It has been a while since we’ve heard from Richard H. Brodhead, dean of Yale College from 1993 to 2004, but now the beloved former administrator is back in the headlines for the first time since being named president of Duke University in July 2004. The news isn’t good.
Duke’s decision to suspend the season of its nationally-ranked lacrosse team was front-page news across the country yesterday. The Blue Devils, a consistently dominant team that lost to Johns Hopkins in the NCAA championship game last spring, now face an early end to their 2006 campaign after allegations surfaced that a black woman from a neighboring college was insulted, robbed and raped at a party attended by members of the 98 percent white team March 13.
Brodhead, who is already facing criticism for not acting earlier, spoke to members of the media at a press conference Tuesday night.
“It would be inappropriate to resume the normal schedule of play,” he said. “Sports have their time and place, but when an issue of this gravity is in question, it is not the time to be playing games.”
But playing games is exactly what the Duke lacrosse team seems to be doing. Since the incident, a veritable wall of silence has risen up around 610 Buchanan Blvd., Durham, N.C., and the team itself. And no one’s talking.
In fact, the team has been so uncooperative that the authorities were forced to request DNA samples from 46 of the team’s 47 players — that is, every white player, because the only player who could be eliminated as a potential suspect was the team’s single black member. The victim alleges that the three men who raped her were white.
Yesterday the first communication between the team and the press, a “captain’s statement,” was released to the media. The players apologized for their lack of judgment in throwing the party, but denied that any sexual assault or rape occurred. They claimed to agree with the decision to suspend play.
Still, from what the police are saying, no one on the team is talking. It doesn’t really start to make sense until one reads the request for a search warrant, which mentions the first names of the three players accused. Interestingly, two of the accused share first names with captains of the team. The Durham District Attorney, Mike Nifong, told the News-Observer, a local newspaper, that he was disgusted no one had come forward.
“I would like to think that somebody who was not in the bathroom has the human decency to call up and say, ‘What am I doing covering up for a bunch of hooligans?'” Nifong said. “I’d like to be able to think that there were some people in that house that were not involved in this and were as horrified by it as the rest of us are.”
Of course, it’s quite possible that no one on the team is coming forward because no sexual assault actually occurred. As Brodhead pointed out Tuesday night, in our justice system, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. But as many people have said in recent days, if these players were all innocent, wouldn’t they be shouting it from the rooftops? Brodhead said he advised the players to speak, but that he assumes they have legal council that advised the opposite. Still, not one team member has spoken to the media — not even one of the several players who did not attend the party.
But if Nifong is surprised by the wall of silence from the Duke players, he has not been paying attention. It happens all the time. Sports teams, like fraternities or police departments or army units, are very close-knit groups. Athletes regularly make sacrifices for each other on and off the field, and to some of the Duke players, protecting each other may seem like something they have to do. But what the Duke athletes must understand is that some things — like right and wrong — are more important than team loyalty.
Whatever happened at that house in Durham two weeks ago, the Blue Devils should be cooperating fully, and I mean fully, with the authorities. The silence of those players not involved in the alleged assault is not helping their potentially guilty teammates, because in the DNA age, a few teammates’ closed lips cannot protect rapists. But the silence could prove damaging for the players who have chosen not to speak. Nifong recently announced that even those not involved in the actual crime may be prosecuted for aiding and abetting.
In college sports, especially at elite schools, it is tempting to glorify student-athletes. Blue Devils, like Bulldogs, are seen as smart, successful and incredibly athletically gifted. But athletes are just like the rest of us — they run the spectrum from wise to foolish, rich to poor, short to tall, and good to evil. The fact that someone can hit a 3-pointer or run a four-minute mile doesn’t tell you anything about the content of his or her character.
The police should not have had to take DNA samples from 46 men to find out who was in that bathroom on March 13. People were at that party. People know what happened. If what was alleged really happened, any person with an ounce of moral fiber would have tried to stop it. Crimes like rape thrive in a culture of silence. Even if it couldn’t be stopped, any good person would have come forward and told the truth. It wouldn’t have been easy — speaking the truth rarely is.
But it would have been right.
President Brodhead should make sure his students know that.
Nick Baumann is a senior in Morse College and a former Sports Editor for the News. His column on Yale and Ivy League sports appears on Thursdays.