The last Duke lacrosse column ever (hopefully)

by Brian Clarey

We’re not supposed to say we’re sorry, guys like me who spout off for a living. It’s right there in the rule book, along with “make sure to have a receding hairline” and “use first-person present whenever you can.”

But screw it… it’s a new day and all of that crap, and anyway I do feel regret in the way I went after the lacrosse players from Duke after they were accused of raping a NC Central student at a team party last year.

I knew from the beginning that the Duke lacrosse rape case was fraught with racial and socioeconomic stereotypes, that it touched on violations of civil rights and bore the potential for injustice to be inflicted on a certain class of person.

I just came down on the wrong side.

I don’t apologize for acting quickly. With the news cycle as tight as it is you’ve got to be on a story like a beard or risk the cardinal media sin: irrelevance.

So I read the results of the search warrant (Fingernails!) and listened to the DA (Hooligans! Blue wall of silence!) and read the police reports (Cotton shirt!) and the scandalous e-mail (“Killing the bitches!”). And I fused it together with something I thought I knew to be true, a prejudice held over from my formative years in an affluent suburb where, believe it or not, I enjoyed a fairly happy adolescence. And then I came out in a satisfying burst of righteous indignation. Which turned out to have been misplaced.

But I believed it. I believed the nameless (to that point) accuser who had gone to high school with my son’s kindergarten teacher. I believed the DA who had more than 300 felony cases under his belt and who, after all, had never ran in an election before and was, by most accounts, a good and apolitical lawyer. I knew that thousands of rapes happen on college campuses each year, that parties like this can easily get out of hand (Disclosure: I’ve been to a few) and that adolescent males, particularly those raised in an atmosphere of privilege, often feel like they can do anything they want.

I know that one firsthand, because that’s how I used to feel when I was young and bulletproof, though my transgressions never had me looking at 30 years behind bars and most of the things I was accused of happened to be true.

And I knew what the knee-jerk reaction from my friends up North would be: What do you expect from North Carolina? They’d say it with derogation in their voices, like it’s common knowledge that everything south of Philadelphia is Deliverance country and that our legal system has more in common with “The Dukes of Hazzard” than “Law & Order.”

And, after this episode, I don’t know that they’re wrong.

What I also didn’t know in this whole business was what happened in that house on that night, besides the fact that a group of college kids pooled their money together for a couple of black strippers at an off-campus house, that the drinking started early in the afternoon, and that the lacrosse players yelled racial slurs when the strippers hastily left the dwelling. I still don’t know exactly what went down inside the house that night. And it’s likely I never will.

The case, as they say, is closed.

I do apologize for my presumption of guilt and my role, however small, in sullying the reputations of the guys on the team. I apologize to their families and their friends. In fact I apologize to every smug bastard who “knew” from the beginning that the charges were false.

I have a personal relationship to the incident, to be sure. For all that my friends back on Long Island make fun of places like Appalachia, they practice interbreeding with the same gusto as the mountain folk. As a result, everybody in town is linked by no more than a couple of degrees of separation. There were some Duke lacrosse players with close connections to people who were once, and hopefully still are, my friends – I guess I’ll find out at the reunion.

Also, after I collectively referred to the lacrosse players at my high school as “jerks,” I was reminded that many of them were friends of mine. I hope that those relationships can be salvaged as well – I’m talking to you, ‘Netter.

And I will not say another word about former Garden City High School lacrosse coach Doc Dougherty because, as anyone who knows him is aware, he’s got enough problems of his own.

I do not, however, apologize for making fun of the status-conscious and booze-fueled town that I left almost 20 years ago. Because Garden City is a funny place – trust me on this if you’ve never been there. And the one privilege I retain these days is the right to make fun of the place from where I came.

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