Duke University President Richard H. Brodhead announced Tuesday that the university is suspending future games of the men's lacrosse team until there is a clearer resolution of the legal situation involving team members.
The action, made in response to a request from team members, follows allegations of a sexual assault of a woman hired as a private dancer at a party attended by team members March 13 at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. Durham police are currently looking into the allegations, but no charges have been filed.
The action is the latest and strongest step in a controversy that has embroiled the university and the local community for more than a week. Brodhead spoke before more than 40 members of the national and local media in the Old Trinity Room of the West Union Building. Outside, several dozen students and community members held a protest, holding up signs challenging the university to take a stronger stand.
In his statement and answers to the media, Brodhead made a distinction between the acknowledged behavior of the students, which he described as "wholly inappropriate to the values of our athletics program and the university," and the more serious allegations of rape. The acknowledged behavior was significant enough that this past weekend, the university had forfeited two games.
At the same time, Brodhead insisted that the lacrosse team members had the right to be presumed innocent and that the suspension of the games was not a punishment but rather recognition of the seriousness of the issues.
"In this painful period of uncertainty, it is clear to me, as it was to the players, that it would be inappropriate to resume the normal schedule of play," Brodhead said. "Sports have their time and place, but when an issue of this gravity is in question, it is not the time to be playing games."
Brodhead said the suspension of games was decided following a meeting with Director of Athletics Joe Alleva and the three captains of the lacrosse team earlier Tuesday.
"This afternoon the captains of the Duke lacrosse team notified Mr. Alleva and me that the team wished to suspend competitive play until the DNA results come back," Brodhead said. "I met with the captains this morning and they expressed regret for their errors of judgment and the embarrassment they had caused themselves, their families, the athletic department and the university. They repeated their denial of the criminal allegations that have been widely reported against three of the players.
"Athletics Director Alleva and I welcomed these initiatives from the students. We believe that suspension of play is the right course of action, and we also see the importance of their taking responsibility for their conduct. In a slight modification, I have decided that future games should be suspended until there is a clearer resolution of the legal situation. I shared the decision this afternoon with the trustees, who fully support it."
Brodhead repeated earlier assertions that the university took the allegations of rape very seriously. "Physical coercion and sexual assault are unacceptable in any setting and will not be tolerated at Duke. As none of us would choose to be the object of such conduct, so none of us has the right to subject another person to such behavior. Since they run counter to such fundamental values, the claims against our players, if verified, will warrant very serious penalties, both from the university and in the courts."
The captains of the lacrosse team also issued a statement expressing contrition for their acknowledged behavior at the party. At the same time, the captains denied the rape allegations and said in their statement that "the team has cooperated with the police in their investigation. We have provided authorities with DNA samples. The understanding is that the results of the DNA testing will be available sometime next week. The DNA results will demonstrate that these allegations are absolutely false."
The team members were not at the news conference and have not answered questions from the press. Brodhead told reporters he had urged them to speak openly. "I can only assume that they have legal counsel who has foreseen complexities if they do so," he said.
Brodhead added that university officials spoke to members of the team within 24 hours of the incident. The university's initial response was based on the information it had at the time. As more information became available from Durham police, Brodhead said, the university ratcheted up its response.
"A lot of this story is known to the police but unknown to us," he said. "Our understanding is partial. We got information obliquely from the police. As the gravity of the allegations has grown, we have also responded at a higher level."
The team will continue to practice, Brodhead said, but the suspension of games will have serious implications for a team that was ranked second in the nation before the incident and had realistic aspirations for a national title. Alleva said such a suspension was rare in NCAA history. Neither Alleva nor Brodhead could state what would be the criteria for the resumption of games, but said that decision would occur only if more information made it appropriate.
Brodhead discussed his hope that the incident not interfere with Duke's growing ties with N.C. Central University, where the woman involved in the incident is reported to be a student. He also expressed concern about how the incident may affect Duke's relations with the surrounding community, noting with irony that the 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. house is one of 15 properties recently purchased by the university.
"We have a good history of stabilizing neighborhoods," he said. "When we decided to purchase these properties, it was our intention to turn them around and sell them to single families, to do something good for the neighborhoods. Nothing about this incident has persuaded me that our decision was wrong."
Following the conference, Brodhead went outside to meet with the demonstrating students, repeating that the university has responded appropriately but would continue to presume the innocence of the team members.
Students shouted out questions at Brodhead. One said she felt unsafe on her own campus. Others complained that it took the university too long to alert the students to the incident. The short meeting broke up after Brodhead invited the students to meet with him Wednesday morning.