Duke Lacrosse Team Had a Reputation for Swagger
There is a saying at Duke University that there is only one real fraternity on campus: LAX, shorthand for lacrosse.
Long before the university was rocked by allegations that lacrosse players raped and choked a stripper during an off-campus party March 14, Duke’s highly ranked team had a reputation for swagger and a powerful sense of entitlement.
Now administrators are starting to wonder whether they put up with it for too long.
“Taken as a group, is there a special history of bad behavior with this team?” Duke President Richard H. Brodhead asked Wednesday in announcing the resignation of the team’s head coach, the cancellation of the rest of the season and the opening of an internal investigation.
Even before the scandal, the nearly all-White team had come to personify an arrogant elite on this privileged campus. Nearly a third of the team’s 47 members have been charged in recent years with offenses such as disorderly conduct and public urination.
Neighbors have described the leased single-story home where the alleged attack took place as a kind of “Animal House.” A rusted tin shed out back is spray-painted with players’ nicknames and jersey numbers, and a primitive painting of a lacrosse player adorns the roof.
Dr. Peter Wood, a Duke professor of American Indian history who was captain of the Harvard and Oxford University lacrosse teams, says he complained two years ago about coach Mike Pressler’s decision to order practice on a weekday morning that conflicted with his class. He also has had problems with team members signing in, then ducking out of class.
“Certainly in recent years I’ve been troubled too often by encounters with the men’s lacrosse team,” he says, adding that he “sensed very clearly their tightness as a group.”
Duke law professor James Coleman Jr., who has been appointed to investigate the team, says he wants to know whether bad behavior by the lacrosse team “is something that has been ongoing, whether the university has been aware of it, whether the teams the coaches and athletic department have been aware of it; and whether the university, coaches and athletic department have taken appropriate action to deal with it.”
Many claim the allegations against the team are just a reflection of a sense of White privilege that pervades the entire campus.
“I like Duke. I had fun my four years here. But the culture at Duke most people think most students at Duke think they’re above everything else,” says Tracy Egharevba, a senior and member of the on-campus chapter of the NAACP. “They’re prestigious. They can do whatever they want without any consequences.”
Jeff Benedict, former research director at Northwestern University’s Center for the Study of Society and author of several books on sports violence, says it is not as much about economic privilege as it is the “culture of entitlement” that surrounds college and professional athletes.
“What’s unique about sports, and this includes lacrosse, is when you go to college campus you are afforded things that other students are not afforded,” he said. “These guys know they’re different.”
He added: “It’s like being given extra power when you’re quite young and immature. And some guys don’t handle it very well.”
— Associated Press
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