Lacrosse Scandal Puts Duke Under a Microscope
Saturday, April 15, 2006
DURHAM, N.C., April 14 -- Sports has often been likened to the front porch of a university: Hardly the most significant part of the structure, but the part that nonetheless forms the first impression.
For the past three decades, Duke has basked in the splendor of a front porch embodied by the Blue Devils basketball team and Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who, when not leading the team to national championships, can be found extolling the virtues of character and leadership in national TV commercials and in books.
But for the past three weeks, Duke officials have battled a scandal surrounding its men's lacrosse team that involves two dancers hired from an escort service, underage drinking, accounts of racial epithets and allegations of first-degree rape.
No charges have been filed, but details that have emerged suggest that the gulf between Duke athletics and the worst excesses of big-time college sports isn't as vast as generally perceived. And it comes at the worst possible time, when prospective freshmen and their families are touring the campus, dropping in on classes and visiting dorms on East Campus, a stone's throw from the now-vacant rental home at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., its scrubby lawn overgrown and blinds akimbo, where a 27-year-old N.C. Central University student and dancer claimed she was raped at a March 13 party by three lacrosse players.
At N.C. Central, the historically black institution across town, and throughout Durham's African American community, there is a growing conviction that justice will never be served. Many fear that the students will buy their way out of trouble with their families' money and influence.
Among the players' families and supporters, there is a growing conviction that justice miscarried the moment the local district attorney cast an accusatory net over 46 of the team's 47 players by ordering DNA samples from each in order to ferret out three. His delay in filing charges -- combined with the release of an audio tape of a police officer describing the accuser as intoxicated shortly after a 911 call was placed on her behalf -- have only deepened the feeling on campus that the players were wrongly accused of rape even if inexcusably behaved.
Indictments could come as early as Monday. But with a resolution likely a long way off, Duke President Richard Brodhead on Friday did his best to allay concerns among prospective students and their families, roughly 1,000 of whom were on campus for "Blue Devil Days" -- the annual springtime Open House for high school students who have been admitted for the upcoming school year. They're invited to spend a night in a dorm with an undergraduate host, attend classes (with parents along or without), meet the faculty and ask about anything they want -- whether the vagaries of financial aid, opportunities to study abroad or the climate of campus life.
The gathering represents Duke's final sales pitch to the students it hopes to enroll. And Brodhead welcomed them warmly, characterizing Duke as a place where faculty would rather nurture students' wisdom rather than flaunt their own; where students are friendly and unpretentious; and where intellectual opportunities are boundless. Then he turned to the lacrosse scandal without mentioning the team by name.
"This has been a very, very difficult episode for us on campus because it has raised questions about the way people treat one another, and the way people treat members of the community -- very serious questions -- at the same time that none of us actually knows what did or didn't happen," Brodhead said. "We take this very seriously, and we're going to work through every question it raises, and this will be a better school as a result of it."
The topic was never far from anyone's conversation. Stephanie Tepperberg, 17, asked her host about it during her overnight stay.
"She didn't know what to think, but she's really tired of the whole media scene and talking about it," said Tepperberg, who also is weighing offers from Syracuse and Wake Forest. "It's going to be on every campus. Not that rape isn't a bad thing, but it could happen anywhere."
News accounts of the controversy only made Philadelphia's Lauren Haas, 16, more determined to visit Duke. "It doesn't scare me," said Haas. "It made me interested in seeing for myself."