Everybody lost. Nomatter what happens. ¬†--DONNA LISKER, DIRECTOR, DUKE WOMEN'S CENTER
Once it gotserious, once the DNA samples came back negative and the district attorney madeit obvious that he'd still proceed, Matt Zash could feel a finger beginning topoint his way. Didn't it all add up? Zash was one of the three renters of thenow-infamous house where the gang rape allegedly occurred. The three were allseniors, close friends, co-captains of the Duke lacrosse team. And his firstname had been cited by the accuser, along with "Bret" and"Adam," as one used by her attackers. "Nobody knew who it was goingto be," Zash says. "But basically the three people living in the housethought, Hell, it's going to be us."
Just before Easter weekend, word arrived that Durham D.A. Michael Nifong wouldbe seeking indictments on April 17, the day after Easter. Zash went to seelacrosse coach Mike Pressler. "I think there's a good chance I'm going toget indicted," Zash told him. "I've come to grips with it. I'm going totry to stay as strong as I can."
Zash was hardly alone in his fear. Of the 46 team members who'd undergone DNAtests, Nifong had cleared just six. To the others, the D.A.'s winnowing ofsuspects seemed a mean game of chance: Pick a lacrosse player, any lacrosseplayer. Nifong had already publicly tarred the entire team as"hooligans" who had aided or abetted a monstrous act. A wanted posterfeaturing the team's head shots had gone up on campus, been flashed on TV.
"There I am,top right, every day when they show it," recalls defender Casey Carroll,who missed the team party to be with his girlfriend but wasn't yet one of theplayers cleared. "We all look the same, we're all generally tall, thin,white guys. I don't know how anybody would pick out someone [as a suspect]. Iwas nervous."
On the advice oflawyers, the team members have refused to discuss specifics of what took placethat night, but all insist that the rape charge is a hoax, that every one ofthem is innocent. The March 13 party, of course, was anything but. The players'camp doesn't deny that team members spent $800 to hire a pair of exotic dancers(requesting a white and a Hispanic but getting two black women instead), thatone player suggestively brandished a broomstick at the dancers, and thatanother thanked one dancer's "grandpa for my fine cotton shirt." One ofthe women says that more vile racial slurs were used that night, and the team'shistory of alcohol-fueled misbehavior made it easy for many to imagine theworst. The chillingly hateful statements in sophomore Ryan McFadyen's postpartye-mail alone will stain Duke athletics for years.
Those loathsomeacts, however, don't prove gang rape. The court case may well resolve whathappened, if anything, between the accuser (a single mother of two, a Navyveteran and a student at North Carolina Central University in Durham) and thethree charged players (senior co-captain David Evans and sophomores ReadeSeligmann and Collin Finnerty). But already the casualties are everywhere. Theaccuser's credibility has been attacked, the prosecutor's methods and evidencehave been questioned. And "every one of the 46 lacrosse players, in someform or fashion, has been destroyed," says James (Butch) Williams, theDurham lawyer for Dan Flannery, the third co-captain. "Coach Pressler hasbeen destroyed. Duke University has been destroyed. North Carolina Central hasbeen torn up. Just there you've got hundreds hurt, and then the thousands ofpeople here who've had to answer questions: 'Man, what in the heck is going ondown there?' Talk about collateral damage."
On March 16 Evans,Flannery and Zash voluntarily went to police headquarters, made statements,submitted DNA samples and offered to take polygraphs. (The players were toldthat the DNA test would be a better proof of innocence, so the polygraph offerwas declined.) But aside from the captains, most players didn't become aware ofthe seriousness of the charges until March 23, when Coach Pressler told them tochange out of their practice clothes and head to a Durham police lab. Half theteam went to police headquarters by mistake, cellphones buzzing and ringing,players calling home to tell startled parents for the first time about theparty and the allegations. Following the advice of lawyers, the team membersentered the lab with jackets over their faces to hide from a newsphotographer--only to be photographed inside by investigators, who pawed andstared at any scratch or bruise on their shirtless torsos.
