Why the Duke Basketball Sexual-Assault Story Won’t Go Away Quickly

Jacob Kupferman/Cal Sport Media/ZUMA

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The Duke University student newspaper reported today that a player recently dismissed from the school’s powerhouse men’s basketball team had been twice accused of sexual assault. Moreover, it found that athletic department officials, including Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, knew about the allegations as early as last March but failed to act for months.*

According to the Chronicle, two different women claimed that junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon had sexually assaulted them during the 2013-14 school year. In October 2013, a woman told classmates at a retreat that Sulaimon had assaulted her; at the same retreat in February 2014, another woman made a similar claim. The Chronicle reported that the team psychologist was made aware of the allegations in March 2014, and that several key members of the athletic department—including Krzyzewski, several assistant coaches, and athletic director Kevin White—found out shortly thereafter.

At a press conference, Krzyzewski declined to comment on the Chronicle article. But here are three reasons why this particular story won’t be going away anytime soon:

  • Slow response: Neither woman filed a complaint with the university or went to the local police in part due to “the fear of backlash from the Duke fan base,” according to the Chronicle. Nonetheless, the allegations reportedly were brought to the coaching staff shortly after the second incident was disclosed. According to the Chronicle, most Duke employees are required to report sexual assault; under Title IX, the university must investigate any such allegations. “Nothing happened after months and months of talking about [the sexual assault allegations],” an anonymous source told the newspaper. “The University administration knew.”
  • It’s Duke, and Coach K: It has been nearly nine years since the Duke lacrosse rape case, which fell apart after months of intense scrutiny and media attention. Given the prominence of Krzyzewski and his program—he has the most wins of any Division I men’s coach in history, and the Blue Devils are ranked No. 3 in the country—this story could gain a lot more traction as March Madness nears. Sulaimon was the first player Krzyzewski has dismissed in his 35 years at Duke; here’s how the coach described the decision in a January 29 press release: “Rasheed has been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program. It is a privilege to represent Duke University and with that privilege comes the responsibility to conduct oneself in a certain manner. After Rasheed repeatedly struggled to meet the necessary obligations, it became apparent that it was time to dismiss him from the program.”
  • It’s yet another sexual-assault accusation against a college athlete: The Sulaimon story comes just days after a former Louisville University basketball player was charged with rape and sodomy. On January 27, two former Vanderbilt University football players were convicted on multiple counts of sexual battery and aggravated rape, a case dissected in a Sports Illustrated feature last month. And in another highly publicized recent case, Jameis Winston, Florida State University’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and the likely No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft, was accused but never charged of raping a fellow student. (The school recently cleared Winston of violating its code of conduct.)

UPDATE, March 4, 2014: In a statement released yesterday to the Sporting News, Duke athletic director Kevin White had this to say about how Krzyzewski and the athletic department handled the Sulaimon situation:

Any allegation of student misconduct that is brought to the attention of our staff and coaches is immediately referred to the Office of Student Conduct in Student Affairs, which has responsibility for upholding the Duke code of conduct.  The athletics department does not investigate or adjudicate matters of student conduct, and cooperates completely in the process…

These investigations are conducted thoroughly, in a timely manner, and with great care to respect the privacy and confidentiality of all students involved. Those procedures have been, and continue to be, followed by Coach Mike Krzyzewski and all members of the men’s basketball program. Coach Krzyzewski and his staff understand and have fulfilled their responsibilities to the university, its students and the community.

For more on Duke’s legal footing with regard to how much information it needs to share with the media, read Michael McCann’s latest at Sports Illustrated.

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This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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