June 10, 2006
The Duke Rape Case TravestyBy Ari Kaufman
In the days after the alleged rape in Durham, North Carolina occurred, now—infamous District Attorney, Mike Nifong, must have believed he had died and gone to litigators' heaven. There he sat, weeks from a city election, in a town unmatched by many in terms of racial, social and class division, surrounded by a university of unquestioned elitism and political correctness, with a potential bombshell of a case on his desk.
Even better, �the claim involved not only cocky student—athletes, but white lacrosse players, many hailing from the north. While other accusations and scandals involving university sports programs are quickly quelled by coaches, administrators and other district attorneys, Nifong, who later won the Democratic primary election, jumped on this rare political opportunity.
With 45 white players summoned for DNA tests (the sole black player was excluded since the alleged victim determined all her perpetrators were white), Nifong, with the aid of the media and the vague recollection of a mid—20s exotic dancer with a less than innocuous past, quickly plucked two, wealthy white northerners (Garden City, NY and Essex Falls, NJ) as his targets for the salivating Durham community. Weeks later, an older northern lacrosse player (from Bethesda, MD) was also indicted. All three players have maintained their innocence from start to finish, and even with Nifong refusing to deliver any concrete evidence, the case continued to slowly roll along until Thursday when the evidence, crumbling for the past month, began its final collapse.
In summarizing this new exculpatory evidence, a second exotic dancer at the infamous party on March 13, aided the defense with new and previously omitted evidence. Kim Robets, among much else, deemed the entire case a "crock," and, contrary to the accuser's claim of not having ingested alcohol prior to the alleged rape, the alleged victim told doctors the next morning she "was drunk and had a lot of alcohol that night."
Give the Durham DA credit for being a crafty racial divider at least. According to an April 15, article on espn.com,
It is clearly evident to the open—minded observer that 15 players had "priors," yet Nifong, polarizing as ever, decided to press on with charges against, as noted, the wealthiest players, mockingly called "Yankees" in Durham by folks in local diners with whom I chatted. That the three suspects were also affluent northerners surely assisted Nifong in his quest to make this case as divisive and convincing as possible to the citizens of Durham and America's sensitive culture.
But for the local paper to note at the end of the above paragraph that once the charges were resolved, the 15 players were originally able "to escape criminal convictions" seems rather harsh. Usually open containers of alcohol, underage drinking and even public urination do not represent "criminal" actions. In Michigan for example, where athletes and students at the University in Ann Arbor, have been known to participate in illicit behavior ala most collegians, the state law explains that, "MIPs (Minor in Possession") are misdemeanors that do not carry jail time.�
The rap sheet of the lacrosse players certainly pales in comparison to that of the accuser in this fledgling case. The "dancer," a single parent who not only reported a rape ten years ago, also had a serious previous criminal record including theft of an automobile, and resisting arrest.
While our hungry media framed all of these lacrosse players as typical Duke students, living life in a privileged bubble, they also suggested that had situation been reversed and a white female accused black student—athletes, the perpetrators would have been thrown in jail immediately, with no questions asked.� A Duke alum and acquaintance of mine can personally attest to the falsity of this claim. While having brunch with me and some friends in Durham a few weeks back, he noted that during his freshman year, a black man allegedly raped six freshman girls over the course of a month. Not only was he acquitted, but the accusers became branded racist by the rapist's mother, who happened to be a local city councilwoman.
As of the time of this article, no DNA found on the girl has matched any of the DNA samples from the lacrosse players.� With the combination of the DNA results, the photographic evidence the defense holds (time—stamped photos, receipts and numerous eye witnesses as alibis for the accused) and the past record of the dancer, a second dancer's account of this sham of a case, the possibility that this story was fabricated is looking more and more like not just a possibility, but the reality.�
If this is the truth, how will the community react? More importantly, will any of the players who have been put through torture and humiliation over the past few weeks be able to restore their lives and names to normal?�
Quick research of the past 20 years in college sports shows how prevalent�similar cases have been.�Although each case has its own intricacies, many common threads can feasibly be pulled from each situation.
An April 16 article in the Los Angeles Times chronicled� a cursory list of athlete—induced crimes on campus. In the late 1980s, three Oklahoma football players were arrested for allegedly raping a woman in an "all—athlete" dormitory. During the investigative stages of this case, no action was taken until the players were named.� At that point those players were suspended from the school and the season went on as scheduled for the rest of the team.
In 1991, five members of the St. Johns (NY) Lacrosse team were charged with rape. The accuser claimed that she was coerced into the Lacrosse team's house as she was getting a ride home from one of the players.� After drinking a few alcoholic beverages, the accuser claims that she was "gang raped" by members of the team.� In this incident, once the charges were brought against the players, suspensions were handed down from the school.� After a year and half in the trial process, all players were acquitted of charges, and all but one was allowed back at the school.
In 1994, Christy Brzonkala accused two Virginia Tech football players of rape.�In this case, the jurisdiction was given to the University through an academic disciplinary hearing which eventually found one player innocent and one player guilty.� The guilty player was suspended for two semesters; however, his case was overturned just before the season began conveniently making him eligible to play.
More recently, allegations out of the University of Colorado with regard to their football program.� The program was cited for numerous recruiting violations including excessive drinking, hiring strippers, and rape. A female, who actually was the team's backup kicker, added to the charges, stating she had been raped by a teammate during her tenure with the team.� When these serious allegations broke, the action taken by the University included the resignation of the President along with the departure of the athletic director and the head football coach.� The only penalties Colorado's football squad faced were stricter reforms for its athletes and the athletic department in terms of recruiting.
In�the recent Los Angeles Times piece about college athletic scandals,� Katherine Redman — who had claimed to have been sexually assaulted by a former University of Nebraska football player during a civil suit — echoed the common claim of the Duke scandal being blown far out of proportion when she concisely stated,� 'This sort of problem exists on every campus.'
Also quoted in that article is Peter Roby, the director of the Center for the Study of Sports in Society at Northeastern University in Boston.� Roby believes,
Clearly this has been a common problem throughout history, and is now seriously and unjustly affecting the members of the Duke Lacrosse team more so than other college athletes in the past.
Prolonging the case while these student—athletes' futures hang in the balance and a season has�been cancelled has prompted many citizens to presume these young men innocent of everything but the youthful indiscretion of misjudgment. And regardless of the media's and Duke professors'�attempt to expose every miniscule portion of these 20 year olds' lives, nearly all evidence from this scandal at this juncture seems to be exculpatory. Yet Mike Nifong, another re—election battle still ahead of him, presses on. Even the New York Times sports section entered the fray, as long—time columnist Harvey Araton attempted to be as racially divisive as possible in a recent feature column. ()
For all the furor of the case, Nifong and his client's supporters should realize that when Jesse Jackson rushes to publish op—eds on�their behalf,� you�should assume �you have, at best, a spurious case. Surely when Ray Nagin appears in Durham to celebrate his recent electoral triumph, we know we will have reached the height of racial balkanizing in our nation's history.
Mike Nifong's personal vendetta, ego and macabre intentions should land him in jail or at least cost him his legal license in the views of many critics. Though holding rogue prosecutors to account is difficult, the Duke case is an open sore, and should be resolved sooner rather than later, before its toxins inflame further the healthy tissue of American society.