In the midst of what had been a beautifully insane month of college athletics, it appears that some members of the Duke lacrosse team decided to bring a disgusting and ugly version of insanity to the table by taking some sexual liberties with an exotic dancer they had hired for a party. The dynamics for drama are all there: privileged white kids, poor black girl, southern town, alleged sexual attacks and violations.
I wish I could say Toni Morrison made this up, but alas, this is non-fiction.
Before I go any further, let’s get something clear: I still love my lacrosse duns. They hold me down and I do not think this incident reflects on them as individuals. Now, one can never say for certain that they know the evil that lurks in the heart of men, but I can say I don’t think my dudes have that sort of horrendous behavior in them. My issue at this point is with the darker ethos of lacrosse culture. As someone who used to play the game, I became increasingly aware of the thing that makes laxers both admired, and reviled: They truly believe that they can do whatever they want. They walk into the bar, fist pumping to Bon Jovi, and do something funny/rude/outrageous/tasteless and we shrug and just say “lax team.” Game, however begrudgingly, recognizes game. If they like you, cool; if not, you ain’t shit and they let you know it. Again, these are qualities we hold in macabre esteem. I at least know I’m guilty of it. But sometimes, those traits careen across the line of human decency.
Now, there are those who will argue rape is not part of that ethos and quality set. I would readily agree with that sentiment. However, in a culture that feeds off of believing one is sicker than thou, how soon is it before people truly get hurt? I’m no social scientist, but I’m willing to bet that true rapists (as in people who get their jollies off of forcing themselves on women) are rare. The odds of three rapists of that caliber being on the same team is even more rare.
Am I apologizing for what these guys may have done? Such a question is outlandish. Though I lack most human decencies, the ones I retain include a doctrine against pounding chicks against their will. My issue is the nature of class and race in the situation. What is unique about lacrosse culture is not the “sicker than thou” dogma; just about everyone on a sports team thinks they’re a little cooler because of it. The interesting thing about lacrosse is that its players can, by and large, back up their claim at Bank of America. This is a game of privilege. From a practical standpoint, you need dough just to play the game. And since the activities of people with dough attract other people with dough, you soon have a caked-out culture. This is a community that is fairly small and extremely well-connected. There’s a reason that lacrosse is considered an East Coast thing. It’s also no accident that all the schools considered powerhouses are academically prestigious as well. I’m fairly sure no other sport has more teams in the academic top 25 than lacrosse. What’s my point? That this culture of was not plucked from thin air. In fact, it’s part of an even greater social structure that is governed by the Latin phrase “we run thangs.” If you wanna know something about lacrosse culture, take a gander at the stadium parking lot on some Saturday this spring.
Racially, the issue is more subtle. In fact, it adds to the sadness of the whole thing. I have little doubt that if this had been a white girl, them dudes would’ve tossed her around too. Though I’m under the impression that racial pejoratives were being thrown about earlier in the evening, I think people’s perception of the prejudice is a bit off. It’s not to say these kids “didn’t mean it”; however, I’m coming from the position that this is not Lowndes County racism, but rather “I know few to no black people, so I’ll say something ignorant because it’s outlandish and saying outlandish things makes me siiiiiick.”
Growing up in New England, people didn’t really have the gall to call me “nigger”; in fact, I don’t know that they ever really thought it. My experience was more like being a small pterodactyl. Now, if you were to walk outside and see a small pterodactyl standing in your driveway, you’d probably be extremely curious about it. You’d also be scared, but probably more curious, and your fear would subside as you realized the pterodactyl wasn’t going to do something nuts. Still, that doesn’t mean you trust any other pterodactyls you happened by on the street; they are to be observed from a distance, and you think that’s okay because you already know one pterodactyl and you’re pretty sure he’s not like the others though you have absolutely nothing to base that assumption on. The guys on this Duke team know one pterodactyl for sure, but I’m willing to bet they know few others, and I can’t help but feel that helped shape the events of the night. I doubt this attack was fueled by pernicious hate. I doubt it was fueled by anything more than “just because.” We should all find it somewhat alarming that more than a few people said that when they heard the news, they were not terribly surprised.
But what if they didn’t do it? What if no crime, apart from underage drinking, took place? In the court of public opinion, these guys are guilty of three things: Being rapists, being white and being privileged.
But what if we’re wrong?
There is no apology that can be extended to these players or their families. If they’re innocent, there is no “sorry” that can mend the fence of besmirched reputation. If they’re not guilty, we’re more likely to be disappointed in that reality than apologetic for our premature judgments. Let’s be honest: Many of us believed her without trepidation because it was a reality we could easily conceive of. A woman, a poor black woman, cried rape and since we could see those of the lacrosse ilk doing it, we believed it. This is not to say a rape didn’t take place; few believed it didn’t. Our society shows its lack of progress when faced with a hypothetical we rarely fathom: Privileged white men who may actually be innocent.
We’ve fallen into a mob mentality, which is ironic considering that these same impulses led to the barbaric deaths of countless poor black men in the same region of the country.
But it’s different for rich white men, isn’t it? We think they deserve to be on the other end of the noose for once because, deep down, we think there is a certain stratum of white men who are guilty of everything they are accused of. And worse, it seems like they always get away with it. We thirst for the blood of the guilty without much regard to the facts. Do we really want justice, or do we just want to see these guys go down? It’s at this point that an illumination of the truth takes a backseat to the sundering of the privileged. That burning feeling in our stomachs isn’t concerned with facts. What it wants is vengeance; vengeance for the Enrons and Arthur Andersens of the world. For all the snakes that slithered away, there now seems to be one with a back we can easily break. In breaking it, we slake our thirst for reprisal while elevating ourselves into a place of seeming righteousness.
I don’t pretend to think these are a bunch of stand-up guys whose innocent Parcheesi tournament was interrupted by an extortionist. The racial language these guys were allegedly throwing around is enough that, should those dudes get their teeth chipped for it at a later date, I can’t say I’d lose sleep over it. However, I can say that I wouldn’t feel good about making an example of people that maybe did not deserve it. To me, that’s punk logic. If we’re going to deliver justice, it should be done to people that earned a whoopin’, not to those we wish to see whooped. Rape, in many instances, is about power and privilege. F*cking someone who doesn’t wanna be f*cked just because you can is, apparently, intoxicating. It matters little about the body; in rape, a spirit is violated, and I don’t know if it
can ever be recovered.
Truth, in many instances, is not about what actually happened, but rather what explanation the masses deem most agreeable.
In this melange of rape and truth and privilege, we don’t know all the facts. If the facts are true, these lowlifes just made their teammates’ lives hard and made the life of any decent person who laces them up a little more difficult. If the facts are something other than we think them to be, then we’ve allowed our pre-conceived notions to successfully assassinate the character of 46 young men while showing how far we need to go as a society. All we do know is that something is rotten in the town of Durham. I can only pray that the state of North Carolina does the right thing. Peace to Tim Trautman, my lacrosse coach, and the love of the game.
Jonathan Pitts-Wiley hopes not to be underwhelmed if he ever graduates from college.