Duke lacrosse, the 46 white players, a black dancer and the reputation of the university are forever changed. But is the case solid? Exclusive sources describe three months of fear, disbelief and confusion over what the future holds -- in and out of court
By S.L. Price and Farrell Evans, Special Reporting by Lester Munson
"Everybody lost. No matter what happens." -- Donna Lisker, Director, Duke Women's Center
Duke Lacrosse player Matt Zash.
Once it got serious, once the DNA samples came back negative and the district attorney made it obvious that he'd still proceed, Matt Zash could feel a finger beginning to point his way. Didn't it all add up? Zash was one of the three renters of the now-infamous house where the gang rape allegedly occurred. The three were all seniors, close friends, co-captains of the Duke lacrosse team. And his first name had been cited by the accuser, along with "Bret" and "Adam," as one used by her attackers. "Nobody knew who it was going to be," Zash says. "But basically the three people living in the house thought, Hell, it's going to be us."
Just before Easter weekend, word arrived that Durham D.A. Michael Nifong would be seeking indictments on April 17, the day after Easter. Zash went to see lacrosse coach Mike Pressler. "I think there's a good chance I'm going to get indicted," Zash told him. "I've come to grips with it. I'm going to try to stay as strong as I can."
Zash was hardly alone in his fear. Of the 46 team members who'd undergone DNA tests, Nifong had cleared just six. To the others, the D.A.'s winnowing of suspects seemed a mean game of chance: Pick a lacrosse player, any lacrosse player. Nifong had already publicly tarred the entire team as "hooligans" who had aided or abetted a monstrous act. A wanted poster featuring 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 the players 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]. I was nervous."
On the advice of lawyers, the team members have refused to discuss specifics of what took place that night, but all insist that the rape charge is a hoax, that every one of them 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), that one player suggestively brandished a broomstick at the dancers, and that another thanked one dancer's "grandpa for my fine cotton shirt." One of the women says that more vile racial slurs were used that night, and the team's history of alcohol-fueled misbehavior made it easy for many to imagine the worst. The chillingly hateful statements in sophomore Ryan McFadyen's postparty e-mail alone will stain Duke athletics for years.
Those loathsome acts, however, don't prove gang rape. The court case may well resolve what happened, if anything, between the accuser (a single mother of two, a Navy veteran and a student at North Carolina Central University in Durham) and the three charged players (senior co-captain David Evans and sophomores Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty). But already the casualties are everywhere. The accuser's credibility has been attacked, the prosecutor's methods and evidence have been questioned. And "every one of the 46 lacrosse players, in some form or fashion, has been destroyed," says James (Butch) Williams, the Durham lawyer for Dan Flannery, the third co-captain. "Coach Pressler has been destroyed. Duke University has been destroyed. North Carolina Central has been torn up. Just there you've got hundreds hurt, and then the thousands of people here who've had to answer questions: 'Man, what in the heck is going on down 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 told that the DNA test would be a better proof of innocence, so the polygraph offer was declined.) But aside from the captains, most players didn't become aware of the seriousness of the charges until March 23, when Coach Pressler told them to change out of their practice clothes and head to a Durham police lab. Half the team went to police headquarters by mistake, cellphones buzzing and ringing, players calling home to tell startled parents for the first time about the party and the allegations. Following the advice of lawyers, the team members entered the lab with jackets over their faces to hide from a news photographer -- only to be photographed inside by investigators, who pawed and stared at any scratch or bruise on their shirtless torsos.
"There's some scarring right here," said the woman scanning Carroll's side. She was looking at three 12-year-old marks from chicken pox. After opening wide for the DNA swab, Carroll and at least three other players heard the same refrain from an officer as they departed. "Don't worry, guys," he said. "This will all blow over."
