has been proved guilty yet, so we can't assume that the 46 young white men on Duke's 47 member lacrosse team are guilty (even the accuser says only three of them are); b) contrary to the discussion at ADM's site, this story has been getting enormous coverage in the education press (Chronicle of Higher Education, Duke Chronicle, Daily Tar Heel, and Inside Higher Ed), local press (Charlotte Observer, Durham Herald-Sun, and Raleigh News & Observer), MSM (ABC News, Houston Chronicle, New York Times [its earlier article was the second most commonly e-mailed article of the day], San Francisco Chronicle and Washington Post) and on the net (Alas, A Blog, Chris Lawrence at Signifying Nothing, The Smoking Gun, and Margaret Soltan at University Diaries have been all over the story), so it's not as if someone's been hiding Duke's little light under a barrel or anything; and c) I'm a little unclear what to say because my expressions of outrage tend to draw attention to me and my own righteousness. And it isn't about that. So, what to say?

I am deeply embarrassed for my alma mater, but not terribly surprised. Deeply embarrassed because we do aspire to better than that. Not terribly surprised because we fall terribly short of aspiration. We've sent the less privileged peers of these young men to war for democracy (or whatever) in Iraq and they've sent home pictures from Abu Ghraib. Should we be surprised that more privileged men of their age are accused of rape and torture in Durham?

As Tim Burke noted, one reason that Margaret Soltan's coverage of the Duke scandal at University Diaries has been so effective is that she was already"doing a fantastic job lately of tracking stories about the poisoned, hopelessly corrupt relationship between higher education and athletics." And what has she discovered? This isn't"Southern, white racism" at work, as we've understood it. These are the privileged sons of her neighbors in the DC suburbs. They went to the"right" schools. And 15 of the 46 suspects already had prior charges!

I'm afraid to say that I know the type. I went to school with them. They're the children of privilege, prep school graduates from the mid-Atlantic and the North. They're at Duke because they didn't get into Princeton. And they have nothing but contempt for working-class Durham, black and white. The barbarians are among us, privileged and not very well-bred. They are our children and our students.

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Timothy James Burke - 4/6/2006

I don't know if anyone's still following this particular comment thread, but apropros of my earlier remark on why the DA might have sought DNA samples from all the white members of the team (which is the whole team except for one player), one concrete bit of information that has come out in the last few days is that some of the players have admitted using aliases before and during the stripper's performance in order to create confusion about their identities, and also tried to create confusion about which team they were associated with.

That alone would strike me as a reasonable cause to obtain DNA from the entire team: if you have team members admitting to the police that they were programmatically trying to obscure the identities of people present at the performance even while the performance was going on. It would be especially foolish as a result to assume that their representations about the people present at the performance are reliable.

Michael R. Davidson - 4/3/2006

There is an interesting article on the issue of the constitutionality of the DNA evidence here:;sID=4

Mike Davidson

Robert KC Johnson - 3/31/2006

The press accounts on the number of players in attendance have been vague, and it's unclear from where the newspapers got the "up to 40" figure. It's quite possible that the police have reason to believe that all 46 were in attendance, in which case, obviously, the police action was justified. If, on the other hand, the police have reason to believe that the true figure was "up to 40," and they just don't know which 40, I'd be dubious of the claim. Stories that I've seen in the Durham and Raleigh papers had several defense lawyers raising this issue; one predicted that the DNA evidence could be thrown out on grounds of an unconstitutionally broad search.

I also was struck by a comment from the DA asking if the players were innocent, why would they need a lawyer? That seems to me an unusual perspective on the criminal justice system.

Timothy Burke - 3/31/2006

KC, given that the team is apparently practicing collective silence in its dealings so far with law enforcement authorities, if you were the local police, would you trust their representations of who was and was not there? I would say it's a reasonable case of due diligence to collect samples from the entire team unless the people who claim to have not been there can absolutely, clearly provide an unshakeable alibi.

Michael R. Davidson - 3/31/2006

Heh heh.

I, for one, never would learned the time-management skills neccessary for success in graduate school were it not for my participation, nor would I have had the intestinal fortitude to survive if Coach Flynn had not taken us over to Lost Valley and forced us to do our intervals UP the downhill slope.

On an individual basis, DI athletes say similar things, but the overall impact obviously declines markedly when the participation rate drops from 40% or so at a college like Bates, down into the single digits at a typical DI University.


Rebecca Anne Goetz - 3/31/2006

Ugh, Mike, I HATED the phys ed requirement at Bates! (I took ballroom dancing, figure skating, and at last, was able to count my summer lifeguarding thereby leaving my senior year free, free, free as a bird from PE. I wouldn't call it a vital part of my experience!

But your point about D3 vs D1 schools is well taken.

Michael R. Davidson - 3/30/2006

"As practiced today, I think it is very difficult to justify inter-collegiate sports as having anything to do with education."

As a generalization, I am afraid this does not work. Especially at Liberal Arts colleges, which are in the business of educating whole people (such as Bates, where I lettered in skiing), athletics are a vital part of the educational experience - to the point that there are required Phys Ed courses for those who do NOT participate in inter-collegiate athletics.

A generalization which, perhaps, works is that as one progress from Division III to Divison I programs, the chance that athletics have nothing to do with academics increases markable. One can also probably get away with saying that as programs within all Divisions get more elite, and transition from revenue negative to revenue positive, there is, once again, a greater chance that athletics will have nothing to do with academics.

Even so, there are many programs, and individual athletes for whom this does not hold true.

Mike Davidson

Chris Lawrence - 3/30/2006

Students are currently required to live on campus 6 of 8 semesters while at Duke, including both semesters of freshman year. At present, there is insufficient housing to extend the requirement to all 8 semesters (and expanding housing is tied up in the Central Campus redevelopment plan, which the townies are up in arms about for other reasons).

Duke's administration cracked down on on-campus social activities involving alcohol in the late 90s, driving a lot of this stuff off-campus into unofficial frats and team houses, many of which have more occupants than is allowed under local zoning rules (which only allow 3 unrelated people to live in a rental property). That said, the house at 610 is relatively small compared to some of the "party houses" in Trinity Park; I'd be surprised if more than 3 people actually lived there.

Robert KC Johnson - 3/30/2006

There are two aspects of this case that have struck me as particularly jarring.

First, the press accounts I've read have stated that up to 40 players were at the party. Yet all 46 of the white players on the team were asked to give DNA samples to the police. It seems to me an extraordinary breach of civil liberties for a prosecutor to ask for a sample of a student's DNA solely on the basis of that student's being on a team. Yet this occurred with at least six Duke students, if the reports are accurate.

Second, it's my understanding that Duke is a school of full-time students. Yet the press reports state that the party occurred at an off-campus house rented by three of the players. Duke is a wealthy institution, and there's no reason it shouldn't require to students to live on campus in college dorms. Even by the most benign interpretation of events, this incident was scandalous. It's possible, of course, that something like this could have occurred in a dorm, too, but that's far less likely.

John H. Lederer - 3/30/2006

I am beginning to think that collegiate sports corrupt, and top ranked teams corrupt absolutely.

As practiced today, I think it is very difficult to justify inter-collegiate sports as having anything to do with education. Their relationship to the University appears to be similar to what the relationship would be if Boeing. in puchasing land for a future aircraft assembly plant, found itself operating a night club.

Dennis R. Nolan - 3/30/2006

I'm surprised that none of the reports on this case picked up on the similarities with Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons. When the book came out, several reviewers suggested that Duke might have been one of the models for Wolfe's fictitious university. The crude behavior of lacrosse team members figures large in the story. One could easily imagine Wolfe working an incident like this into his tale.