"There's somescarring right here," said the woman scanning Carroll's side. She waslooking at three 12-year-old marks from chicken pox. After opening wide for theDNA swab, Carroll and at least three other players heard the same refrain froman officer as they departed. "Don't worry, guys," he said. "Thiswill all blow over."
It didn't. Thefive players named Bret, Adam or Matt found themselves subjects of anInternet-fueled flurry of speculation, their last names and addresses out forthe world to see. A warning about drive-by revenge shootings on campus made therounds. "I don't think any of us slept or ate much for a month," Zashsays. He spent the next week living out of his car and staying on friends'couches before checking into a hotel. His parents came down two weeks later tolend support, but in a lawyer's office his mother, Nina, broke down sobbing,fighting for breath, unable to stand. "You feel like you're drowning, andyou just want it to stop," she says. "But it wasn't stopping. It wasgetting worse and worse."
For the familiesthe storm reached peak intensity over Easter, when players scattered to homesalong the Washington--New York corridor. Each day, to prepare, Nina Zash spokethe words out loud: Matthew's probably going to be arrested. She and herhusband, Richard, would sit and watch each other's eyes fill with tears.
Junior goalie DanLoftus and his brother, Chris, a sophomore attackman, grew up in Syosset, LongIsland, sons of Barbara and Brian, a retired New York City fireman who worked36 straight hours at the World Trade Center immediately after the attacks onSept. 11. "I thought that was the worst day of my life," Brian says."You want to know something? This is the worst thing."
Like most of theparents, the Loftuses had grilled their sons. "How many times did I say tohim on the phone? 'Danny, did anything happen?'" Brian Loftus says toBarbara one weekend in May. "I asked him 10 times. He goes, 'No, no, no,no.'"
"This is not atime to lie and cover up for your friends!" Barbara remembers chiming in."Did anything happen?"
Over Easterweekend, convinced of their sons' innocence but terrified it wouldn't matter,"we sat here like zombies," Brian says. "I didn't want to talk toanybody."
Ken Sauer, anotherretired New York City fireman, whose son, K.J., was a senior midfielder, spentSunday at home in East Rockaway, N.Y., trying to figure out how to scrape upthe money if his son needed to make bond. He looked into flights to Durham. Ina suitcase he packed clothes, toiletries, the deed to his house. He watched thenews and waited for the phone to ring.
Players' parents,usually dependent on each other for news and support, didn't call each othermuch that weekend, but word had been passed that the wealthier families wouldensure that no player would stay locked up--an indication of how the world oftop-level lacrosse is different from that of, say, basketball. But for all itsobvious elitism, lacrosse culture is also, in a sense, a meritocracy. If youcan play, you're in. That's how the sons of firemen get steered into jobs onWall Street. "Without a scholarship I couldn't blink an eye at thisplace," says Carroll, another retired fireman's son from Long Island, who'sthe first in his family to go to college. "There are a lot of kids on theteam with a lot of money. I come from a completely different world. I'm justgrateful: Now maybe I can help my family out."
Maybe. Some recentgrads are said to have deleted the words Duke lacrosse from their résumés, andothers are wondering if they should too. "Every lacrosse coach came into myhouse, they all had the same line. The [Johns] Hopkins guy, the Princeton guy:'You're not coming to our school for four years, you're coming for the next40,'" says Brian Loftus. "And they'll tell you they own Morgan Stanleyor Dean Witter: 'We network.' Six months ago, going to Duke and playinglacrosse, you're going to get a job. Things are going to be good for you. Now?You're going to fight that the rest of your life."
On the day afterEaster, Brian and Dan went to a lacrosse game at Dan's old high school but satwith the opposition crowd to avoid questions. At 3 p.m. Brian's cellphone rang.He left Dan in the stands so he could hear better. During the five minutesBrian was gone, Dan's stomach started to jump. Is it bad? What's taking solong?
Finally, he sawhis father coming back. For the first time in days, Brian smiled. He gave hisson a small hug. But the news he'd received, that Seligmann and Finnerty hadjust been indicted, brought little joy. A third indictment loomed, and there isno minimizing a rape charge. "They are ruined for life," says Nina Zashof the three defendants, and that's the reason her son feels no relief.
