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Archive for December 22, 2006

Dec. 22, 2006 — The movable eponym

There was a major development today in the case of three Duke University men’s lacrosse student-athletes charged with rape and sexual assault at an off-campus team party.

The allegations hit the airwaves last April,  and within a few days, the entire season was cancelled. National news media picked up on the story as its tabloid-TV “flavor of the month.” The words “Duke,” “lacrosse,” and “rape” were spoken in such close proximity to each other that they seemed to form a collective connotation of privileged athletes on scholarship exploiting a socioeconomic group that forms a large chunk of the town’s of Durham’s population.

All of the hot-button issues, it seemed, were in the forefront: race, class, culture, education. It was enough so that a significant segment of the lacrosse media, including Inside Lacrosse and Lax.com, came out with editorial positions defending the players, to the point of compromising their objectivity.

Only one thing was missing, apparently: the evidence. The most serious counts of rape were dropped, although other charges remain. I predict, however, that the words “Duke lacrosse” will still bring up old images, and that someone will still talk about “The Duke rape case” in referring to this matter.

The episode may, however, have ramifications far outside the lacrosse community, and even sport itself. According to this blog entry, applications at Duke are down some 20 percent.

And I think the thing to look for is the future of District Attorney Mike Nifong. The prosecutor, who never saw a microphone he didn’t like, had a big sign on his door saying, “No media, please!” this afternoon. He very well could have charges of false and malicious prosecution filed against him, especially if the secondary charges in the matter of the players are as tenuous as the rape charge.

This could get ugly. Stay tuned.