From Sports Illustrated

A heads up: Jeff Pearlman has graciously agreed to be interviewed for TSF. I’ll have that interview up in the next day or two.

<>Two items of note from the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated:

<>1) Sally Jenkins has a terrific story about the Carlisle Indian School, the extraordinary institution for Native Americans that produced Jim Thorpe and, according to Jenkins’ title: “The Team that Invented Football.” Though Jenkins doesn’t use the phrase, Carlisle’s coach, the legendary Pop Warner, applied Moneyball principles nearly a century before that term entered popular parlance. Faced with a small student population and saddled with overwhelming resource constraints, the leverage that Warner found was the incredible speed and adaptability of his charges, which he parlayed into football’s first vertically-oriented offensive attack. Jenkins explains that, under Warner’s tutelage, “Carlisle mastered an astounding array of trick plays – reverses, end arounds, flea-flickers – and forward passes.” In carrying out such innovations in order to compensate for the fact that Carlisle’s team was giving up more than thirty pounds per player to the elite football schools, like Army and Harvard, Warner and Carlisle “transformed a plodding, brutal college sport into the fact intricate game we know today.”

And, it wasn’t just Thorpe’s greatness either: Warner had built Carlisle into a legitimate national power before Thorpe ever set foot on the field (Thorpe appeared in his first game in 1907 – Warner arrived at the school in 1899). That Carlisle accomplished what it did (including beating Harvard and Army) despite its profound institutional disadvantages stands as one of the great achievements in the history of football.2) In the same issue, the hit-or-miss Rick Reilly misses. Reilly writes about Mike
Pressler, the Duke Lacrosse coach dismissed a year ago in the wake of the now discredited rape charges against three Duke players. Reilly’s column, “No Justice for the Coach” notes that Pressler was fired on April 5, about three weeks after the allegations were first made. Reilly recounts the fateful meeting between the coach and Duke athletic director Joe Alleva, in which Alleva told Pressler:

‘It’s not about the truth anymore…It’s about the faculty, the NAACP and the special interest groups.’ So, after a 153-82 record and a 100% of graduation rate in 16 years, Mike Pressler was canned.”

Because of the ultimate unviability of the charges against the three players, and partly because of the touchy atmosphere in which the charges were ultimately dismissed (in the immediate aftermath of Don Imus’ firing) – there’s has been a remarkable collective amnesia about the circumstances leading up to Pressler’s firing.

In fact, the Duke Lacrosse team had a history that preceded it, and it serves Rilly poorly to have pretended otherwise in his paean to Pressler. Here’s John Feinstein, famous sports writer and Duke grad, writing about that history last May:

“according to a report released on May 2 by seven members of the Duke faculty, there was a written report two years ago sent to top Duke administrators telling them that there was a serious problem with the behavior of the lacrosse team. What this tells us is that this party was far from being an isolated incident, it was part of a pattern that theschool chose to ignore.

It also tells us – definitively – that Tallman Trask, the school vice president who received the report and Joe Alleva, the athletic director who Trask mentioned the report to (without every giving it to him or being asked for it) should both be fired. Not reprimanded, not told to do better, fired. They had a written report from someone who worked at the school – not a member of the “out of control,” media as Duke apologists have taken to referring to as a cop-out for this debacle – but someone who worked for the school who had done research on specific incidents and found a pattern that concerned him enough to put those concerns in writing. Trask did nothing. Alleva did nothing.”

That “serious problem” with the Duke Lacrosse team included the disturbing fact that 15 of the team’s 47 players had been arrested over the previous three seasons, ranging from nuisance violations like public urination to more significant charge including, in one case, assault. Furthermore, the immediate precipitating cause both of Pressler’s firing and the cancellation of the team’s season, was not the rape allegations themselves. Here’s what the Associated Press reported last April 6, the day after Pressler was forced out:

“A lacrosse player’s e-mail rant about killing and skinning strippers in his Duke University dorm room has led to his coach’s resignation, the season’s cancellation and an internal probe into the school’s response to alleged violence by athletes.”

