The story was one of the most sensational of the 2000s, a bad brew of race, class, sports, and in the end, significant prosecutorial misconduct against three former Duke University lacrosse players accused of sexually assaulting a stripper. After months of press attention and an irrevocable stain on the Duke athletic program, North Carolina attorney general Roy Cooper declared on April 11, 2007 in exonerating lacrosse players Reade Seligmann, David Evans, and Collin Finnerty: “In the rush to condemn, a community and a state lost the ability to see clearly.”
ESPN Films vice president John Dahl said his division had been thinking about doing a 30 for 30 documentary on Duke Lacrosse since 2012, but they could never land on the right filmmaker. That changed last year when Dahl re-connected with Marina Zenovich, director of the 2008 Emmy-winning documentary "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," who Dahl had met years earlier. Dahl said he had always wanted to work with Zenovich and through Lightbox, a multiplatform media company run by Academy Award and Emmy-winning producers Simon Chinn and Jonathan Chinn that has employed Zenvoich, a match was made last fall.
The wait was worth it for ESPN. Zenovich has delivered a highly compelling and well-paced 102-minute film called “Fantastic Lies,” which debuts March 13 at 9 p.m. ET, exactly 10 years to the day the Duke lacrosse players hosted their infamous party.
“For me this case is about prosecutorial misconduct and false accusations mixed with a prosecutor and police department that did not have anyone to answer to,” Zenovich said. “The issues of prosecutorial misconduct and police misconduct are very alive and very scary for people who end up that in situation. I hope people will say, 'Hey, next time I won’t jump to conclusions' but I think we live in a time where they do.”
The film took about a year from conception to completion. The toughest challenge: convincing the families of the players and those connected to Duke to talk on camera. Zenovich said she tried for months to get parents and players to do so, but received no after no. The same went for Duke University authorities (all requests for Duke administrators were turned down.) Dahl said he first saw an 83-minute rough cut in mid-July and at that point there was no parents or any players on film.
Slowly, Zenovich gained the trust of a handful of parents including Tricia Dowd, the mother of lacrosse player Kyle Dowd, and that opened the door to others. Eventually, Phil and Kathy Seligmann (the parents of Reade Seligmann), and Kevin Finnerty (the father of Collin Finnerty) spoke for the piece. The parents are far and away the most impactful people in the film. Reade Seligman, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans, the three indicted players, declined interviews, citing a shared belief that they wanted to put the case behind them. The focus of the film is very much on the three accused, as well as fellow player Ryan McFadyen (who wrote an infamous email that became misconstrued as an admission of guilt) and the case's lawyers.
Zenovich was able to convince two members of the team—Tony McDevitt and Rob Wellington—to do on-camera interviews.
“This was still very alive and such a painful event for so many people,” Zenovich said. “It was a tough film to make and I am very proud of it. We tried very hard to be fair in the storytelling.”
As for the other principles in the story, Zenovich said she went to a correctional facility in Raleigh to meet with Crystal Magnum, the stripper at the party who is currently serving a jail term for second-degree murder in another case. Mangum agreed to an interview, but ESPN’s request was turned down by the Durham prison authorities. “She still seemed to have a different idea of what actual happened other than the facts that I gathered,” Zenovich said. “I didn’t know how that interview would go but I would have done it.”
Zenovich said she made both personal and third-party attempts to interview Mike Pressler, the former Duke lacrosse coach, but he was unwilling to go on camera. The filmmakers ended up interviewing author and former SI staffer Don Yaeger, who co-wrote Pressler’s book It’s Not About the Truth. Zenovich said she ran into Duke President Richard Broadhead by accident in Durham at an inn and introduced herself.
“He said something to the effect of, ‘That’s a very old story,’” Zenovich said. “He didn’t want to touch it.”
Zenovich also discussed the project with Mike Nifong, the disbarred and disgraced former Durham County district attorney who prosecuted the case, on two occasions (November 2014 and April 2015). He declined their interview request. “I wanted to try to understand what he thought he was doing,” Zenovich said. “Ambushing him for an interview would not have accomplished what we wanted to do.”
Dahl said he believed the Duke Lacrosse story was particularly relevant today given social media and how fast stories can spread. “What happened in that case speaks to a lot of what we deal with today,” Dahl said.
Check it out. It’s worth your time.
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. On Tuesday morning, Turner Sports analyst Charles Barkley offered SI an opinion on whether Peyton Manning would be successful in broadcasting.
“I have only met Peyton Manning three or four times, just casual hellos. I hear that Peyton Manning is a very funny guy. I know a bunch of guys that played with him. But you have to open up your personality on television. You can’t just X’s and Os people. It’s up to Peyton if he wants to open up because our job is not easy because we have to criticize people. You can’t sit there and watch bad basketball and say it was good basketball. If one of the players does something stupid, you have to call it stupid. I wish I never had to stay anything bad about a player but when they play bad or do something wrong, I have to call them out on it. So Peyton has to make that decision.”
1a. Here’s Barkley on Steph Curry and the 2015-16 Warriors vs. 1995-96 Bulls debate:
“Right now Steph Curry is great but you have to admit he has benefited from the rules changes. They always look at us old guys. I’m pretty sure if Tiny Archibald and Isiah Thomas played by the rules today, they would be even greater. I would love for a guy not to be able to fu---- touch me. I got over 20,000 points. Every time I moved a guy touched me. I would have shot 10 more free throws a game. Guys would put their arms in our backs and I could not fu---- move. That does not mean I am hating on the Warriors but they have benefited from the rules.
