By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

The indictments finally came down.

In a case that has been lingering on the nation's consciousness for five weeks, some finality. Or at least the first step toward something close to the beginning of the end.

Or maybe just the beginning of the beginning.

On March 13, 2006, something happened.

At this point, we don't know what. A woman alleged she was raped. She said she was raped by members of Duke University's lacrosse team. Forty-six of the 47 team members are white. She isn't. Most are of money. She isn't. They are Division I athletes. She's isn't.

An uproar ensued, accusations flew, indictments made, charges filed and for an entire month the people of Durham, N.C., found themselves somewhere inside an episode of "The Twilight Zone" starring Tawana Brawley, William Kennedy Smith and O.J. Simpson -- a mini-soap opera played out in real time. Information was leaking and conflicting. New allegations surfaced every day.

Evidence mounted. A deviant and racist e-mail surfaced. Back stories of gay-bashing assaults were discovered, time-stamped photos emerged, DNA matches not found. At the center of it all: an exemplary university.

Instead of issues of guilt or innocence empowering thought, many black folks decided to be proactive and many white folks decided to be protective.

All the while, the most troubling issue remains buried. Lost in the sensationalistic aspects of the rich men/poor woman, white men/black woman, guilty men/lying woman angle of what will be the biggest sports-related story of 2006 is the disturbing thought that this could have been avoided had three men employed some form of authoritative competence. Duke president Richard Brodhead, athletics director Joe Alleva and recently resigned lacrosse coach Mike Pressler remain unguilty. Not enough criticism has been pointed in their direction or at the board of trustees at Duke for their roles in allowing the culture for the alleged assault to exist. No one wants to identify them at the scene of the crime before the crime was committed. No one wants to deal with the fact that the players on Duke's lacrosse team are not solely responsible for what happened at 610 North Buchanan five Mondays ago.

Duke University is.

According to police records, 15 of the 47 players on Duke's national championship runners-up lacrosse team had been charged with misdemeanor crimes ranging from public drunkenness and disturbance to public urination in the previous year. Since 1999, 41 Duke lacrosse players have been charged with misdemeanors in Durham and Orange counties. As reported by the The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), according to campus records, about half the team has had on-campus alcohol violations and other conduct issues. Sports Illustrated reported that a former alum's e-mail exposed stories of lacrosse players "throwing kegs through windows" and purposely "breaking bones" in fight club activities. Collin Finnerty, one of the two lacrosse players indicted Monday, was charged with assault last November in Washington, D.C., after a man accused Finnerty and two others of punching him and calling him "gay and other derogatory names."

The question is: Where was the university when all of this "buck wildness" was going down? Where was the authority before the authorities arrived?

At any time did the university step in with any reprimand or threats of expulsion? Or scholarships rescinded? At any time did Brodhead, Alleva or Pressler impose a zero-tolerance policy or investigate the alleged incidents for validity?

At what point did Duke University not do enough to prevent this from happening? What measures did it take to avoid misdemeanors turning into alleged sexual assault? At what point did it follow any of its own imposed rules, standards, regulations and ethics?

Has it ever?

In the Mission Statement for Intercollegiate Athletics inside of the Athletic Policy Manual of Duke University these words appear: "The goal of the intercollegiate program is the same as that of the University's academic programs: excellence. In this context, excellence includes commitment to the physical and emotional well-being, and social development of student-athletes as well as to the development of their sense of citizenship … and general conduct that brings credit to the University and is a source of pride and enthusiasm for all members of the Duke community."

In Section II, the Trustee Responsibility section includes: "… (it) will reflect levels of performance in which the Duke community can take pride …"

In Section III, Provision 14, the Code of Ethical Conduct reads: "Individuals employed by, or associated with, a member institution to administer, conduct or coach intercollegiate athletics and all participating student-athletes shall deport themselves with honesty and sportsmanship at all times so that intercollegiate athletics as a whole, their institutions and they, as individuals, shall represent the honor and dignity of fair play and the generally recognized high standards associated with wholesome competitive sports."

