Duke’s moral lapse
is more than distracting

Apr 4, 2006 5:20 AM

Editor’s note: We apologize to our readers for the inexcusable error in this space last week about who eliminated Duke from March Madness. We all have to put up with incompetence these days, but Bergstein comes cheap, so we tolerate him. We thought of firing him, but he is old and indigent and a bit unstable, and we are compassionate. We considered dismemberment or garroting, but both violate Nevada statutes. So we took a vote of our 21-member editorial board about what to do, and he got a vote of confidence for us to give him one more chance. The vote was 11 to 10.

Columnist’s note: I thank you readers for your cards and letters, and your wishes for a speedy recovery in the asylum. When I was a kid, my father took me aside one day and told me three things. He explained the birds and bees and flowers, which preoccupied me greatly, then and unfortunately ever since. He told me to admit chopping down the cherry tree (or was that the other one, the father of our country?). Memory fades. And my dad told me, "Don’t get old." I didn’t pay attention, as you might have guessed last week. So you’ll have to believe, or not, that I knew as well as you that it was LSU, not those other southern guys from Virginia, who sent Duke packing. I was packing too, for a nonstop from Vegas to Montreal, and thinking of other things, when I wrote that column. It was not about wine or women. It was a genuine senior moment. My main editor, a basketball guy, would have caught the grievous error, but he was out back somewhere. His surrogate that day does not follow basketball. So I know now how Big Baby Davis of LSU felt Saturday night, unable to buy a bucket or a free throw with a certified check against UCLA’s airtight defense. I feel for the kid, particularly because every time he glanced up at the monitors from the bench, there was his sad and sorry face. He knew he was headed back to the bayou.

Now back to Duke.

Lacrosse players, at Duke or elsewhere, do not get much ink compared to other athletes. They may be tougher, playing a very rough game, but that normally does not make headlines. So it was unusual last week, in the midst of March Madness, to find Duke’s lacrosse team in bold, black type. Along with the word rape.

Like the Kobe Bryant affair, this case began with a bang and will end with a whimper. It will be difficult for the plaintiff — a coed who does exotic dancing at stag parties — to win this one, even though the medical folks said she showed evidence of rape. An exotic dancer in Las Vegas might have a chance — the last census showed 233,217 of them, I believe — but kids in college doing this for a living are a bit harder to find. A coed exotic dancer? She could be the purest of ebony, but she will be smeared as having loose morals before the lacrosse players’ lawyers get done with her.

I have no idea if the young lady in question was raped or not, but what bothers me as much is that Duke told its women basketball players — who unlike its men’s team, reached the Final Four — not to talk about the lacrosse guys’ party, or give their views

Rape of a fellow student, Duke said, can be distracting when you’re playing in the Final Four. Don’t discuss it, and check your conscience in the locker along with your daytime bra and panties when you suit up.

From here, it is not too soon for kids of college age, Final Four or not, to begin thinking about moral issues. It is, however, far too soon for a university that considers itself great to be telling its students, athletes or not, what to think or say.

As we said in our blunder last week, we didn’t care for the seeming arrogance of Duke’s men basketball players. We don’t care for the university’s arrogance, either.