It’s been over sixteen years since the Duke Lacrosse scandal erupted. An entire generation of young people have grown up since three undergraduates at the prestigious southern university were falsely accused of rape by a mentally ill stripper named Crystal Magnum. I will not name the undergrads, three white boys from affluent backgrounds, because they’ve suffered more than any individual should be forced to suffer as a result of cultural witch hunts. Not even Nick Sandmann of Covington Catholic fame, who was the target of a slander campaign by much of the mainstream media, was subjected to the type of persecution-through-prosecution the Duke Three endured.
Back when it was unfolding, I wrote a lot of columns about what was so clearly a modern-day lynching akin to what happened to the Scottsboro Boys. I remember making that analogy to the disgust of some readers who reminded me that the Scottsboro Boys were itinerant black youth falsely accused of rape and jailed, whereas the Duke players were affluent white youth who never spent a moment behind bars.
My reply: six of these, half a dozen of those. In other words, while the Duke crew never spent time in a physical prison, the psychological bondage they were thrust into for an entire year was just as bad.
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To be honest, I hadn’t thought about Duke in a while. One hopes that the boys, now men, have reclaimed the lives stolen from them by opportunistic culture warriors with their poisoned darts, and have put the past behind them where it belongs. The thing that triggered the memory and unleashed a wave of renewed anger was the new Duke hoax, a toxic brew of race, gender, class and religion.
I’m referring to the claim by a Duke Volleyball player that she was the target of “racial slurs” by a Brigham Young fan while competing in a match last month. Rachel Richardson stated that while she was serving two balls in front of the BYU fan section, she heard the “n” word uttered, and when she moved to the other side of the field, the heckling continued. No one else apparently heard the slurs, including her own teammates, but they all supported her version of the story. An investigation conducted after the match concluded that the person who was accused of insulting Richardson — a BYU fan suspected of having Asperger’s — had not uttered the “n” word or any other word that could be considered a racial slur.
And yet, despite the clarifications, Duke continues to stand with this black female. In a statement issued the school after the investigation did not corroborate Richardson’s story, Athletic Director Nina King observed:
“We unequivocally stand with and champion (the players) especially when their character is called into question. Duke Athletics believe in respect, equality and inclusiveness, and we do not tolerate hate and bias.”
When I read this, I almost choked on my coffee. Having written all those columns about what happened to the Duke Lacrosse players, I am fully aware of the level to which the university believes in “respect, equality and inclusiveness,” and how little they “tolerate hate and bias.”
Duke’s refusal to remember its own sordid past is a lesson for all of us that though the monster of bigotry can be tamed, it cannot be killed.
In other words, that’s a joke. If we wanted to force them to relive the trauma they suffered because of Duke’s failure to extend to them “respect” and eschew “hate and bias,” we would ask the three Duke Lacrosse players if they think they were protected, believed, honored, respected and afforded due process to the university that stood by while they were railroaded by bigoted faculty and an equally bigoted student body. We might ask them if they felt the university had stood with them against a racist prosecution by a politically opportunistic DA named Mike Nifong. We could ask them if they thought the media was as credulous with them, as they were with Rachel Richardson, essentially running with her story as if it were the truth.
I suppose we could ask them if they thought being an affluent white male afforded them different treatment than being a black female in the age of “MeToo” and BLM.
We could ask them all of these things, but we should leave them in peace. They have been tortured enough.
I watched a great ESPN documentary last week called “Fantastic Lies,” which documented in minute and excruciating detail the horror of the Duke Lacrosse case. I came away from that viewing with a bitter taste in my mouth, as it revived all the toxic memories from sixteen years ago. The frustration I felt in 2006 was only slightly alleviated when the three students were declared “actually innocent” by the then Attorney General of North Carolina. I suspected that this story was the canary in the coal mine of injustice, and that this conclusion, fortunate as it was for the falsely-accused defendants, was not the end of the story.
I am not happy to have been proven correct. Duke’s refusal to remember its own sordid past is a lesson for all of us that though the monster of bigotry can be tamed, it cannot be killed.
Shame on Duke for standing by a lie.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61