"It was alottery drawing," Matt Zash says. "We know it could be any one ofus."
These days, threemonths after the party convulsed both town and gown in demonstrations anddebate, Durham could be mistaken for a typical college community in the thickof summer. Most students are gone. The television trucks have rumbled off downI-85. With a trial date no sooner than next spring, the place resembleslandfall after a hurricane: sunny skies, exhausted faces, wreckage aplenty.Scattered around a modest house in South Durham, a Ford truck, a Honda Accord,a Volvo and a Nissan sit in various states of disrepair. A man is workingbeneath the hood of a blue pickup.
He doesn't fixanything for long. "I just get 'em running," he says.
The man's name isTravis, and his daughter is the 27-year-old woman who has accused the threeplayers of rape. Since mid-March, when the case became Topic A in black andwhite precincts of Durham, Travis and his wife have been the most consistentfaces speaking on the alleged victim's behalf. Travis gave his daughterdirections to the house on North Buchanan the night of the party, and he iswell aware of the pressures bearing down on her.
His daughter latergave some details of what happened to The News & Observer in Raleigh, inher only media interview to date, but most of what is known of her account iswhat she told police: that members of the team yelled racial slurs before threetrapped her in a bathroom, then raped, sodomized and assaulted her over thecourse of half an hour.
It has been almosttwo months, says the accuser's mother, since they have seen or talked to theirdaughter or her two young children. She and Travis have grown accustomed to themedia descending on their home to ask about the case. "Duke did somethingto those DNA results so they would favor those boys," she said on the Aprilafternoon after the results were released. She said her daughter had gottenangry with her parents each time they'd appeared on TV. "We told her wewere just trying to help her," the mother said. "I asked my minister topray with [her], but she won't come to church."
The woman is heryoungest child and the one who has had the most problems, including a run-inwith the law. (She pleaded guilty in June 2002 to four misdemeanor charges forstealing a taxi.) She also made a previous claim of gang rape, in 1994. (Shesaid it had occurred in 1991, when she was 14; no charges were ever brought.)"Last year we thought she was going to die of [ovarian] cancer, but Godhealed her," the accuser's mother said in April. Asked if she understoodhow much this case would subsume their lives, she said, "Could it getworse?"
It did. Thealleged victim, pronounced by the D.A. to have injuries consistent with sexualassault, seems to have suffered trauma, if not at the party then somewherebeforehand. But according to a recent defense motion, a police report statesthat the second dancer at the party, Kim Roberts, who also goes by Kim Pittman,initially told investigators that she had been with the woman for all but fiveminutes and called the rape allegation "a crock." Defense lawyerWilliams last week showed SI the notes from an interview he had with Roberts afew days after the alleged crime. "Crock of s---" are the words hequoted from her at the top of an undated page. Also,
two weeks ago, TheNew York Times cited Travis as saying that his daughter was undergoingpsychological treatment and was in no condition to testify.
"I don't knowwhere they got that," Travis says now. "A lot of times we hear stuffabout [her] in the paper that we hadn't heard before."
Asked about herstate of mind, Travis says, "I think she'll testify. That's just myfeeling."
The accuser'smother went last month to Carrboro, N.C., to meet famed Florida lawyer WillieGary, raising the possibility of a civil suit against the players or theuniversity, which purchased the lacrosse players' house just a month before theparty. (In response to neighbors' complaints about student drinking androwdiness in the Trinity Park district, the university has been buying upfraternity houses and other student residences, with plans to rent them tofamilies.) Gary confirms that he met with the mother but will say only that hehas "not officially taken the case."
Back at the truck,a thin black man approaches and tosses out his theory. "Everybody has theiropinions about this case: Fifty people are going to have 50 different versionsof the truth," he says. "People have to decide which version of thetruth they want to believe."
Travis believeshis daughter, and he resists the impulse to reduce the case to a simple matterof race. From age seven, after his family's house was lost in a fire, he wasraised by a white family. He supported Nifong for reelection, but withoutillusions.
"Nifongdoesn't care anything about my daughter," Travis says. "All he caresabout is winning the case."
