Duke Lax Redux
April 17th, 2014

Two great reviews are out today concerning William Cohan’s re-revisionist account of the Duke lacrosse rape fabrications of eight years ago. See the great Peter Berkowitz here and the great Stuart Taylor here.

Both pieces are entirely convincing and we can stipulate that the bum-rush of Duke professors and administration to vilify the Duke players was, as Jackie Childs might put it, pernicious, outrageous, contagious. The conduct of district attorney Mike Nifong was even worse–not merely criminal, but the type of abusive use of state power that ought to scare the bejeezus out of every American and, when uncovered, be punished in the severest possible manner. (Anyone sympathetic in the least to Nifong ought to consider how exactly analogous his conduct was to the behavior of police who plant evidence, trump up charges, or unlawfully detain citizens–the type of thing the left normally abhors.)

That said, I’ve never quite been able to shake the sense that the Duke lacrosse players themselves were/are deeply unappealing as a cause. Here’s Berkowitz:

Even in Cohan’s unfriendly account — and in sharp contrast to their accusers and condemners — the lacrosse players and their dismissed coach comported themselves throughout the ordeal with honor and dignity.

Well, maybe. They may have comported themselves with honor and dignity in every moment after they were falsely accused of rape and pursued by the state. Which is to say, after they were placed under constant adult supervision and had an army of lawyers and supporters rally to their sides expending large amounts of money to protect them. That’s not nothing–but you can’t really imagine a situation in which they wouldn’t have been on their very best behavior. The prospect of hanging concentrating the mind and all that.

But before they were falsely accused of rape? They were at a bacchanal where they got stupid drunk. They hired strippers to come and degrade themselves perform for their amusement. When the strippers got surly, they responded with the sort of uncouth behavior which suggests that they were supremely aware of the social gulf between them and the women they had hired.

Look, as Gene says in a somewhat similar context in the movie Layercake, boys will boys. I get that. I went to college, too. But a university setting in which students can indulge in this sort of behavior without either (a) thinking it’s outside the norm or (b) worrying that they have to get to class, do some problem sets, you know, not fail out seems to be pretty messed up. If you can party like the Duke guys at college, then your college has clearly given you way too much free time. As I’ve suggested elsewhere, there’s an easy way to put all of this stuff to a stop: it’s called the C-curve.

But that criticism of the university project is separate from the observation that, when confronted with this scandalous amount of free time, the Duke players did not behave with an ounce of charity, respect, grace, or gratitude–either toward their fellow man or for the luxuries which had been gifted them. Nobody deserves to be falsely accused of rape. But not every man falsely accused of rape is a good guy.

It would be nice if, in the course of prosecuting a dangerous figure such as Mike Nifong, we could refrain from romanticizing his victims.

  1. Catallus April 17, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Well, the Scottsboro Boys weren’t angelic, either; but the issue was that they were being railroaded to conviction by a culture which insisted on their guilt even though they were blatantly innocent.

    As for the lacrosse team, maybe a footnote should include mention that many players didn’t know there were going to be strippers until they arrived and were asked to contribute for their fees; there were players who were teetotal; players who were conservative Christians; and players at the party who were neither but who didn’t drink anything there.

    As well, when the strippers arrived, and were both older (29-30–to college students, they were grown women) instead of teens, and also not white (the team did not, as alleged, set out to exploit black women), the players thought about sending them away, but –get this–they actually felt sorry for them!

    They were totally unfamiliar with “cash and dash”, wanted their money back after the dancers were unable to continue for more than 4 minutes, then they wanted them to leave, offered them more money to leave, and threatened to call the police themselves.
    After which, following arguments, there was an exchange of racial insults (by which time two of those later accused had long since left the house).

    The depictions of the party in Cohan’s book are largely prosecutorial fiction, worked up to hit all the hot buttons of
    the community. (Similar things happened during the Scottsboro boys’ case–the press accounts reported all sorts of “facts” which never happened, but which inflamed the community.)

    The team was largely unheard of on campus (they were not BMOC); an article in Duke Magazine written the fall before the
    case confirms this and says that their relative anonymity was a boon for their academic work. But of course, the story reads
    much better if they were stereotypical jocks.

    The party was a substitute for having to remain on campus and miss Spring Break. (What were other students doing during Spring Break?) The famed (and BMOC) basketball team had hired strippers two weeks before, as did some twenty other Duke organizations that year. A sorority put up pictures of male strippers they hired. I didn’t notice any coaches fired over this.

    Moreover, a real rape took place at an off-campus party in early 2007, in which a white Duke student was raped in a bathroom at a party hosted by a black fraternity, and attended by black Duke athletes. The press was almost silent on this, Brodhead issued no statements, no coaches were fired, no players suspended (a gun and heavy drugs were found at the house), there were no candlelight vigils, and no open letters from the faculty.
    But perhaps that would have distracted the narrative from what the culture wanted to hear.

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  3. Jason O. April 17, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    First off, hiring strippers is for poofs. (Layer Cake ref, Bravo for invoking that flick JVL)

    Secondly, what’s the deal with Duke? The lacrosse affair, the (in)famous “powerpoint coed,” and Belle Knox. Maybe it’s not a Duke specific thing…I’ve become a big fan of the Matt Lewis/Domenech/T. Carney “consequences of the left winning the culture war” meme in recent months…maybe it’s that.

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  5. Dave S. April 18, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Very nicely done. I just came from trashing your Singer piece and wanted to give credit where credit is due.