Duke women not innocent

By wearing sweatbands saying "innocent," Duke's women's lacrosse team is displaying a pack mentality -- and disrespecting women.

Topics: Academia


That’s the word written on sweatbands the Duke University women’s lacrosse team will wear when they take the field Friday at the start of their sport’s premier event. (The women’s lacrosse Final Four, which determines the NCAA championship, takes place this weekend at Boston University’s Nickerson Field.) With the bands, the women are apparently suggesting that the Duke men’s lacrosse team, and the three members charged with sexual assault, are innocent.

In court, the specific term lawyers seek from the jury is “not guilty.” I don’t know enough of the facts to opine on whether that phrase will be read aloud by jury foremen. I do know enough to say it is a stretch to use the term “innocent” to describe the men of Duke lacrosse. Hiring strippers, excessive alcohol use, disorderly public conduct — those aren’t activities one generally describes as innocent.

With a daughter at Duke, I’ve followed this case closely, and have read the allotment of notes and press releases sent out by the university. I know enough to conclude that the university’s administration is failing utterly at one of its stated goals: extracting lessons from this incident.

Duke officials repeatedly told observers to withhold judgment of the players and the university. When a third player was indicted on May 15, senior vice president John Burness said, “It is worth repeating again today that these latest charges do not mean the accused are guilty. That is for a jury to decide.” That lesson didn’t quite take: The women’s lacrosse team decided they are the ones who should determine guilt or innocence.

So much for a teachable moment.

President Richard Brodhead called for reasonable dialogue. I find it hard to believe these wristbands support that call. Consider what it might look like if another team decided to make its own statement by writing the word “guilty” on their wristbands. It would be every bit as presumptuous — and every bit as inflammatory — as those that say “innocent.” It is not a step toward reasonable dialogue. It continues the blunt use of divisive rhetoric.

Reports commissioned by the Duke administration noted the men’s team’s pack mentality. In fact, the incident became a national scandal largely because of this attitude. A serious allegation was made, and an investigation commenced. Rather than taking all steps to help reveal the truth, the Duke men’s lacrosse team chose to act as one. The district attorney was confronted with a Blue Devil Wall of Silence, built by a team that apparently placed greater emphasis on unity than on surfacing the facts. In the weeks since the scandal broke, lawyers for the accused (and one of the accused and his father) have spent full days working out of the offices of lawyers hired to protect other players who have not been charged.

Here, we see the beauty of team sports, Duke style.

Lawyers of players who have not been accused are offering a steady stream of challenges to the accuser’s credibility — it’s the equivalent of “checking” in a lacrosse game. And what lesson has the women’s team taken? They apparently have learned that pack behavior is a good thing. They are speaking as one, and are proclaiming the entire men’s team, as one, to be innocent. Team unity trumps all.

They also appear to be learning an interesting lesson about symbols and messages. On April 5, the men’s coach, Mike Pressler, submitted his resignation. At the time, Brodhead was quoted very simply as saying, “When it was offered, I thought it was highly appropriate.” The women’s team apparently believes otherwise — they chose to invite Pressler to a recent team function, asking him to give an inspirational talk.

Finally, there is another element to this story, one that I find heartbreaking. For women who step forward to file an accusation of rape, it is often the hardest thing they will ever do in their lives. By making such a public stand of unity before the facts come out, by saying so clearly that the accused is a liar, the women of Duke’s lacrosse team won’t make it any easier for other women to step forward. I can only hope that none of them will ever be in such a position — where they may be a victim, want to step forward, but sense ultimately that it just isn’t worth it.

I’m not opposed to team sports — I loved playing them as a kid and I love coaching them as an adult. It’s just that I see sports as a way to develop character, not defend it. Team sports can help reveal the best in all of us — I’ve seen this happen countless times. Sadly, there are occasions when team sports reveal an individual’s flaws. In those instances, hopefully, there are lessons.

I think it’s fine to make statements as a team. For the Duke women, I’d like to suggest a different term: “Respect.” It would likely mean different things to different people, and that wouldn’t be so horrible. Some might take it to mean respect for the men’s team. Others might see it as a request for women to be treated with respect. Others still might see it as a plea to respect the process. I’d look at it with a bit of hope, and a sense that, finally, lessons might actually be learned.

Kevin J. Sweeney, an environmental consultant in Piedmont, Calif., served as press secretary to former Sen. Gary Hart.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>