Duke Lacrosse Players Afflicted By Sense Of Entitlement

By David Steele
Updated: March 30, 2006

BALTIMORE — The suspension of Duke’s men’s lacrosse season Tuesday while the investigation into sexual assault allegations continues sounded like a blow for responsibility and accountability by the school’s administration.

At least it did until yesterday, when the 911 tapes came out. And the reports of all the players – a third of the roster – who had been charged by local police in the past three years, mostly for alcohol-related offenses. And the graphic account of the incident by the accuser.

And now there’s an account, by a graduate writing in the Duke student newspaper yesterday, of some 20 lacrosse players in a crowded Durham bar “order[ing] round after round of shots, at times slamming the glasses down on tables and cheering ‘Duke Lacrosse!’ ” and “get[ting] plastered and stumbling” -last Saturday, nearly two weeks after the incident, while players were still standing behind their silence to investigators.

Some accountability. If the out-of-control antics of the lacrosse team weren’t just known, but well-known, by Duke officials by the time they were forced to face the music this week, then they have no one to blame but themselves.

They will have to live with the question of whether they should have seen this atmosphere of recklessness, lawlessness and entitlement long ago, when the clues were staring them right in the face – with neighbors complaining about the house where the incident took place, or before the number of players cited for underage drinking, public urination and the like reached 15. They have to wonder if this all could have been avoided had someone cracked down long before.

What happened at that house on the edge of campus, rented by members of the lacrosse team, was more than the “lapse in judgment” Duke players called it. Regardless of whether charges are filed, every description of what happened on March 13 points to something far harsher.

Everything about this, in fact, points to a culture – one of permissiveness about everything the athletes do, from drinking to rowdiness to disrespecting women, to, most of all, expecting to get away with it because of who they are.

Entitlement is at the heart of the issue and at the heart of the fury this incident and its handling has inspired. It’s not just about college athletes getting in trouble; it’s about lacrosse players. It’s a sport of privilege played by children of privilege and supported by families of privilege. The university involved is one of privilege.

Plus, this incident has, as they say, “racial overtones.” A pack of white lacrosse players – the one player not asked to submit a DNA sample for the investigation was also the only African-American on the roster – accused of an assault on a black dancer from the nearby historically black college, with passers-by hearing slurs shouted from the house and another woman calling 911 to report epithets hurled at her as she walked by? And a meeting yesterday afternoon between Duke President Richard Brodhead and a group of still-angry students being held at Duke’s black cultural center?

“Overtones” is a gross understatement.

Too many people who are close to the sport see this as a symptom of the lacrosse culture for it not to be taken seriously. If any group of people should understand that, it should be those close to the game here – if not just because this is the epicenter of the sport, then because this also was the epicenter of what probably was the worst team-related incident before the one at Duke.

Five years ago, St. Paul’s canceled its boys high school lacrosse season when some two dozen players were found to have watched a tape made by a teammate of him having sex with an underage girl. That should give some sense of how ingrained the sort of mind-set that leads to situations like that one at Duke can be.

“I’d put these kids up against anybody,” then-coach Mitch Whiteley told The Sun at the time, “and yet, look at what they did. … I never considered myself old-fashioned, but when you consider what is acceptable behavior to these kids – boys and girls across the board – it’s mind-boggling.”

Still, the time elapsed from the discovery of the tape to the cancellation of St. Paul’s season was eight days. The time that has elapsed since Duke officials first heard about the alleged rape at the players’ house is 15 days and counting. Even the phrasing of the season suspension announcement seems to allow for the team to return to action if or when the investigation ends.

Also, while there has been an apology by the players and school to the community at large, none has been offered, at least publicly, to the accuser.

This can happen when you’re convinced that no matter what you’ve done and who you’ve done it to, you haven’t done anything wrong.