On April 12, threeweeks before the primary in his first run for district attorney, the55-year-old Nifong, who in 2005 was appointed to complete the term of a D.A.named to a judgeship, stood up at a candidates' forum to answer a questionabout his handling of the lacrosse case. Two days before, the first set of DNAtests, which Nifong had predicted would rule out the innocent and point to theguilty, had come back with no matches. Defense lawyers crowed victory. Nifongwaved off the result, suggesting a condom could have been used, and vowed topush forward.
"Mr. Bishopthe other night said that if he were D.A., everybody would already be injail," Nifong said of Keith Bishop, one of his two opponents. "Andthere was pressure put on me to do exactly that. And there was also pressureput on me to do nothing, to say, 'Well, her profession was not really the mosthonorable in the world, and we really don't have the strongest case in theworld if there's no DNA, so let's forget about it.' Well, ladies and gentlemen,that's not doing your job. If I did that, then you should vote against me.Because that's not what this job is about. The reason I took this case isbecause this case says something about Durham that I'm not going to let besaid." His voice grew louder. "I am not going to allow Durham in themind of the world to be a bunch of lacrosse players from Duke raping a blackgirl in Durham!"
Later, outside thegathering, Karen Bethea-Shields shook her head at what she'd heard.Bethea-Shields is a Duke Law graduate and a lawyer of 32 years whose successful1975 defense of Joan Little--a black woman accused of stabbing to death a whitejailer who she claimed sexually assaulted her--was as racially and sexuallycharged a case as any in North Carolina in the last 30 years. "I have neverseen a D.A. come out like he's done in this case," she said of Nifong, whohad given a multitude of interviews after the case became public, declaringeven before the investigation was complete that he was sure a rape hadoccurred. "I am appalled."
She was alsobothered by how race had become a factor in the case. "He made it anissue," Bethea-Shields said. Recently, she pulled the file from afirst-degree rape case she had worked on. "The only thing on the warrantand indictment was the female's name and age. Not a race. Not what school shegoes to. The elements of the crime are not is she black or white or green. Soyou have to ask the question: Why was that important to bring up? You don't goleaking a little bit here and a little bit there and get the community allriled. We don't need to be any more at each other's throats than we alreadyare."
By now it wascommon to hear what Devon Sherwood, the lacrosse team's one black player, calls"everybody's favorite" question about the case: If it had involved 46black football players from North Carolina Central and a white woman from Duke,would things have been handled differently? Bethea-Shields feels the answer isprobably yes--that the players would most likely now be in jail awaiting trial.But it's telling that she, like many black Durham residents, believes thatdistinction is due as much to money as race. Durham's black community seemed toripple, rather than rage, over the case; there were no violent altercations,and there were no repercussions for those who questioned the accuser'scredibility. "We are still in the South," says lawyer Butch Williams,who is black. "So three white guys raped her? That would've been major. IfI ever thought for one instant that one of those boys laid a hand on that girl,I never would've gotten involved."
After his arrest,Seligmann told more than one teammate, "I'm glad they picked me." Hehas produced ATM records, photographs, an affidavit from a taxi driver and therecord of a key-card swipe at his dorm that according to his lawyer provide analibi for the time the rape allegedly occurred. Evans, meanwhile, was chargedon the strength of a partial DNA sample found on the accuser's fingernail inthe bathroom wastebasket and her identification of him through photos with whatshe called "90 percent" certainty. (However, the lab could not rule outa DNA match with 14 other men in its database. Also, Evans's lawyers say theycan disprove with photos her claim that Evans had a mustache at the time of theparty.)
That DNA sample,which the defense claims could have come from other materials in thewastebasket, could end up helping the prosecution, however. It might besignificant in establishing a struggle between Evans and the woman. There'salso the second dancer's account that tells of an intimidating atmosphere atthe party, and the fact that the accuser left money, ID and her cellphonebehind when she departed, suggesting she might have been in a hurry to getout.
Critics of Nifongpoint to other weak spots in his case, though. The photo lineup of potentialsuspects--using shots only of the lacrosse players--could be challenged.Defense lawyers have produced time-stamped photos from the party to undercutthe victim's time line. Roberts, the second dancer, has backed off her"crock" comment but acknowledges that she does not know if a rapeoccurred.