It didn't. The five players named Bret, Adam or Matt found themselves subjects of an Internet-fueled flurry of speculation, their last names and addresses out for the world to see. A warning about drive-by revenge shootings on campus made the rounds. "I don't think any of us slept or ate much for a month," Zash says. 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 to lend 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, and you just want it to stop," she says. "But it wasn't stopping. It was getting worse and worse."
For the families the storm reached peak intensity over Easter, when players scattered to homes along the Washington-New York corridor. Each day, to prepare, Nina Zash spoke the words out loud: Matthew's probably going to be arrested. She and her husband, Richard, would sit and watch each other's eyes fill with tears.
Junior goalie Dan Loftus and his brother, Chris, a sophomore attackman, grew up in Syosset, Long Island, sons of Barbara and Brian, a retired New York City fireman who worked 36 straight hours at the World Trade Center immediately after the attacks on Sept. 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 the parents, the Loftuses had grilled their sons. "How many times did I say to him on the phone? 'Danny, did anything happen?'" Brian Loftus says to Barbara one weekend in May. "I asked him 10 times. He goes, 'No, no, no, no.'"
"This is not a time to lie and cover up for your friends!" Barbara remembers chiming in. "Did anything happen?"
Over Easter weekend, convinced of their sons' innocence but terrified it wouldn't matter, "we sat here like zombies," Brian says. "I didn't want to talk to anybody."
Ken Sauer, another retired New York City fireman, whose son, K.J., was a senior midfielder, spent Sunday at home in East Rockaway, N.Y., trying to figure out how to scrape up the money if his son needed to make bond. He looked into flights to Durham. In a suitcase he packed clothes, toiletries, the deed to his house. He watched the news and waited for the phone to ring.
Players' parents, usually dependent on each other for news and support, didn't call each other much that weekend, but word had been passed that the wealthier families would ensure that no player would stay locked up -- an indication of how the world of top-level lacrosse is different from that of, say, basketball. But for all its obvious elitism, lacrosse culture is also, in a sense, a meritocracy. If you can play, you're in. That's how the sons of firemen get steered into jobs on Wall Street. "Without a scholarship I couldn't blink an eye at this place," says Carroll, another retired fireman's son from Long Island, who's the first in his family to go to college. "There are a lot of kids on the team with a lot of money. I come from a completely different world. I'm just grateful: Now maybe I can help my family out."
Maybe. Some recent grads are said to have deleted the words Duke lacrosse from their résumés, and others are wondering if they should too. "Every lacrosse coach came into my house, 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 next 40,'" says Brian Loftus. "And they'll tell you they own Morgan Stanley or Dean Witter: 'We network.' Six months ago, going to Duke and playing lacrosse, 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 after Easter, Brian and Dan went to a lacrosse game at Dan's old high school but sat with 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 minutes Brian was gone, Dan's stomach started to jump. Is it bad? What's taking so long?
Finally, he saw his father coming back. For the first time in days, Brian smiled. He gave his son a small hug. But the news he'd received, that Seligmann and Finnerty had just been indicted, brought little joy. A third indictment loomed, and there is no minimizing a rape charge. "They are ruined for life," says Nina Zash of the three defendants, and that's the reason her son feels no relief.
"It was a lottery drawing," Matt Zash says. "We know it could be any one of us."
These days, three months after the party convulsed both town and gown in demonstrations and debate, Durham could be mistaken for a typical college community in the thick of summer. Most students are gone. The television trucks have rumbled off down I-85. With a trial date no sooner than next spring, the place resembles landfall 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 working beneath the hood of a blue pickup.
He doesn't fix anything for long. "I just get 'em running," he says.
The man's name is Travis, and his daughter is the 27-year-old woman who has accused the three players of rape. Since mid-March, when the case became Topic A in black and white precincts of Durham, Travis and his wife have been the most consistent faces speaking on the alleged victim's behalf. Travis gave his daughter directions to the house on North Buchanan the night of the party, and he is well aware of the pressures bearing down on her.