And, here’s AP’s account of the offending email:

“authorities unsealed documents stating that less than two hours after the alleged rape, McFadyen sent an e-mail saying he was planning an encore to “tonights (sic) show.” The message, addressed “To whom it may concern,” said, “however there will be no nudity.”

“I plan on killing the bitches as soon as the(y) walk in and proceding (sic) to cut their skin off,” wrote McFayden, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound Atlantic Coast Conference honor roll player who was one of five Duke players from the exclusive Delbarton School in Morristown, N.J., adding in vulgar terms that he would find the act sexually satisfying. The e-mail was signed with McFayden’s jersey number, 41.”

In an age where athletes’ character has come under such intense scrutiny, it’s noteworthy that this fact about Duke’s Lacrosse team has been lost to history. (USA Today’s front page cover story on Friday was about the unprecedented level of concern the NFL has shown toward the off-field conduct of potential draftees. And, a considerable focus of those character concerns is on what might be called the nuisance offense of having smoked marijuana).

If one wants to be very generous, one can argue that Pressler was, ultimately dealt an unfair hand in the sense that his team’s highly questionable “character” (at least if we’re following the standards for defining character set by contemporary sports discourse – namely any trouble with the law) would never have come to light had it not been for charges that ultimately proved unfounded. But, if Reilly had such a slam dunk case of unfairness to write about, then he needn’t have whitewashed the record of Pressler’s team’s disciplinary problems which are, ultimately, the responsibility of any collegiate coach worth his salt. That Reilly did omit such obviously germane facts from his account of Pressler’s treatment suggests that Reilly, on some level, knew his righteous indignation stood on a weaker foundation than he let on.

9 Responses to “From Sports Illustrated”

  1. I just interviewed Pearlman on my blog last week after reading Love Me, Hate Me [I Don’t Give a F—]:

    http://journals.aol.com/dcsportsguy/mrirrelevant/entries/2007/04/19/interview-with-jeff-pearlman-author-of-love-me-hate-me/3341

    Looking forward to your Q & A.

  2. I’ve also noticed a lack of attention to the larger context of the Duke Lacrosse case. The coverage recently has been “They’re innocent–she lied.” If all that had happened a year ago were an accusation of rape, that MIGHT be the case. But the history of legal issues (reported by somebody in the institution), the reaction/aftermath of the accusations (including the violent email), and the fact that rape or not, some seedy shenanigans were going on that night, makes it a more complicated story.

  3. Duke parent Says:

    It doesn’t appear that you have followed the case closely. The Coleman Report made it clear that Pressler handled any incident that he was informed of by the administration. It turns out the adminstration often failed to inform him. For example, Pressler made two team members sit out of the 2005 Championship game for breaking team rules. He was actually known for being extremely strict with his teams. By the way, the Coleman Report also indicated the lax team were very good students, performed many community service hours with the team, and had infractions at a similar rate as the general Duke student body. It was also discovered that the Durham Police Dept. had a specific policy targeting Duke students for minor infractions. The very first party my daughter attended at Duke, the police dept. burst down the door and everyone was tested for alcohol. Thankfully, she had not been drinking, but most people at the party received citations for either underage drinking or open containers. One of the first things my daughter was told was that the Durham police give out tickets to Duke students for revenue and to provide community service workers. (Since the Duke students, unlike many Durhamites, actually show up at court, pay the fines, and do the community service.) It is easy money for the city and much less dangerous than arresting gang members.
    Next, the story behind McFayden’s e-mail was known almost immediately – which is why his suspension was lifted. The e-mail is a parody from American Psycho – required reading in several Duke classes. The players were upset over being ripped off by the strippers – 4 minute show that was supposed to last 2 hours. While the e-mail might have been offensive, he was simply repeating what he had learned in a Duke class. If you don’t agree with the material being taught, perhaps write the professors that teach this garbage. The e-mail was definitely the tipping point in Coach Pressler being fired – the administration caved to the PC crowd.
    I have never been a fan of stripper parties. However, my daughter’s women’s studies professor last year, before the lax case, taught her that the sex industry should be respected because women have the right to do as they wish with their bodies. By the way, there over 20 stripper parties hosted by groups both on and off Duke’s campus last year. Whether you agree or not, these are very accepted parties today on college campuses. It is ironic the same liberal professors that have condoned and even promoted the sex industry for years, now proclaim to be “shocked” that their students followed their advice. At William and Mary and VCU, these same professors made a sex industry demonstration (stripping) mandatory for their classes, yet are “dismayed” that students hire a stripper. The hypocrisy is sickening.
    The people that should be apologizing are the ones that caused the mob mentality on campus last year. My daughter was scared to walk anywhere on campus last spring without her boyfriend for fear of being attacked. The 88 professors, the Durham activists, Nifong, Brodhead, Alleva, Jesse Jackson, the NBBP and so forth behaved in a horrific manner. Professors were allowed to demean the players in class. My daughter was disgusted by how the professors treated the players in class – even the ones not at the party. This case demonstrates the dangers of mob mentality and the desire by the “haters” to promote their agendas against white, rich, male athletes. “White”, “rich”, “male”, “athletes” and throw in the term “rape” and you had something for everyone. While I have observed how very disappointed these haters are that their perfect case was a hoax, it seems that haven’t learned a thing. Don’t expect an apology from this group. However, this case has taught my daughter many lessons – including avoiding taking any of the 88 professors’ classes.