"Everybody forso long has been saying, 'But he's got to have something,'" says Carroll ofNifong.
On May 18, asrequired by state law, Nifong turned over about 1,300 pages of evidentiarymaterial, the whole of his case to that date, to the defense. The contentsbegan leaking instantly. SI has confirmed through defense motions and lawyerswho have studied the files that they contain no evidence that a forensictoxicology test was performed on the accuser, though she appeared impaired towitnesses and Nifong has said that she might have been given a date-rape drug.The documents also show that the accuser recanted her charge of rape to apolice officer that evening; that in the 48 hours before the party she had, byher driver's account, been on at least four one-on-one dates as an escort; thata genital swab of the accuser found DNA belonging not to a Duke lacrosse playerbut to her boyfriend; that the injuries the D.A. asserted were consistent withrape or sexual assault consisted of lacerations on one knee and one heel andswelling in her vagina (no vaginal abrasions or tearing were noted). Thealleged victim stated that no condoms were used, yet no player's DNA was foundanywhere on her person.
"I don'tunderstand how he can prosecute this case," says one Durham lawyer whosupported Nifong's reelection. "It's a travesty."
The leaks have apurpose, of course. "The defense lawyers are trying to intimidate thewoman," says Greg Garrison, the Indianapolis prosecutor who successfullytried Mike Tyson for rape. "It may work, but if it doesn't, they will havesome problems [from having revealed the defense evidence too early] when thetrial begins."
"Much of whatthe defense is putting out there now will never be presented to the jury,"adds North Carolina Central law professor Irving Joyner. "We have a rapeshield law and other evidentiary barriers. Nifong may have been engaging insome political showmanship at the beginning of the case. But that does not takeaway from the value of his evidence and the fact that he has probable cause topursue the case. He still has a viable shot at victory before a jury inDurham."
Yet even some ofNifong's fellow North Carolina prosecutors find it hard to defend his handlingof the case, "and I hate that," says one, "because it has thepotential to tar every one of us." At Duke Law School the faculty has beenbuzzing about the case, according to professor James Coleman, who chaired acommittee to investigate the lacrosse program. "You've got a prosecutorplaying to race," he says. "It's disgusting. If he's willing to [makerace an issue] to go after what he thinks are three white kids with influence,what will he do going against some poor black kid in a case where people aresaying, 'You've got to convict somebody?' To me, a prosecutor who's willing tocut corners in any case is a prosecutor who's subverting justice."
More and more thecase has become as much about Nifong's actions as about what happened thatnight. Nifong has declined repeated SI requests for an interview, and sincewinning the May 2 primary, he has been markedly mum. He polled 2 to 1 amongAfrican-American voters, an advantage that more than accounted for his victorymargin of 883 votes.
"People sayit's maybe political: I can't read his mind," Bethea-Shields says. "I'mmore concerned with the effect it has on that young lady and those 46 young menand whoever else has been swept up in this whirlpool. If you want to say it'sabout sexism or classism? It's about all that. But the basic thing is, wasthere a crime? Will we ever get to the truth?"
THE THREATS beganon March 25, the day Duke athletic director Joe Alleva announced the forfeitureof two lacrosse games. Coach Mike Pressler's in-box filled with e-mailsdetailing the harm he would suffer. His wife, Susan, fielded anonymous hatecalls. He sent his eight-year-old daughter out of town. For several days theBlue Devils' coach would get up at 5 a.m. to tear down the signs taped to hishouse. DO YOUR DUTY. TURN THEM IN, read one; the rest he won't repeat. One day,while he walked in his driveway, a car sped by and three eggs shattered at hisfeet. "Boom, boom, boom," Pressler says.
He gave, untilnow, no interviews. Sleep? "One eye open: You don't sleep at all,"Pressler says of the first week after the rape allegations became public."If something does happen, it's my home and my family, and I've got to beready for that. And then there's the anxiety: What's next if the season'scanceled? If changes are made? I've got to keep my cool for my family and theplayers. If the guys see I'm frazzled, it's going to filter down. But when Iwas alone, you can imagine what was going through my mind."