His daughter later gave some details of what happened to The News & Observer in Raleigh, in her only media interview to date, but most of what is known of her account is what she told police: that members of the team yelled racial slurs before three trapped her in a bathroom, then raped, sodomized and assaulted her over the course of half an hour.
It has been almost two months, says the accuser's mother, since they have seen or talked to their daughter or her two young children. She and Travis have grown accustomed to the media descending on their home to ask about the case. "Duke did something to those DNA results so they would favor those boys," she said on the April afternoon after the results were released. She said her daughter had gotten angry with her parents each time they'd appeared on TV. "We told her we were just trying to help her," the mother said. "I asked my minister to pray with [her], but she won't come to church."
The woman is her youngest child and the one who has had the most problems, including a run-in with the law. (She pleaded guilty in June 2002 to four misdemeanor charges for stealing a taxi.) She also made a previous claim of gang rape, in 1994. (She said 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 God healed her," the accuser's mother said in April. Asked if she understood how much this case would subsume their lives, she said, "Could it get worse?"
It did. The alleged victim, pronounced by the D.A. to have injuries consistent with sexual assault, seems to have suffered trauma, if not at the party then somewhere beforehand. But according to a recent defense motion, a police report states that 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 five minutes and called the rape allegation "a crock." Defense lawyer Williams last week showed SI the notes from an interview he had with Roberts a few days after the alleged crime. "Crock of s---" are the words he quoted from her at the top of an undated page. Also, two weeks ago, The New York Times cited Travis as saying that his daughter was undergoing psychological treatment and was in no condition to testify.
"I don't know where they got that," Travis says now. "A lot of times we hear stuff about [her] in the paper that we hadn't heard before."
Asked about her state of mind, Travis says, "I think she'll testify. That's just my feeling."
The accuser's mother went last month to Carrboro, N.C., to meet famed Florida lawyer Willie Gary, raising the possibility of a civil suit against the players or the university, which purchased the lacrosse players' house just a month before the party. (In response to neighbors' complaints about student drinking and rowdiness in the Trinity Park district, the university has been buying up fraternity houses and other student residences, with plans to rent them to families.) Gary confirms that he met with the mother but will say only that he has "not officially taken the case."
Back at the truck, a thin black man approaches and tosses out his theory. "Everybody has their opinions about this case: Fifty people are going to have 50 different versions of the truth," he says. "People have to decide which version of the truth they want to believe."
Travis believes his daughter, and he resists the impulse to reduce the case to a simple matter of race. From age seven, after his family's house was lost in a fire, he was raised by a white family. He supported Nifong for reelection, but without illusions.
"Nifong doesn't care anything about my daughter," Travis says. "All he cares about is winning the case."
Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong.
On April 12, three weeks before the primary in his first run for district attorney, the 55-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 question about his handling of the lacrosse case. Two days before, the first set of DNA tests, which Nifong had predicted would rule out the innocent and point to the guilty, had come back with no matches. Defense lawyers crowed victory. Nifong waved off the result, suggesting a condom could have been used, and vowed to push forward.
"Mr. Bishop the other night said that if he were D.A., everybody would already be in jail," Nifong said of Keith Bishop, one of his two opponents. "And there was pressure put on me to do exactly that. And there was also pressure put on me to do nothing, to say, 'Well, her profession was not really the most honorable in the world, and we really don't have the strongest case in the world 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 is because this case says something about Durham that I'm not going to let be said." His voice grew louder. "I am not going to allow Durham in the mind of the world to be a bunch of lacrosse players from Duke raping a black girl in Durham!"
Later, outside the gathering, 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 successful 1975 defense of Joan Little -- a black woman accused of stabbing to death a white jailer who she claimed sexually assaulted her -- was as racially and sexually charged a case as any in North Carolina in the last 30 years. "I have never seen a D.A. come out like he's done in this case," she said of Nifong, who had given a multitude of interviews after the case became public, declaring even before the investigation was complete that he was sure a rape had occurred. "I am appalled."