I said the Michael Jordan Bulls would beat this Warriors and people acted like I said there is not God. Think about this: You have Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, three of the most athletic players in the history of basketball. You think they would overwhelmed or intimated by that little Warriors team? Come on, man. That’s not a knock on the Warriors... If you want to be fair and not live in the moment, can you imagine Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, three of the most athletic guys ever to play in the NBA, running up and down the court against the Warriors? I would fuc---- love that… Michael Jordan with no hand-checking? Are you fu-----kidding me? The guy averaged over 30 points with hand checking and almost got beat to death by the Pistons.”
2. Erin Andrews’ trial against the Nashville Marriott (The Fox Sports broadcaster was awarded $55 million by a Nashville jury in a nine-day negligence trial) did not go unnoticed for front-facing women in the sports media who travel regularly for work. Last week I contacted seven women who appear on television regularly (ESPN’s Josina Anderson, SNY’s Kerith Burke, Fox Sports reporter Laura Okmin, SportsNetLA Dodgers host and reporter Alanna Rizzo, NBC Sunday Night Football reporter Michele Tafoya, YES Network’s Yankees reporter Meredith Marakovits, and CSN New England host Trenni Kusnierek). With them, I discussed the topic of security while on the road. I was curious if what happened to Andrews changed their approach about where they stay, what they do at hotels, or produced any new travel precautions for them. I think you’ll find the piece illuminating and harrowing.
2a. One of the people I considered interviewing for the piece above was Alex Flanagan, an NFL Network reporter and a longtime staffer at NBC Sports who covered Notre Dame football and the Olympics, among other sports. Flanagan, along with her current job, has started a youth sports website with a sports television-producing friend, Asia Mape, called Ilovetowatchyouplay.com. I reached out to her after the piece published to get her thoughts.
“I remain horrified by what happened to Erin and no amount of money can erase it,” Flanagan wrote in an email. “One thing that has occurred to me is how it changed some fans’ perception of her in a negative way. I've been at events with her and people can be really abusive with the things they yell out to her and say based on that video.
“I had a really scary situation in Russia during the Olympics [she covered biathlon and cross-country skiing for NBC]. In the middle of the night I woke up to my female neighbor screaming at the top of her lungs. She woke up at 2 a.m. to two people standing in her room. I was so freaked out already by all of the crazy stories surrounding Sochi, I slept for the next week with a chair propped up against my door every night! I think in the end it was two of the hotel workers who thought that room was unoccupied and it wasn't intentional, but I wonder if a man would feel the same type of fear.
I've also had one too many bad cab driver experiences, including one when I was picked up in Miami one night and was convinced the driver who appeared to be on some sort of drug was going to drive me down an uninhabited dirt road. I reached my husband on my cell phone and spoke loudly so the driver could hear me and acted like he was waiting for me and then described exactly where I was out loud. Might have just been my paranoia, but I think it represents what it's like sometimes for women. When I'm on a hotel elevator with a group of people, I'll wait when we get to the floor and pretend like I’m fumbling with something in my purse until everyone goes to their rooms so people don't see which one I’m in. I think about what happened to Erin often when I'm in a hotel room.”
3. Episode No. 45 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features Fox Sports 1 reporter Julie Stewart-Binks, who covers world soccer for the network and has previously worked on various studio shows as well as the update desks. Stewart-Binks is also a sideline reporter on Anaheim Ducks games. In this episode, Stewart-Binks, born in Toronto, talks about the differences between working in the Canadian sports media (she worked at CTV) and American sports media, how competitive the business is for women in their 20s, working with and becoming off-air friends with New York sports-talk host Mike Francesa, the future of MLS on television, the direction of FS1 heading forward and more.
Stewart-Binks also talked in-depth about the segment on Whitlock’s House Party by the Bay during Super Bowl week when Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski performed a lap dance on her. She answers multiple questions from those who criticized her, including Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune and Lindsay Schnell of SI. Stewart-Binks also addressed whether she felt pressure to be provocative given the direction of her network, and whether or not she agreed with Ryan’s premise that “every time a female in sports media acts inappropriately or unprofessionally it unfairly reflects on all females in sports media.”
A reminder: you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher, and you can view all of SI’s podcasts here. If you have any feedback, questions or suggestions, please comment here or tweet at me.
4. ESPN said last Saturday’s North Carolina-Duke game on ESPN drew 3,174,000 viewers, the most-watched college basketball game on record for 2015-16 season. The game drew 229,000 viewers digitally on WatchESPN. SportsTVRatings.com reported that the game was down 28 percent from last year's ESPN high and down more than 40 percent vs. 2014.
5. Great segment on WEEI-AM in Boston this week featuring Jackie MacMullen discussing the relationship between Red Sox manager John Farrell and a Comcast SportsNet reporter, and why it matters in sports journalism.
5a. Guardian columnist Marina Hyde on Maria Sharapova.
5b. Chris Hine, a gay 29-year-old sports writer for the Chicago Tribune, on Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple being asked if he likes men at the NFL scouting combine.
5c. On April 2 at noon ET CBS Sports and Turner Sports tell will air a one-hour documentary on Bill Raftery titled, With A Kiss. The documentary is produced and narrated by Raftery’s son, Billy.