Tuesday, April 24, 2007

JUSTICE FOR THE COACH?

For starters, our gig is funny not editorial comment. Subsequently, we have kept the comments on the Duke lacrosse scandal at a bare minimum. However, recently we read SI’s No Justice For The Coach by Rick Reilly and that got us thinking (which is always a bit dangerous).

No need to review the sordid details, save to say the Duke lacrosse team suffered a serious lapse in good judgment. However, very quickly this turned into a classic case of “guilty until proven innocent,” and that should be what offends most Americans about the whole ordeal.

Immediately after the arrest the media, a portion of the Duke community and a good chunk of the civilized world turned on the Duke lacrosse team. Unfortunately, so did Duke President Richard Brodhead and Duke A.D. Joe Alleva. Students, teachers and enraged citizens stood outside the lacrosse player’s house banging pots and pans and chanting “Castrate.” In retrospect, it’s easy to label that a bit “over the top.” Yes?

Are there issues with student athletes, double standards, cliques, race, and entitlement on Duke and other college campuses? Of course, there are. Colleges are little Petri dishes that remarkably mirror society as a whole. Are there solutions to these problems? Most certainly there are, but it will take smarter folks than us to figure it out. This we do know. Randomly charging three college students with a felony, and pursuing the charges in spite of evidence to the contrary, is not a viable solution or even a reasonable/sensible direction to take.

Like the members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team, the three Duke lacrosse player’s lives are forever changed. There is no fixing that, and that’s a shame. There is talk about the players suing Duke if only for their legal fees, but that doesn’t make sense either. Nobody at Duke made them hire the strippers or have the party. They walked into that one on their own. Having said that, we would advocate suing the bee Jesus out of Brodhead and Alleva, but not by the players – by the coach.

Mike Pressler had been at Duke for 16 years developing a good program. Yes, some of his players had gotten in trouble for such heinous crimes as disorderly conduct and public urinating. Makes us wonder how many public urinating college students grow up to be full grown felons? Probably not that many, but what do we know? Were there behavior issues? Yes, again just like all the others in the Petri dishes all over the country. Could the leash have been shorter? It looks that way, but after the rape allegations, Duke officials went dove hunting with a bazooka. You want overreaction? We give you overreaction.

Pressler was just coming off a great season (2005 NCAA Coach of the Year) and his squad was highly ranked yet again. His overall record was 153-82, and his graduation rate over 16 years was 100%. Not a misprint – 100%. No matter, soon he would be receiving death threats at such a pace he felt compelled to send his children away for safety’s sake.

Here’s where things really went wrong. While Mike Nifong was running around pouring gasoline on the already raging fire, Duke officials decided to throw Pressler under the bus. Before any forensic evidence was revealed, A.D. Joe Alleva called Pressler and told him he was firing him. According to Reilly, Pressler suggested that they wait saying “The DNA is coming back any day. Wait for the truth.” In fact, the DNA would comeback shortly thereafter and there was none from any Duke lacrosse player. It’s possible the accused three committed a nearly impossible “sterile rape,” but it’s not likely. Most forensic evidence experts immediately questioned Nifong’s motives and the credibility of the allegations.

Not so Duke. They canned Pressler and cancelled the season. Alleva told Pressler (again according to Reilly), “It’s not about the truth anymore, it’s about faculty, the NAACP and the special interest groups.”

You know what that is? One word: pathetic. There isn’t much loyalty in sports, and evidently a decreasing amount in life. Duke, a school with a $4.5 billion endowment, is one of the few that could withstand such a storm. Duke, like Northwestern, the Ivy League schools, Cal Berkley, Stanford and a few others are typically noted for their overall prestige and quality before the conversation turns to sports. If they were a football factory or a basketball power only, they may have been able to justify their total lack of courage and commitment. But, Duke was one of the few schools who didn’t have to turn and run, and yet that his exactly what they did. All they had to do was suspend the coach, the players, the team and let the legal process work.

Perhaps all Alleva and Brodhead really needed to do was stand up and say, “Our people are innocent until proven guilty. Throw all the rocks at us you want. Rush to judgment all you want, this institution is going to honor a basic principle of democracy." How hard is that? Evidently, too hard.

But, they didn’t, and Mike Pressler lost his job, his house and everything he had worked for over the past 16 years. He now coaches at Division 2 Bryant University, while somebody named John Danowski coaches his Blue Devils. Pressler cried when he heard the words “innocent,” but surely these remarks must have generated some anger.

"… In this case, with the weight of the state behind him, the Durham district attorney pushed forward unchecked. There were many points in the case where caution would have served justice better than bravado. And in the rush to condemn, a community and a state lost the ability to see clearly. Regardless of the reasons this case was pushed forward, the result was wrong." -- North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, April 11, 2007.

So that begs the question Reilly asked: “When does this fine man who did absolutely nothing wrong get his apology? Where are the mea culpas from Nifong? From Alleva? From Duke president Richard Brodhead? When is Mike Pressler’s day?”

Those are damn good questions. Surely Duke owes Pressler an apology if not a big bag of money.

Here’s another good question: What did Mike Pressler do? He didn’t offend anybody like Imus and he most certainly didn’t go crazy and murder 32 innocent people even though he suffered real indignations well beyond the imagined ones of one deranged Virginia Tech student. So, what did he do?

He took his new Bradley University lacrosse team out and throttled Franklin Pierce 28-7. By all accounts, he didn’t whine about it either.

Which begs a final question: How exactly do Alleva and Brodhead sleep at night or look in a mirror?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you.
    Mike Pressler may never see this column, but I'll say it for him.

    May you be blessed.

    ReplyDelete

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