She was also bothered by how race had become a factor in the case. "He made it an issue," Bethea-Shields said. Recently, she pulled the file from a first-degree rape case she had worked on. "The only thing on the warrant and indictment was the female's name and age. Not a race. Not what school she goes to. The elements of the crime are not is she black or white or green. So you have to ask the question: Why was that important to bring up? You don't go leaking a little bit here and a little bit there and get the community all riled. We don't need to be any more at each other's throats than we already are."
By now it was common to hear what Devon Sherwood, the lacrosse team's one black player, calls "everybody's favorite" question about the case: If it had involved 46 black football players from North Carolina Central and a white woman from Duke, would things have been handled differently? Bethea-Shields feels the answer is probably 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 that distinction is due as much to money as race. Durham's black community seemed to ripple, rather than rage, over the case; there were no violent altercations, and there were no repercussions for those who questioned the accuser's credibility. "We are still in the South," says lawyer Butch Williams, who is black. "So three white guys raped her? That would've been major. If I 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." He has produced ATM records, photographs, an affidavit from a taxi driver and the record of a key-card swipe at his dorm that according to his lawyer provide an alibi for the time the rape allegedly occurred. Evans, meanwhile, was charged on the strength of a partial DNA sample found on the accuser's fingernail in the bathroom wastebasket and her identification of him through photos with what she called "90 percent" certainty. (However, the lab could not rule out a DNA match with 14 other men in its database. Also, Evans's lawyers say they can disprove with photos her claim that Evans had a mustache at the time of the party.)
That DNA sample, which the defense claims could have come from other materials in the wastebasket, could end up helping the prosecution, however. It might be significant in establishing a struggle between Evans and the woman. There's also the second dancer's account that tells of an intimidating atmosphere at the party, and the fact that the accuser left money, ID and her cellphone behind when she departed, suggesting she might have been in a hurry to get out.
Critics of Nifong point to other weak spots in his case, though. The photo lineup of potential suspects -- using shots only of the lacrosse players -- could be challenged. Defense lawyers have produced time-stamped photos from the party to undercut the victim's time line. Roberts, the second dancer, has backed off her "crock" comment but acknowledges that she does not know if a rape occurred.
"Everybody for so long has been saying, 'But he's got to have something,'" says Carroll of Nifong.
On May 18, as required by state law, Nifong turned over about 1,300 pages of evidentiary material, the whole of his case to that date, to the defense. The contents began leaking instantly. SI has confirmed through defense motions and lawyers who have studied the files that they contain no evidence that a forensic toxicology test was performed on the accuser, though she appeared impaired to witnesses 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 a police officer that evening; that in the 48 hours before the party she had, by her driver's account, been on at least four one-on-one dates as an escort; that a genital swab of the accuser found DNA belonging not to a Duke lacrosse player but to her boyfriend; that the injuries the D.A. asserted were consistent with rape or sexual assault consisted of lacerations on one knee and one heel and swelling in her vagina (no vaginal abrasions or tearing were noted). The alleged victim stated that no condoms were used, yet no player's DNA was found anywhere on her person.
"I don't understand how he can prosecute this case," says one Durham lawyer who supported Nifong's reelection. "It's a travesty."
The leaks have a purpose, of course. "The defense lawyers are trying to intimidate the woman," says Greg Garrison, the Indianapolis prosecutor who successfully tried Mike Tyson for rape. "It may work, but if it doesn't, they will have some problems [from having revealed the defense evidence too early] when the trial begins."
"Much of what the defense is putting out there now will never be presented to the jury," adds North Carolina Central law professor Irving Joyner. "We have a rape shield law and other evidentiary barriers. Nifong may have been engaging in some political showmanship at the beginning of the case. But that does not take away from the value of his evidence and the fact that he has probable cause to pursue the case. He still has a viable shot at victory before a jury in Durham."
