THERE WERE days when Mike Pressler would walk out his front door to get the newspaper and find signs on his lawn: COACH DO YOUR DUTY! TURN THEM IN! and RAPIST LOVER.
Another day he walked out and eggs were thrown at him.
And then there were the days when every phone call was terrifying. "If you know what's good for your family," snarled one caller, "you'll leave town." Others would yell, "How can you harbor rapists?" Finally the calls stopped—because Pressler ripped the phone out of the wall.
All of those days were born from one night, March 13, 2006, when an exotic dancer told police she had been gang-raped by some of Coach Pressler's Duke lacrosse players during a party at an off-campus house. Durham's black community was in an uproar over the alleged sexual assault of a young African-American woman by white students from the elite university. So were women's groups and some faculty members.
April 22, 2007
Soon the season was canceled. Indictments of rape, kidnapping and sexual assault would be handed down against three players. Outside the lacrosse players' house, media choppers circled overhead while protesters banged pots and held up CASTRATE! signs. That's about when Pressler and his wife, Sue, decided to send away their two daughters—seven-year-old Maggie to Grandma's, 14-year-old Janet to a friend's house in Raleigh.
But the coach and his wife stayed. They stayed because they believed the players were innocent. Pressler promised his players that one day the truth would come out.
Then on April 5, Pressler says, Duke athletic director Joe Alleva called him in and said, "Mike, I've got to let you go." Which was amazing to hear, because only a few months earlier Alleva had given Pressler, the 2005 NCAA Coach of the Year, a rich three-year contract extension.
"But, Joe," Pressler pleaded. "You stood up before my players and said you believed it never happened. The DNA is coming back any day. Wait for the truth."
"It's not about the truth anymore," Pressler says Alleva told him. "It's about the faculty, the NAACP and the special interest groups." (Alleva did not respond to SI's calls.) So after a 153--82 record and a 100% graduation rate in 16 years, Mike Pressler was canned.
That really sucked, because he'd spent most of his raise on an addition to the house. Now the new sign in the yard read FOR SALE. And every school Pressler was applying to for a job was turning him down, including Washington and Lee, his alma mater.
Ever lived in hell? Sue would be driving and suddenly couldn't breathe. She'd pull off the highway and gasp for breath, then sob. For six weeks neither she nor Mike could sleep at night. Sue did most of her sleeping in a living-room chair during the day. Maggie kept writing the same thing over and over: The boys are innocent. Janet nearly got in a fight at school with two seniors who planned to go as a stripper and a Duke lacrosse player for Halloween.
Finally, in August, Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., hired Pressler, who would be moving from the No. 2--ranked program in the country to a Division II project.
By then, lab reports had shown that DNA from five men was found in samples taken from the accuser, and none of those men was a Duke lacrosse player. The woman started changing her story. But Durham district attorney Mike Nifong continued to press his case. Eventually he dropped just the rape charges. Later he was charged with ethics violations by the North Carolina bar, and he turned the case over to state attorney general Roy Cooper.
Finally, there was a day of vindication, last week, when Cooper dropped all the remaining charges and declared, "These three individuals are innocent."
In Rhode Island, Pressler heard "innocent" and tears came to his eyes. In Durham, where she had remained with the girls so they could finish the school year, Sue hugged all the players. The day her husband had promised them had come.
Sue and the girls leave soon to join Mike at Bryant, where he's already turning things around. The Bulldogs just stopped Le Moyne's 70-game winning streak. He's also busy working on his book, It's Not About the Truth.
Would Pressler ever go back to Duke? "After what those folks did to us?" he says. "What those people did to those kids? To go back under that leadership? No, I couldn't do that."
But the question is: When does this fine man who did absolutely nothing wrong get his apology? Where are the mea culpas from Nifong? From Alleva? From Duke president Richard Brodhead?
When is Mike Pressler's day?
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In Rhode Island, Mike Pressler heard "innocent," and tears came to his eyes. In Durham, where she had remained with the kids, Sue Pressler hugged the Duke players.
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