So far, no one hastaken a more obvious hit from the case than the 46-year-old Pressler, the 2005national coach of the year, a man who had spent the last 16 years building theDuke program to the highest level. On April 5 he woke up still thinking hecould salvage the season. Then, around noon, news broke of McFadyen's e-mail,which described how he would kill and skin a stripper at the next party whilegratifying himself in his "Duke issue spandex." Few outside the teamknew that McFadyen's twisted boast was a takeoff on American Psycho, the BretEaston Ellis novel that will be taught in at least two classes at Duke thisfall. But even those who vouch for McFadyen's character were horrified."Based on the context, where we were with the case?" Pressler says."We all let out a gasp."
"Kerosene," says one top school official. Symbolically, it was the Dukecase's equivalent of the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, confirming all theworst suspicions about the roles of class, race, sex, power and privilege atthe university. In the face of what Duke president Richard Brodhead refers toas "the heightened, not to say hysterical" tone of those speaking out,he had little choice. McFadyen was suspended, and five committees were formedto investigate the program and Duke's response to the rape allegations. Half anhour after the e-mail was made public in court, Pressler met with Alleva, whooffered him the choice of resigning or accepting an indefinite suspension. Inother words: Quit or wait to be fired.
Pressler will onlysay, "I resigned." But no one close to the program buys that. As MarkAnderson, Pressler's lawyer, puts it, "Mike was the sacrificiallamb."
Before Pressler'sarrival in 1991, Duke lacrosse was a perennial ACC also-ran; last spring theBlue Devils lost to Johns Hopkins by a goal in the NCAA championship game.Pressler has graduated 100% of his players, and from 2001 to '05 twice as manyof his players made the ACC academic honor roll as did lacrosse players at anyother conference school. Though everyone knew the 2006 season would be aboutwinning the national title, Sherwood says Pressler more often stressedincreasing the team's honor-roll numbers. After his midterm grades came outlast fall, Sherwood, a third-string walk-on out of Baldwin (N.Y.) High, wasconfronted by Pressler. The coach assigned Flannery to find him two tutors, andSherwood's freshman teammates began riding him about his studies. On the fieldand off, the team motto applied: All in, all the way.
"Right then Iknew Pressler was another parent for me," Sherwood says.
Despite the team'snear-monochromatic composition and the fact that he spends most off-field timewith black students, Sherwood--whose father, Charles, was the school's firstblack lacrosse player--says that he is the only Blue Devil who has ever broughtup the subject of his race. "When I was in high school, I was accepted onthe [predominantly white] team but always felt something was a littleweird," he says. "But as soon as I got to Duke, I'm out there on thefield getting ready, and the whole team comes out and each guy introduceshimself, shakes my hand, says where they grew up. This is before I even madeit.
"I was beingrecruited on campus to go into a black fraternity, and they were trying toconvince me with the idea of brotherhood. I'm like, 'I already have abrotherhood. I have 46 guys I'm really cool with.'"
In the daysleading up to his meeting with Alleva, Pressler said repeatedly that he was"willing to fall on his sword" if it gave the team a better chance ofsurvival. When he decided to resign, neither Alleva nor Brodhead made a move tostop him.
Alleva declinedinterview requests, but the administration's response since Pressler'sresignation has been oddly supportive of the coach. That his team haddiscipline problems no one disputes: Fifteen players have been cited by Durhampolice for mostly noise- and alcohol-related offenses over the last three years(three were acquitted), and Coleman's report found an increase in on-campusdisciplinary problems since 2003 that outpaced that of any other Duke team.There was, however, no history of assaults or bigotry, with one vividexception; Finnerty has been charged with assaulting a man outside a bar inWashington, D.C., last November after taunting him with gay epithets. (Heagreed to a deal that allowed him to avoid trial, but his arrest in the Dukelacrosse case violated that agreement; he's now tentatively scheduled to standtrial in Washington on July 10.) "They had a reputation for some drunken,boorish behavior, vandalism, absolutely," says Lisker, the women's centerdirector, of Pressler's players. "But to tell you the truth, at Duke,fraternities are a bigger problem."