Yet even some of Nifong's fellow North Carolina prosecutors find it hard to defend his handling of the case, "and I hate that," says one, "because it has the potential to tar every one of us." At Duke Law School the faculty has been buzzing about the case, according to professor James Coleman, who chaired a committee to investigate the lacrosse program. "You've got a prosecutor playing to race," he says. "It's disgusting. If he's willing to [make race 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 are saying, 'You've got to convict somebody?' To me, a prosecutor who's willing to cut corners in any case is a prosecutor who's subverting justice."
More and more the case has become as much about Nifong's actions as about what happened that night. Nifong has declined repeated SI requests for an interview, and since winning the May 2 primary, he has been markedly mum. He polled 2 to 1 among African-American voters, an advantage that more than accounted for his victory margin of 883 votes.
"People say it's maybe political: I can't read his mind," Bethea-Shields says. "I'm more concerned with the effect it has on that young lady and those 46 young men and whoever else has been swept up in this whirlpool. If you want to say it's about sexism or classism? It's about all that. But the basic thing is, was there a crime? Will we ever get to the truth?"
Former Duke Men's Lacrosse Coach Mike Pressler.
The threats began on March 25, the day Duke athletic director Joe Alleva announced the forfeiture of two lacrosse games. Coach Mike Pressler's in-box filled with e-mails detailing the harm he would suffer. His wife, Susan, fielded anonymous hate calls. He sent his eight-year-old daughter out of town. For several days the Blue Devils' coach would get up at 5 a.m. to tear down the signs taped to his house. 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 his feet. "Boom, boom, boom," Pressler says.
He gave, until now, 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 be ready for that. And then there's the anxiety: What's next if the season's canceled? If changes are made? I've got to keep my cool for my family and the players. If the guys see I'm frazzled, it's going to filter down. But when I was alone, you can imagine what was going through my mind."
So far, no one has taken a more obvious hit from the case than the 46-year-old Pressler, the 2005 national coach of the year, a man who had spent the last 16 years building the Duke program to the highest level. On April 5 he woke up still thinking he could 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 while gratifying himself in his "Duke issue spandex." Few outside the team knew that McFadyen's twisted boast was a takeoff on American Psycho, the Bret Easton Ellis novel that will be taught in at least two classes at Duke this fall. 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 Duke case's equivalent of the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, confirming all the worst suspicions about the roles of class, race, sex, power and privilege at the university. In the face of what Duke president Richard Brodhead refers to as "the heightened, not to say hysterical" tone of those speaking out, he had little choice. McFadyen was suspended, and five committees were formed to investigate the program and Duke's response to the rape allegations. Half an hour after the e-mail was made public in court, Pressler met with Alleva, who offered him the choice of resigning or accepting an indefinite suspension. In other words: Quit or wait to be fired.
Pressler will only say, "I resigned." But no one close to the program buys that. As Mark Anderson, Pressler's lawyer, puts it, "Mike was the sacrificial lamb."
Before Pressler's arrival in 1991, Duke lacrosse was a perennial ACC also-ran; last spring the Blue 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 many of his players made the ACC academic honor roll as did lacrosse players at any other conference school. Though everyone knew the 2006 season would be about winning the national title, Sherwood says Pressler more often stressed increasing the team's honor-roll numbers. After his midterm grades came out last fall, Sherwood, a third-string walk-on out of Baldwin (N.Y.) High, was confronted by Pressler. The coach assigned Flannery to find him two tutors, and Sherwood's freshman teammates began riding him about his studies. On the field and off, the team motto applied: All in, all the way.
"Right then I knew Pressler was another parent for me," Sherwood says.
Despite the team's near-monochromatic composition and the fact that he spends most off-field time with black students, Sherwood -- whose father, Charles, was the school's first black lacrosse player -- says that he is the only Blue Devil who has ever brought up the subject of his race. "When I was in high school, I was accepted on the [predominantly white] team but always felt something was a little weird," he says. "But as soon as I got to Duke, I'm out there on the field getting ready, and the whole team comes out and each guy introduces himself, shakes my hand, says where they grew up. This is before I even made it.
