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Original Issue

Blue Wall Of Silence

Whether Duke lacrosse players are guilty or innocent, the rape allegations that rocked the program exposed the sport's changing culture

Sports fansadmire in great teams a unity born of loyalty. When players stay close andrefuse to point fingers during tough times, they exhibit values that seemtimeless and unassailable--unless the teammates are hanging together out offear, a feeling of superiority or whatever caused the Duke men's lacrosse teamto fortify the wall around itself these past few weeks. The legal system willsort out what happened in the house at 610 North Buchanan Blvd., in Durham onthe night of March 13. An African-American woman says that after she showed upto work as an exotic dancer at a party thrown by members of the team, threewhite males pushed her into a bathroom and beat, strangled, raped and sodomizedher. The Blue Devils' captains, three of them leaseholders on the off-campusproperty, say that DNA tests will clear them and every other member of theteam. (Forty-six players, all white, were tested; the one black player wasnot.)

Duke hassuspended the team's season while the investigation goes on, but the playerscontinue to practice. For days after the party they refused to cooperate withinvestigators (35 have hired the same lawyer), leaving the prosecutor sofrustrated that he raised the possibility of bringing aiding-and-abettingcharges. Even if every player is innocent--and on Monday rumors swirled thatthe DNA tests had exonerated the players--their behavior has brought anunwelcome brand of March Madness to Duke. Students, angered by what they see aselite athletes living by their own set of rules, marched in front of the"lacrosse house" while banging pots. Last Friday students received ane-mail from the vice president for student affairs warning of threats of a"drive-by shooting" in the neighborhood of the house. Earlier that daytwo Duke undergrads were harassed and allegedly assaulted outside a Durhamrestaurant by people yelling, "This is Central territory," a referenceto North Carolina Central, the historically black college where the allegedrape victim is a student.

The players'silence seemed especially provocative in Durham, a racially tense communitywhose population is four times as black as Duke's. And the players' trackrecord of boorishness made it hard to grant them the benefit of the doubt.Police had previously lodged charges against 15 current players for underagedrinking, violations of open-container laws or noise regulations or publicurination, none of which to date has led to a conviction. In an e-mail to BlueDevils lacrosse coach Mike Pressler that has made the rounds of the Internet, aDuke graduate tells of lacrosse players breaking bones, trying to urinate onfurniture and shattering a window with a keg during his time at the school.(The alumnus declined SI's request for further comment. Pressler had nocomment.) A resident who lives next to the lacrosse house said that on theevening in question, he heard someone in the house call to a black woman,"Hey, bitch, thank your grandpa for my nice cotton shirt!" And on March25--after news of the alleged assault had broken--some 20 team members filedinto a local bar and threw back shots, punctuating rounds by slamming downtheir glasses to a cry of "Duke lacrosse!" (Last week Duke athleticsdirector Joe Alleva called the players "wonderful young men," adding,"Sometimes young men make bad decisions, bad judgments.")

Whatever theprosecutor chooses to do, the athletes' attitude struck many as coming from asense of entitlement and a lack of accountability. "Athletics is aforgiving culture," says Todd Crosset, an associate professor of sportsmanagement at the University of Massachusetts and co-author of a 1995 studythat examined 10 Division I schools and found that while athletes made up 3.3%of the male students, they accounted for 19% of reported sexual assaults."Teammates don't check each other's behavior off the field as long as theyshow up and play."

The irony is thatDuke attempts to integrate athletes into the student body by having no athleticdorms per se and by requiring students to live on campus for their first threeyears. Lacrosse also does more than most sports to cultivate its better side;its national governing body recently earmarked $4.5 million for programs toemphasize character and tradition. But enough of irony.

SI explored thelacrosse boom a year ago (April 25, 2005) and found a gathering culture warbetween the traditional, East Coast prep-school ethic, with its evocation ofEtonian values and Native American rites of passage, and the gnarly,free-spirited attitude that has fueled the game's growing appeal as "theextreme team sport." There may now be a third party to that struggle: thelibertine who wants the privilege without having to practice the values.

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''Tell the competition committee there's no way youcan stop [me] from entertaining.''  --CHAD JOHNSON, PAGE 22