Of course, fratboys don't represent the school in a high-profile manner, and it's clear thatDuke's system of responding to athletes' misbehavior was badly flawed. It seemsunconscionable that Brodhead didn't know the players were under investigationfor rape until he read it in the school paper a week later. Until a year agoPressler wasn't privy to police reports and wasn't regularly notified abouton-campus incidents if they weren't suspendible transgressions. In May 2005 theteam was banned from living in one set of dorms after players' misbehaviordamaged the Southgate Residence Hall, but despite repeated signals from ahousing dean and some faculty members, neither Alleva nor Duke vice presidentTallman Trask nor dean of students Sue Wasiolek pressed the matter urgentlywithin the administration. Instead, just a month after the dorm trouble,Pressler was given the ultimate positive job evaluation: a three-year contractextension. Meanwhile, Coleman's report states that Pressler punished playerswhenever he knew of a problem; during last year's run to the NCAA finals, hebanished two players for violating team rules. "Other than the Dean forJudicial Affairs and Coach Pressler," the report states, "no otheradministrator appears to have treated the lacrosse team's disciplinary recordas a matter of serious concern."
Wasiolek disputesthat, saying she and others "did clearly express the frustration we werefeeling with the team." But, she says, the individual violations were"not serious. It was that they continued to happen." That points up astrange disconnect: Why, when Pressler's wrath was by all accounts feared byhis players, would 56 of them be involved in 36 on-campus incidents since 2003?"Do you think [Duke basketball coach] Mike Krzyzewski would've put up withthis s--- for five seconds?" says one university official. "The answeris no."
Coleman concedesthat, yes, lacrosse players "were out of control. As long as they thought[Pressler] wasn't finding out about it, they didn't have enough respect for himor enough self-discipline not to do it. But it wasn't as if they were doingthis underground. It was the responsibility of the university to take effectivedisciplinary action, to make sure the athletic department knew about it andinstructed them they wanted it to stop. If they had done that, my judgment is,Pressler would have responded."
Brodhead hasannounced that the athletic department will now be his responsibility, a clearrebuke to Alleva and vice president Trask. Asked, in early June, if the Colemanreport didn't prove Pressler's history of responsiveness to known misdeeds, ifnot fully exonerate him, Brodhead said, "I would be happy for the world totake note of that fact."
But that's not thesame thing as giving back to Pressler his job or the life he'd made. "Ifelt if I was allowed to continue, I could solve any 'problems,'" Presslersays. "It's on the record: Anytime I'd been aware of something, I took careof it. But the administration felt that wasn't going to be the case. For me tobuck that would not be in the best interests of those 47 kids and all thealumni. Take a bullet? I'd do it again.
"I'm certainlynot proud of this moment. I'm certainly not proud of the situation we're in.I'm certainly not proud of what happened on March 13. But in the end you're notjudged by one game or one season. You're judged by the body of your work. Andin the end I think the body of our work has been very positive for a lot ofpeople."
At 4:30 p.m. onthat April Wednesday, Pressler called a team meeting to tell the players theirseason was over and he was finished. Two years ago his brother Scott died at 41of a heart attack and Pressler gave the eulogy. This, he says, was even harder.In tears, the man no player had ever seen cry stood in the lacrosse meetingroom and told the players how proud he was of them, how he didn't blame them.He hugged each one.
"All of usfeel guilt," Zash says. "Whether we're choirboys or not, we were partof a team that got him thrown under the bus. To see him be the fall guy forsomething he wasn't involved in or had any clue about what was going on? It'shorrible. We feel horrible for that."
It got worse. OnApril 10 Pressler's daughter flew back into Durham. She had grown up with theteam--"my boys," she called them--and had an eight-year-old's certaintythat the family would stay in Durham forever. Hadn't they just put an additionon their house? The grass hadn't even grown in yet.
Pressler told her,"Daddy's going to have to move on. I'm not
going to coachyour boys. But I promise you, your life won't be affected, you can go to allyour camps in the summer." She asked if she could have a boat if they movenear the water, a horse if they move out West. She asked about friends."Your friends will always be your friends," Pressler told her."We'll visit them, they'll visit you. But guess what? You're going to haveanother group of friends. So...."
