April 12, 2007

Cornell Players Reflect on Duke Lacrosse Scandal

Print More

395 days after it all started, it’s finally all over for the three Duke lacrosse players involved in the Duke lacrosse rape scandal — legally at least. All charges against the three players — David Evans, Reade Seligmann and Colling Finnerty — were dropped yesterday. Attorney General Roy Cooper, who dropped the charges, pointed a finger at Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong, saying he ignored weak evidence in a “tragic rush to accuse.”
In many people’s eyes, however, it was not just Nifong who pushed ahead quickly in presuming the guilt of the players. When Nifong called the trio “a bunch of hooligans,” much of the general public and the media were quick to take up the charge.
“It’s an easy bandwagon to jump on when these people are standing at the top of the world,” said men’s lacrosse senior co-captain Mitch Belisle.
Besides being students at one of the best — and more expensive — schools in the country, Belisle and other players on the lacrosse team noted that a certain stereotype of lacrosse players played a role in people reacting quickly to accuse the Duke players.
“It kind of fit into people’s stereotypes, and those kind of people jumped on it more than the evidence warranted,” said senior David Mitchell. “The stereotype was white rich kids. Whenever you get that kind of situation, it takes on a life of its own. … Because they were lacrosse players … they are easy to identify as a group. … If it was just a random frat in Iowa it wouldn’t have been as big a headline. … If you can boil it down it was seen as privileged people taking advantage of the underpriviledged.”
Preppy, privileged and white, these are all stereotypes the players pointed to as being associated with lacrosse players. It was an image that turned the case into a race issue. For Mitchell, however, the stereotype is completely unfounded. Growing up in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Mitchell was shocked when he arrived at Cornell.
“It’s new to me,” he said. “I didn’t even know about it until I came to Cornell. I realized that it was considered an upper class sport which I found very strange because box lacrosse back home is very blue collar and middle class. Everyone that can’t afford to play hockey plays box. I think it’s just a stereotype. I don’t even think it holds anymore. I think it’s outdated.”
Because the world of collegiate lacrosse is so small, the Duke incident deeply affected many teams around the country. Several players on the Cornell squad went to high school with, or just happen to know, players on the Duke team.
“Lacrosse is a unique sport in that it’s such a small community and you have ties to every team,” Belisle said. “It made us a little more sympathetic to these guys. It shed a lot of light onto who these guys were. … To be able to know the character more than the media portrayed was nice.”
Belisle and senior Henry Bartlett singled out Seligmann specifically as a particularly nice guy, Bartlett calling him “high of character.” The players pointed specifically to Seligmann because he went to high school with a couple of players on the team. The Red’s connections go beyond the players involved in the scandal, however. One of Bartlett’s good friends, Tony McDevitt is a senior defenseman on the team and was recently profiled by the magazine Inside Lacrosse, where he talked about his disappointment and frustration at being portrayed as a preppy, rich, white kid. McDevitt grew up in a situation far from fitting the bill of preppy or rich.
“It was kind of a scary reminder because some guys have ties to Duke, so some guys who were around that situation were kind of getting tainted by it even though they weren’t involved,” Mitchell said.
“As a team we feel sorry for them that they had to go through that,” Bartlett said. “I don’t know them personally, but I know people who know them and I know they’re great guys. They deserve a chance to play the sport they love.”
While all the players said that head coach Tambroni has always preached the importance of holding oneself to a high moral standard in addition to playing lacrosse well, they agreed that the scandal has heightened their sensitivity to this axiom.
“I think our team’s always tried to live up to high moral values,” Bartlett said. “It sort of just reaffirmed that it is important.”
“It’s important to be ambassadors of lacrosse,” Belisle said. “Everyone at Cornell does a great job of that. … getting out there and doing community service and being active outside of lacrosse.”
“[Tambroni] reminded us that this can happen if you guys aren’t good teammates off the field,” Mitchell said. “… It was just a reminder to look out for one another.”
But for all the negative press collegiate lacrosse received, the sport has definitely moved up a notch on the national level. Belisle wondered if sophomore Max Seibald’s goal would have been the top play on SportsCenter’s “Top 10” Wednesday morning had it not been for the scandal.
“Some people say that any publicity is good publicity,” Belisle said. “Getting people more curious, more interested about lacrosse can’t hurt. But hopefully the stereotypes won’t carry forth now that the situation is behind us.”
“It makes you wonder about what would have been on SportsCenter if it hadn’t happened,” Mitchell said.