And most coincidentally appropriate for this case …

"(1) Conduct by a student-athlete or an institutional staff member that may be considered unethical includes, but is not limited to: (a) Refusal to furnish information relevant to investigation of a possible violation of an NCAA regulation when requested to do so by the NCAA or the individual's institution …"

Whether it's a criminal or an NCAA investigation we would want to think that the board of trustees at a university with Duke's reputation would adhere to each with a seriousness that fits the crime.

We would like to think that a police investigation carried a little more weight than one sanctioned by Myles Brand and that Duke would do right by criminal law even if it meant sacrificing a part of the family that isn't run by Krzyzewski.

We would like to think that the three men at the center of power in this situation would have taken the higher moral ground and punished team members with suspensions or removal of scholarships -- none of which happened -- while the athletes continually threw ethics out of their BMW 3 Series windows.

We'd like to think a lot of things. But we can't be that na´ve.

The reason I blame this scandal on the university and not the players is because all this evidence of prior misbehavior. While it has nothing to do with the specific allegation, it has everything to do with its existence. The behavior was allowed to happen throughout last season as the lacrosse team battled into the national title game against Johns Hopkins. It's the evidence of a team gone wild, with stories and police records of an accepted behavior that the university possibly ignored because it might upset "friends" of the school whose families have made handsome donations over generations. Or because of intra-racial reasons that may not have been ignored had 46 of the 47 players on the lacrosse team been the color of the one player not required to provide a DNA sample.

And even though a faculty committee will begin a review of disciplinary procedures so the university can get a better handle on out-of-control student behavior and Brodhead, to his credit, has established a five-step program to look into what needs to be done to avoid future situations such as this, it's 365 days late and probably a million dollars short.

The bottom line is that if the university had taken this aggressive approach when the red flags of the lacrosse team's behavior began popping up on campus police logs there might not be allegations of forcible rape or images of elitest and racist conduct. There might not have been a stripper at one of the lacrosse parties to begin with -- at least not one the players hired. The fact that the administration allowed this team to behave in the worst interest of the university and still apparently not be held accountable for any of its actions leading up to the alleged rape of a woman is beyond irresponsible -- it should be punishable by law.

But it won't be. Society doesn't roll like that. Especially against the elite.

My mother used to call it "being indignant." It's the complex of superiority. The sense of entitlement of an upscale sport at an upscale school. And just like kids will be kids and male athletes will be male athletes, adults needed to be adults.

But powerful rich old men will be powerful rich old men. They will impose policy only where it doesn't directly affect them or their money. That's how they roll.

But I can't go out ignorantly. That would make me as guilty as the three men and administration I'm accusing. As a member of the media, I also played a role in allowing this to happen.

Because we don't cover lacrosse with the same intensity or passion that we cover NCAA football or basketball, because recruits from Delbarton Academy don't excite us the way recruits from Oak Hill Academy do, since lacrosse hasn't been an A-list assignment since Jim Brown revolutionized the sport at Syracuse, we also ignored the deviant behavior and allowed the administrative negligence to exist.

And don't get me wrong, Duke University is not the only place where this behavior goes on; it just happens to be the institution of higher learning that got caught.

But just because the media doesn't cover lacrosse doesn't mean a university -- especially one of such prestige as Duke -- can absolve itself of holding student-athletes to the standards of excellence documented in the school's mission statement.

If Elton Brand, Grant Hill, Sean Dockery, Daniel Ewing, Corey Maggette, Chris Duhon and Shelden Williams are going to be held to a certain behavioral standard while attending Duke, then Collin Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and Ryan McFadyen needed to be held to the same level of responsibility.

Because they, too, represent the Duke University. Just as much as their parents' endowments.

Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He has a weekly segment on "Cold Pizza" and is a regular forum guest on "Rome Is Burning." He resides in Chicago. You can e-mail Scoop here. Sound off to Page 2 here.


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A UNIVERSITY AT FAULT