"I was being recruited on campus to go into a black fraternity, and they were trying to convince me with the idea of brotherhood. I'm like, 'I already have a brotherhood. I have 46 guys I'm really cool with.'"
In the days leading 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 of survival. When he decided to resign, neither Alleva nor Brodhead made a move to stop him.
Alleva declined interview requests, but the administration's response since Pressler's resignation has been oddly supportive of the coach. That his team had discipline problems no one disputes: Fifteen players have been cited by Durham police for mostly noise- and alcohol-related offenses over the last three years (three were acquitted), and Coleman's report found an increase in on-campus disciplinary problems since 2003 that outpaced that of any other Duke team. There was, however, no history of assaults or bigotry, with one vivid exception; Finnerty has been charged with assaulting a man outside a bar in Washington, D.C., last November after taunting him with gay epithets. (He agreed to a deal that allowed him to avoid trial, but his arrest in the Duke lacrosse case violated that agreement; he's now tentatively scheduled to stand trial in Washington on July 10.) "They had a reputation for some drunken, boorish behavior, vandalism, absolutely," says Lisker, the women's center director, of Pressler's players. "But to tell you the truth, at Duke, fraternities are a bigger problem."
Of course, frat boys don't represent the school in a high-profile manner, and it's clear that Duke's system of responding to athletes' misbehavior was badly flawed. It seems unconscionable that Brodhead didn't know the players were under investigation for rape until he read it in the school paper a week later. Until a year ago Pressler wasn't privy to police reports and wasn't regularly notified about on-campus incidents if they weren't suspendible transgressions. In May 2005 the team was banned from living in one set of dorms after players' misbehavior damaged the Southgate Residence Hall, but despite repeated signals from a housing dean and some faculty members, neither Alleva nor Duke vice president Tallman Trask nor dean of students Sue Wasiolek pressed the matter urgently within the administration. Instead, just a month after the dorm trouble, Pressler was given the ultimate positive job evaluation: a three-year contract extension. Meanwhile, Coleman's report states that Pressler punished players whenever he knew of a problem; during last year's run to the NCAA finals, he banished two players for violating team rules. "Other than the Dean for Judicial Affairs and Coach Pressler," the report states, "no other administrator appears to have treated the lacrosse team's disciplinary record as a matter of serious concern."
Wasiolek disputes that, saying she and others "did clearly express the frustration we were feeling with the team." But, she says, the individual violations were "not serious. It was that they continued to happen." That points up a strange disconnect: Why, when Pressler's wrath was by all accounts feared by his 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 with this s--- for five seconds?" says one university official. "The answer is no."
Coleman concedes that, 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 him or enough self-discipline not to do it. But it wasn't as if they were doing this underground. It was the responsibility of the university to take effective disciplinary action, to make sure the athletic department knew about it and instructed them they wanted it to stop. If they had done that, my judgment is, Pressler would have responded."
Brodhead has announced that the athletic department will now be his responsibility, a clear rebuke to Alleva and vice president Trask. Asked, in early June, if the Coleman report didn't prove Pressler's history of responsiveness to known misdeeds, if not fully exonerate him, Brodhead said, "I would be happy for the world to take note of that fact."
But that's not the same thing as giving back to Pressler his job or the life he'd made. "I felt if I was allowed to continue, I could solve any 'problems,'" Pressler says. "It's on the record: Anytime I'd been aware of something, I took care of it. But the administration felt that wasn't going to be the case. For me to buck that would not be in the best interests of those 47 kids and all the alumni. Take a bullet? I'd do it again.
"I'm certainly not 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 not judged by one game or one season. You're judged by the body of your work. And in the end I think the body of our work has been very positive for a lot of people."
At 4:30 p.m. on that April Wednesday, Pressler called a team meeting to tell the players their season was over and he was finished. Two years ago his brother Scott died at 41 of 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 meeting room and told the players how proud he was of them, how he didn't blame them. He hugged each one.