  4. Duke Parent,

    I’ve also followed the case pretty closely (I live a few miles away). I’ve got to hand it to you, you’ve got just about every single talking point down pat – all the way from criticizing “Durhamites” to blasting liberal professors. Impressive.

    ken

  5. Jonathan-
    You followed the case closely, from its inception to now – same here. Reilly’s actions appear to have been replicated over time throughout both news and sports mediums. Why do you think this is?

  6. No argument with your point on Reilly, but I wish Feinstein’s ’06 article would have included some of the details of this report he cites. Given his connections to Duke, I assume he has to know something about the content. Perhaps he didn’t print it because he couldn’t verify it, but knowing what those admins meant when they said the lacrosse team was out of control would have made Feinstein’s argument a lot more compelling.

    What also strikes me is that the accuser has vanished from the discussion. I believe she gave birth almost exactly nine months after that night. Did she know she was pregnant before she went to that party? I don’t know, maybe that’s irrelevant to this case, which is sad and sickening enough. And I’m sure it’s best for her personally that no one talks about her now. But it’s not like the media has shown tact or restraint in its coverage of other tawdry cases.

    Anyway, from beginning to end, this case has been riddled with holes. And I guess we’ll never learn the whole story.

    An aside: Having watched Barry Bonds’ hat size swell through the years, I’m not ready to buy into this site’s steady defense of him. Also, I don’t concur with your feelings for Kobe Bryant — I just remember a guy who took, I think, one shot in the first half of Game 7 against Phoenix last year, I guess because his feelings were somehow hurt. Kobe’s just always struck me as someone who wants to be the league’s best player more than he wants to be on the league’s best team. At least he’s the former, but it’s too bad he didn’t take up an individual sport.

    That said, I stumbled onto this site two weeks ago, and am now a faithful reader. Everything out here is damn interesting, and if I had the time, I would comment on every entry. Keep up the great journalism…

  7. Not a big fan of Reilly anymore. He comes across as a hokey egomaniac to me(if that combination is possible). I stopped reading the last page of SI when they stopped calling it the “19th hole.”

  8. Barry Porter Says:

    Rush to judgment is a key issue in our society today! Please let me introduce myself; my name is Barry Porter and I am the Director of Marketing, Adult Publishing Group at Simon & Schuster.

    I don’t know if you are aware but Pocket Book/Threshold Editions is about to publish It’s Not About the Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case and the Lives It Shattered by Don Yaeger, with Mike Pressler. I have attached the cover image and the press release of our upcoming publication. I would love to send you copies of the book when it becomes available; I just finished it and still cannot believe what I have read! There is so much more to this case then has been released, that is covered in this book.

    At this time our pub date for It’s Not About the Truth is 6/12. All marketing, online, and publicity efforts will kick off that week. I just thought you would like a “heads up” about our publication. If you have any questions feel free to e-mail me back.

    Regards,

    Barry

  9. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

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