Rape probe grounds Duke lacrosse team

Allegations spark stormy reaction on campus

March 29, 2006|By JEFF BARKER | JEFF BARKER,SUN REPORTER

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke University said last night that it won't allow its nationally ranked men's lacrosse team to play any more games until questions are answered about allegations that an exotic dancer was sexually assaulted by team members at their house on the edge of campus.

"Sports have their time and place, but when an issue of this gravity is in question, it is not the time to be playing games," Duke President Richard H. Brodhead said at a news conference.

The alleged March 13 attack - which developed racial overtones because the accuser is black and says her attackers were white - has raised a number of issues at the elite school that revels in its athletic and academic achievements and is fond of using the term "student-athletes."

Since reports of the alleged attack, protesters have rallied near the lacrosse team's house and banged pots and pans outside of the home of Duke's provost until he met with them.

Last night, Duke's president announced his decision to suspend play and then faced questions about whether the athletes have been coddled, whether a racist "culture" exists on the team, whether players need to be counseled about sexual assaults, whether they have alcohol abuse problems, and why Duke's neighbors so often complain about wild student parties.

"There are so many kinds of anger," Donna Lisker, director of the Duke Women's Center, said of the stormy campus reaction that has included demonstrations. "There is anger about sexual violence. There is a racial component and a town-gown component. One of my colleagues called it the perfect storm."

The three lacrosse team captains, whose public silence until now has helped provoke demonstrations, met with Brodhead earlier in the day and "stated unequivocally that any allegation that a sexual assault or rape occurred is totally and transparently false," according to a statement released by the team.

In the statement, the players agreed it would be "in the best interest of the university, the community and our families" that they not play competitively until DNA results are released that the captains insist will clear team members of wrongdoing.

No charges have been filed.

Brodhead was vague about when the team could resume play, saying only that there needed to be "a clearer resolution of the legal situation."

The alleged attack occurred at a wood-frame house in a tree-lined neighborhood where the campus meets the community. A woman told police that she and another dancer were hired to perform March 13 at a private party. The dancer, a student at North Carolina Central University, told police that she was pulled into a bathroom, beaten, choked and raped by three men.

The aftermath has produced some extraordinary scenes. One occurred Thursday afternoon, when 46 team members were summoned to a downtown forensics lab for DNA tests. The 47th player, the only black member of the team, did not have to provide DNA because the dancer said her attackers were white.

The mass tests were noteworthy because of who was undergoing them - lacrosse players from mostly privileged backgrounds - and because they involved so many people at once.

Nine of the team's players are from Maryland, according to the team's media guide, and a handful are from the Landon School in Bethesda. The school recently pulled the roster from a Web site because athletic director Joe Alleva said the players were being harassed.

"These are really outstanding student-athletes," Alleva said. "Over the years, we have 100 percent graduation rates. They're wonderful young men. They are young men, and sometimes young men make bad decisions, bad judgments."

Duke is coming off its best season ever and made its first trip to the NCAA title game, which it lost to Johns Hopkins. The Blue Devils were preseason picks by many to win their first national championship this year and had recently been ranked No. 2. Duke had already decided to forfeit its past two games, and it was uncertain until last night whether it would play the scheduled game this weekend against Ohio State.

Before last night's news conference, protests - both on campus and at the house - have often focused on the idea that the players were being protected.

"White male privilege is an issue here," Teshonne Powell, a sophomore from Atlanta who attended a recent demonstration, said in an e-mail interview. "The fact that the lacrosse players are being protected is a serious problem. It says Duke cares more about its image than the safety of human beings."

Powell said she believed Duke forfeited two games after the alleged attack "out of fear that protesters would disrupt them. If the Duke administration really cared about the investigation the rest of the season would be forfeited so the whole team could sit down and reflect on the actions of their team members."

But Duke said it forfeited the games against Mount St. Mary's and Georgetown because players acknowledged that they hired dancers and that underage drinking occurred.

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