On March 13,2006, members of the Duke University lacrosse team held a drunken party at the home of the team’s three captains. They decided to hire some strippers for the party; indeed, the team was known around the area for having wild parties. The two African American women who arrived were not quite what the largely white squad had expected, and reports indicate that the players berated and insulted the women, who had thought they were performing for a bachelor party involving older men. The women reportedly left the party, but then one returned at the request of a player, who apologized for his teammates’ behavior. She told police that after she returned, she was dragged into the bathroom by three men, who brutally beat and raped her for approximately 30 minutes.
The university and police kept the story quiet for the first two weeks after the incident, fearing outrage and a negative spotlight on the university’s highly touted team. By March 24, however, reports about the incident had leaked out, prompting outrage by many. The following day, demonstrators held a silent vigil near the lacrosse field, where the Blue Devils were scheduled to play the Georgetown Hoyas. Duke ended up canceling the game and, eventually, the entire lacrosse season. Duke’s coach, Mike Presler, resigned. The case had ignited a powder keg, as it prompted discussions of race (white men assaulting a black woman), social class and privilege, and athletes’ receipt of preferential versus harassing treatment.
Later that spring, three of the lacrosse players–Colin Finnerty, Reade Seligman, and David Evans–were indicted on charges of rape, sexual assault, and kidnapping by Michael B. Nifong, the district attorney of Durham County, North Carolina. The indictments came after DNA tests were run on 47 members of the team. One player was African American; because the woman did not implicate a black man, he was not asked to submit to the testing. All of the DNA tests were negative.
Fifteen months later, on April 11, 2007, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced that all charges had been dropped. Nifong was removed from his post as district attorney amid scathing criticism of his handling of the case, and was eventually disbarred. It seems that Nifong was seeking reelection at the time of the incident and thought prosecuting this case would assist him in his bid.
All 33 lacrosse players were all given an extra year of athletic eligibility by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Finnerty moved on the Loyola College in Maryland and played for their lacrosse team. Seligman transferred to Brown University, and Evans graduated from Duke. In June 2007, the three reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount; the settlement specifies that they cannot sue Duke University. In February 2010, the woman who accused the players was charged with attempted murder, arson, and several other counts after a fight with her boyfriend.
- Associated Press. (2010, February 18). Woman in Duke lacrosse case is arrested. New York Times.
- Finley, P., Finley, L., & Fountain, J. (2008). Sports scandals. Westport, CT: Praeger.
- Leonard, D. (2007). Innocent until proven innocent: In defense of Duke lacrosse and white power (and against menacing black student-athletes, a black stripper, activists, and the Jewish media). Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 31, 25-44.