The Duke lacrosse team had its 2006 season canceled and lost its coach, while three of its members were charged with rape after a night of underage drinking and a strip show held at an off-campus house occupied by some of the team members. About the only things we're certain of about that night are that the drunken revelers weren't happy with the content and duration (and perhaps the racial nature) of the "show" and demanded some or all of their money back. The women, equally drunk and surly, said no, and later, one of them cried rape.
The white district attorney, in a tough re-election campaign, pandered shamelessly to a large black constituency and brought rape charges against three players, despite the fact that the skanky alleged victim changed her story about as often as she changed sex partners. (Those of you who object to my use of the term "skank" would probably agree that even the Hip-Hop Dictionary would have as one of its definitions "someone who is unsure as to the identity of Her Baby Daddy.")
Had this somehow led to a national dialogue on race, class and status, some small good might have come of it. Instead, battle lines were drawn; fingers were pointed; voices were raised. Known attention-seekers Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson waded in. Traditional and electronic tabloids were abuzz with details (real and otherwise) of the story, and the monster continued to grow. It wasn't until an exhaustive report on 60 Minutes, anchored by a dying Ed Bradley, that the holes in the case (some big enough to drive a truck through) were laid out. Not long after, the DA dropped the more serious rape charges; the other charges were later dropped, too.
The Duke lacrosse team was reinstated; a new coach was hired; they got back at it. In the NCAA Final Four, Duke scored a last-second goal for a 12-11 victory over previously undefeated Cornell. Two days later, the Blue Devils were on the opposite side of an identical score in a championship loss to Johns Hopkins. Throughout the coverage, it was "poor Duke," "courageous" this and "resilient" that.
Well, call me a selective consumer, but I'm just not buying all of it. I sincerely feel for the three guys who faced rape charges (and will now undoubtedly get paid). But those guys aren't angels.
Had I been the athletic director at Duke, I would have cancelled the season just on the strength of the admissions of underage drinking and the hiring of strippers. I cling to this wacky notion that scholarship athletes should actually be held to high standards.
I watched and read numerous accounts of the story in the national media as Duke neared the championship game. Most didn't mention the admittedly illegal activity at all, and those who did approached it like, "There was some underage drinking and the hiring of strippers, BUT THE D.A. WENT CRAZY ..."
Many sports fans these days bemoan the fact that the pro leagues are full of gun-toting, dog-fighting, woman-beating thugs, and wonder how we got here. Undoubtedly, part of it can be traced to college athletes' drinking-and-stripper parties being greeted with a wink and a nod.
A lot of words were thrown about and misused over the past few weeks concerning Duke lacrosse. If some people actually believe those guys are heroes, we seriously need to tighten up the definition of that word. Some claim the players were misunderstood and/or mischaracterized. Even those who weren't drinking and leering that night belong to a team that consists, at least in part, of pampered punks at an elitist school. And if the "innocents" don't voice their displeasure with the boorish behavior of others, then they're part of the problem.
While there weren't any heroes (although Ed Bradley certainly distinguished himself by acting professionally), there are lots of villains. Jesse Jackson again proved that the last time he was relevant was when he stood near Martin Luther King Jr. when King was assassinated. Al Sharpton still hasn't apologized for the Tawana Brawley fiasco, so I don't expect him to own up to his mistakes in the Duke matter in my (or his) lifetime. Former D.A. Mike Nifong should never practice law again, unless it's yardbird law.
I'm not totally mad at the locals who made it into a racial issue. Their actions are understandable, though hardly commendable. Some people think Duke acted improperly in canceling the season. Whether it did or not, shame on the school for asking the NCAA to grant the players another year of eligibility. And double shame on the NCAA for granting it.
As for the former alleged victim, I'm sure we'll be seeing her on a special multiple-paternity-test episode of The Maury Povich Show.
Finally, with all this about the players being survivors, it must be noted that the debacle they survived was at least partly their own doing. No party, no drinking, no strippers ... no rape charges, no season cancellation, no infamy. And yes, it is that simple.