If cleared, two can rejoin Duke

Coach open to return, though focus on case troubles one professor

College lacrosse

October 21, 2006|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,Sun Reporter

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke University lacrosse players Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann will be permitted to rejoin the team if cleared in the alleged rape of a woman at an off-campus team party last spring, coach John Danowski said.

"If their eligibility is intact, we certainly would welcome them back," he said in an interview.

Finnerty and Seligmann, who would have been Duke juniors this year, have been taking classes near their homes in New York and New Jersey, respectively, as they await trial. They were charged in April with first-degree forcible rape after a 27-year-old North Carolina Central University student hired as a stripper alleged that she was sexually assaulted by three men at a house rented by team members.

The third player charged, David Evans, graduated in May.

The players' reinstatement could raise delicate issues for Duke. Elizabeth Chin, a visiting professor in the cultural-anthropology department last spring, said the university needs to put the case behind it so it can focus on the broader issues it provoked, such as increasing interaction between racial groups on campus and between the school and surrounding community.

Although she does not oppose the players' return, Chin said, "I worry people will continue to focus on the case and won't address more systemic questions."

But Ed Douglas, a team co-captain this season from Baltimore's Gilman School, said he believes the climate has changed since demonstrators banged pots and pans outside the lacrosse house to show their disapproval of players' alleged behavior.

"There is no doubt that they would be warmly embraced on the lacrosse team, and I think there are many indications that much of the campus would welcome Reade and Collin as well," Douglas said.

He said the players would like to come back to Duke and to the team, whose season was suspended last year after eight games because of the party and the rape investigation.

"From my conversations with Reade and Collin, I think they are very strongly considering returning to Duke," Douglas said.

The players have asserted their innocence. Seligmann told CBS' 60 Minutes last Sunday that cell-phone records, ATM records and other evidence would prove it was "impossible" for him to have raped the woman. Finnerty said on the program that he thought he'd be cleared by DNA samples taken from the players that found no definitive match with the accuser.

In an unrelated case, Finnerty was placed on probation after being charged in a misdemeanor assault in Washington in November.

Duke anthropologist Orin Starn said that though the lacrosse case raised questions about race relations, campus drinking and other issues, he believes the players should be allowed back if they are acquitted.

"From my perspective, this has never been about any kind of desire to wish bad things for the lacrosse players or any other Duke athletes," Starn said.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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