Her lip began toquiver. He felt his eyes sting. Daddy spoke softly, trying hard not tocrack.
And what aboutDuke? More than money or race, the factor that made the rape case such a mediasensation, that gave it the legs for its continuing run across the cableuniverse, was the school's long-standing and at times obnoxiously trumpetedsense of itself. Once a superb regional university like Wake Forest in nearbyWinston-Salem, Duke in the past 20 years has evolved into an educational forcenot far behind Harvard or Yale while expanding its reach as a sports power.Really, only two universities, Stanford and Duke, have been able toconsistently utter the phrase, "We do it the right way" without hearingsnickers; with three national titles in basketball since 1991 and a 96%athletic graduation rate, Duke seemed to have mastered the balance between highacademic standards and big-time athletics.
"If this wasMississippi or Penn State," says John Burness, Duke's senior vice presidentfor public and government relations, "it wouldn't be as big a story."Such a statement carries more than a hint of smugness, and perhaps a bit oftruth. Duke is special, yet for those inclined to schadenfreude, the school'sneed to remind everyone of that makes a Blue Devils scandal a bit more tasty."A lot of people hate, hate, hate Duke because it has this image of thegolden child," says Lisker. "They're happy to see the golden childfall."
Yet the mostvociferous critics seemed to rise off the Duke campus. In mid-April TheChronicle, the student newspaper, published a full-page ad headlined WHAT DOESA SOCIAL DISATER SOUND LIKE? and signed by 88 faculty members. The ad fixed thelacrosse case as an emblem for sexual and racial oppression. Peter Wood, ahistory professor who had played college lacrosse and coached the women's clubteam, spoke of how, in June 2004, he had written a concerned letter to the deanof arts and sciences. The 10 lacrosse players in his class, he says, did wellacademically. But their clannishness disturbed him, as did the fact that theyskipped one of his classes for a morning practice.
"In the '70sand '80s Duke's commitment to strong sports and academics worked relativelywell," Wood said recently. "But as those things have grown, it's farfrom balanced. It's out of kilter and that has created stresses."
At a pressconference on June 5 Brodhead announced the return of the lacrosse program for2006--07, the appointment of former assistant Kevin Cassese as interim coachand a team code of conduct that includes suspensions for gambling, underagedrinking, disorderly conduct and harassment. Just five days earlier Brodheadhad learned that another lacrosse player, junior Matt Wilson, had been arrestedin Chapel Hill on May 24 for driving while intoxicated and in possession ofmarijuana. (He was released pending a hearing in August.) The president hadconsidered scuttling the program but pushed ahead. "I'm taking agamble," Brodhead said. "I have to profoundly hope that the members ofthis team live up to what they say."
Brodhead has onething in his favor: Duke will always have the devotion of people who see pastits failings. After watching the press conference on TV, Pressler left hishouse and walked around campus for two hours. He wandered past the buildingwith his office and the meeting room where his career as Blue Devils coachdied, then to Koskinen Stadium, once just a field with a couple of sets ofbleachers, now a state-of-the-art, $2.3 million facility.
He walked onto thefield of perfect bermuda grass. Each corner brought a memory of plays over theyears. He looked up at the scoreboard and could see the numbers again: thathuge win over Virginia in 2002, the comeback victory over Penn State in 1997.He looked at the stands and could see his first daughter, 14 years old now butsix again in his mind, running onto the field, win or lose, to see him."We'd get blown out?" Pressler says, and he can barely finish thethought. "She didn't care."
All of that, gonenow. He left the stadium on the verge of crying again. For a time he'd harboredthe hope that he'd wake up and they'd give him his job back. Now Pressler beganthe walk home, 45 minutes or so, and it hit him with the cold snap of finality:I'm done. This is goodbye. For what? Why? "I can't help it," he says."I'd be a liar to say I'm over it."
Some people, hemay never forgive. But the next coach? Pressler wants him to win the nationaltitle. He still flies a Duke flag on his house, still runs in Duke shorts,still wears his Duke lacrosse hat around town. He preached it and lived it, andhe isn't about to change now. All in, all the way.