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Michael Smerconish Headshot

Duke Rape Case: Revenge of the Nerds

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"To those of us who knew the pain of valentines that never came and those whose names were never called when choosing sides for basketball"

You're wondering what those Janis Ian lyrics have to do with the Duke Lacrosse rape investigation? Let me begin by going back a few years...

When I was a freshman in college a quarter century ago (egad!), there were rape charge brought against virtually every guy who lived in the fraternity housing the football team.

One of the guys accused was from my hometown and I knew him to say hello.

The story was, understandably, huge news. Page One stuff at school and in our hometown.

I watched from the sidelines as about two dozen college students had their lives turned upside down by the charge of one woman who claimed they had all raped her.

They were all finally exonerated a few years later, but by then it had faded to a B-section story -- no Page One for them.

I see the same thing happening at Duke. The press coverage is totally one-sided against the lacrosse players and in support of the "victim." You have to really search for anything resembling investigative journalism concerning the accuser.

For example, this tidbit was aired last Friday on WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina but given scant attention across the nation:

"New information about the victim has been divulged, concerning charges arising from an incident that occurred several years ago. According to a 2002 police report, the woman, currently a 27-year-old student at North Carolina Central University gave a taxi driver a lap dance at a Durham strip club. Subsequently, according to the report, she stole the man's car and led deputies on a high-speed chase that ended in Wake County.

Apparently, the deputy thought the chase was over when the woman turned down a dead-end road near Brier Creek, but instead she tried to run over him, according to the police report. Additional information notes that her blood-alcohol level registered at more than twice the legal limit." In spite of that incident, her attorney at the time, Woody Vann, asserts that what happened then should not cause people to question her character now. He said she is a decent and credible human being."

Just imagine if it had come to light that one of the Duke lacrosse players had received a lap dance and stolen a taxi and tried to run over a law enforcement person. It would be Page One all the way from Durham to Philadelphia.

Furthermore, DNA results are in -- the verdict? Negative. Not one match was found between DNA taken from the 46 white lacrosse players on Duke's team and the DNA samples taken from the exotic dancer's body or belongings.

And photos of the "victim" from that party have now come to light. In one, she is smiling at the photographer, in another she is lying down on the back porch of the house.

Most controversial, the time-stamped photos indicate the woman was bruised on her legs and face and had cuts on her legs, knees and feet when she came to the party, before the rape allegedly occurred.

It seems like this is getting to be an annual occurrence.

It was in July of 2003 that Kobe Bryant was accused of rape after having what he considered a consensual sexual encounter with an employee at a Colorado Hotel. Bryant was crucified in the media, while the "victim" went unnamed and unsupported by evidence. To the contrary, the DNA evidence in this case showed that the she had a sexual encounter with someone else shortly after she was with Bryant.

District Judge Terry Ruckriegle finally dismissed the case over a year later but Bryant paid heavily with loss of both reputation and lucrative endorsement deals.

We've just seen a similar case more recently here in Philadelphia -- that of Gary Neal and Michael Cleaves.

In June of 2004, these basketball players from La Salle University were charged with having sexually assaulted/raped a woman, age 19, over a bathroom sink while she was heavily intoxicated and throwing up into said sink.

Remember this case?

The "victim" had left a party one night, and met with players (attending summer classes on campus), who invited her back to their house for more partying. The un-named woman admitted to 8 shots of high proof liqueur between 11:30pm and 12:30am. As you might imagine, the woman started to feel sick, and went back to the players' room to vomit in their bathroom. Her blood alcohol content was a whopping .23.

The woman admitted to never having said "No," or offering real resistance to Neal and Cleaves. As the case raged across the headlines and the airwaves, prosecutors contended that the woman was too inebriated to consent to sex, evidenced by her vomiting. Defenders claimed that the sex was consensual and the woman created the allegation out of embarrassment amid gossip from other female basketball players

In November of 2005, a jury acquitted Neal and Cleaves of all charges.

These cases share the common characteristics of race, gender, and, perhaps most importantly, social standing.

The question is: what drives this hostility towards athletes? Why is there a rush to judgment every time a ballplayer is accused of sexual indiscretions?

I say, it's the revenge of the nerds. Most journalists would never be chosen for a pickup game of hoops, let alone a varsity sport. As a group, they take perverse pleasure in bringing down the BMOC, however undeserved.

What went on in Kobe Bryant's case and at LaSalle last year and now at Duke? Those who were never selected for sports are getting their chance to vent at those who did. And they crucify these young men with gleeful speed. While the "victims" are allowed to remain anonymous and are not prosecuted for their tales, the athletes they accuse are not afforded the same treatment.

These young men are the real victims, no quotation marks necessary.