"All of us feel guilt," Zash says. "Whether we're choirboys or not, we were part of a team that got him thrown under the bus. To see him be the fall guy for something he wasn't involved in or had any clue about what was going on? It's horrible. We feel horrible for that."
It got worse. On April 10 Pressler's daughter flew back into Durham. She had grown up with the team -- "my boys," she called them -- and had an eight-year-old's certainty that the family would stay in Durham forever. Hadn't they just put an addition on 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 coach your boys. But I promise you, your life won't be affected, you can go to all your camps in the summer." She asked if she could have a boat if they move near 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 have another group of friends. So...."
Her lip began to quiver. He felt his eyes sting. Daddy spoke softly, trying hard not to crack.
Duke Universiity President Richard Brodhead.
And what about Duke? More than money or race, the factor that made the rape case such a media sensation, that gave it the legs for its continuing run across the cable universe, was the school's long-standing and at times obnoxiously trumpeted sense of itself. Once a superb regional university like Wake Forest in nearby Winston-Salem, Duke in the past 20 years has evolved into an educational force not far behind Harvard or Yale while expanding its reach as a sports power. Really, only two universities, Stanford and Duke, have been able to consistently utter the phrase, "We do it the right way" without hearing snickers; with three national titles in basketball since 1991 and a 96% athletic graduation rate, Duke seemed to have mastered the balance between high academic standards and big-time athletics.
"If this was Mississippi or Penn State," says John Burness, Duke's senior vice president for 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 of truth. Duke is special, yet for those inclined to schadenfreude, the school's need 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 the golden child," says Lisker. "They're happy to see the golden child fall."
Yet the most vociferous critics seemed to rise off the Duke campus. In mid-April The Chronicle, the student newspaper, published a full-page ad headlined what does a social disaster sound like? and signed by 88 faculty members. The ad fixed the lacrosse case as an emblem for sexual and racial oppression. Peter Wood, a history professor who had played college lacrosse and coached the women's club team, spoke of how, in June 2004, he had written a concerned letter to the dean of arts and sciences. The 10 lacrosse players in his class, he says, did well academically. But their clannishness disturbed him, as did the fact that they skipped one of his classes for a morning practice.
"In the '70s and '80s Duke's commitment to strong sports and academics worked relatively well," Wood said recently. "But as those things have grown, it's far from balanced. It's out of kilter and that has created stresses."
At a press conference on June 5 Brodhead announced the return of the lacrosse program for 2006-07, the appointment of former assistant Kevin Cassese as interim coach and a team code of conduct that includes suspensions for gambling, underage drinking, disorderly conduct and harassment. Just five days earlier Brodhead had learned that another lacrosse player, junior Matt Wilson, had been arrested in Chapel Hill on May 24 for driving while intoxicated and in possession of marijuana. (He was released pending a hearing in August.) The president had considered scuttling the program but pushed ahead. "I'm taking a gamble," Brodhead said. "I have to profoundly hope that the members of this team live up to what they say."
Brodhead has one thing in his favor: Duke will always have the devotion of people who see past its failings. After watching the press conference on TV, Pressler left his house and walked around campus for two hours. He wandered past the building with his office and the meeting room where his career as Blue Devils coach died, then to Koskinen Stadium, once just a field with a couple of sets of bleachers, now a state-of-the-art, $2.3 million facility.
He walked onto the field of perfect bermuda grass. Each corner brought a memory of plays over the years. He looked up at the scoreboard and could see the numbers again: that huge 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 but six 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 the thought. "She didn't care."
All of that, gone now. He left the stadium on the verge of crying again. For a time he'd harbored the hope that he'd wake up and they'd give him his job back. Now Pressler began the 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, he may never forgive. But the next coach? Pressler wants him to win the national title. 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, and he isn't about to change now. All in, all the way.
Issue date: June 26, 2006
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