Saturday, June 02, 2007


my turn with duke

It is now time to tell a little story about my relationship to duke lacrosse. it is an issue of much debate, both on nakedfobi, banthetubetop, here, and major media outlets. First they were terrible, preppy villians. then they were brave, resilient saints. then there was blowback and people wanted them regarded as thugs. then there was counter blowback about what good kids they really were and how smart and hardworking.

well, i lived through about the most analagous situation that exists. I admit that a lesser charge than racially aggravated rape was involved, but let me tell it and see if it doesn't help your understanding.

when i was a sophomore on the yale heavyweight rowing team, we got accused of hazing our freshmen. the whole thing was based on the report of a single RA (I eventually became an RA) which turned into a precautionary suspension of the program to allow for investigation. now this precautionary suspension and accusation found its way into the new york times (with it's school-girl crush that we often talk of here), and into everyone's consciousness on campus. the suspension for alcohol-related hazing pretty successfully fueled everyone's prejudices about rowing. that we were by and large, rich, white, from prep schools, and kindof boorish (all in large part true). and that of course we would behave in such heartless, stupid, and entitled manner. all the previous convictions for drunken violence came to light as supporting evidence for our flawed character. and we had folks with citations, just like duke. I didn't, but that didn't matter. people saw us as easy villians. and we through the previous decades had made it easy for them.

the problem was that we didn't do it. no one hazed anyone. this was the eventual conclusion of the investigation and the team was reinstated 2 MONTHS LATER.

that being said, we did provide alcohol for minors. that was wrong. but more importantly we forgot the best piece of advice our coach ever gave us: 'everyone is watching you.' you are a large group of large, confident young men. people know who you are. so you must behave as though you are being watched. this advice was actually for airport travel (he suggested we help old ladies with overhead luggage and not be rowdy in terminals) but ultimately it applied here as well. we engaged in questionable behaviour, and the world decided to pay attention. and we paid a reputational price for it. same as duke. the truth came out in the end. everyone was exhonerated, but people didn't look at us the same way. same as duke. sorry, boys. I don't care what the coleman report says about how hard working and cohesive you are, or whether your GPA is really high (so was ours), you were in the grey area and you got caught. and you paid. that's how it goes. you aren't heroes. you are apparently very good lacrosse players (advancing deep into the NCAA tournament). hopefully what you are now is chastened.

I apologize for not telling that story last spring. it was the first thing I thought of when I read the reports was "it sure would be weird if they didn't do it. I know how quickly this stuff spirals out of control." but being who I imagine myself to be, the last thing I wanted to do was circle the country club wagons as yale rowing came to the defence of duke lacrosse. I wanted no part of that. secretly, I wanted them to be guilty because it would have made my collegiate transgressions by association seem that much more insignificant.

Early on in the investigation I had a number of conversations in which I took the side of the players--not to the point of defending their virtue, just to note that people are innocent until proven guilty. I was uncomfortable with the fact that these guys were being crucified in the media based on one witness (the purported victim) and what I think was/is a general liberal media guilt. In the same way that journalists go out of their way to attack Dems while taking lots of GOP nonsense at face value, I think most journalists go out of their way to preclude the appearance that they might be biased towards privileged white guys (and their kids). And I think most of us who grew up in an environment of privilege have that same instinct (which is probably, generally, a good thing--perhaps it's better to judge ourselves too harshly in these kinds of matters) But it's easy to make this point in retrospect, and the particulars of this case were so charged in so many ways (race, class, wealth, gender) that no perspective really seemed objective.

Anyway, my point is that I was uncomfortable defending these kids based on what amounted to a political platitude, because it sounded like they were guilty. It seemed like I was making one of those "did you see what she was wearing? She's obviously a woman of little virtue" kinds of arguments, which is terrifying and awful and not something I ever want to do.

And now that it turns out they were technically innocent, I can understand what you're saying. Because whether they raped that woman or not, they clearly did a lot of questionable stuff (both that night and more generally). It doesn't seem so great that they come out of this as Victims of the System, with indignance and without contrition.

Anyway, I have rambled enough without saying much. Thanks for sharing your experience.
On the flip side, how many times have people of color been incorrectly accused of committing crimes? The Duke boys were lucky that they had the resources to fight back. The majority of people accused of crimes do not have that luxury. Those are the true victims of the system, and rarely are people as indignant about their situation as people were about the Duke boys.

Thanks for sharing.
hey 8yearoldsdude, your readers here at clovers miss you! surely you have some random thoughts with which to amuse/prod our mushy brains as we sit in front of the computer in your standard afternoon soporific stupor...
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