Duke's Late Whistle on Rasheed Sulaimon
More allegations of sexual assault have hit college sports, and this time one of the most famous coaches may be caught up in the scandal.
In January, Duke basketball suddenly dismissed junior shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon from the program. He was the first player that Mike Krzyzewski has let go in the 35 seasons he has served as head coach. At the time, Krzyzewski was vague about the reasons for Sulaimon's departure, stating in a press release that the player had "been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member" of the team.
Enter Duke's student newspaper, the Chronicle, which confirmed today that the decision to release Sulaimon was linked to multiple accusations of sexual assault. According to the report by Emma Baccellieri and Nick Martin, Krzyzewski and other high-ranking Duke officials were aware of the allegations at least nine months before Sulaimon's Jan. 29 dismissal. In October 2013 and February 2014, during student-led diversity retreats, two women made separate, public accusations, multiple witnesses told the Chronicle. According to an anonymous "former affiliate of the Duke basketball program," the allegations were brought to Krzyzewski and his coaching staff and ultimately reached the university's athletic director and dean of students.
So why did it take so long for the team to act? The two women refused to file official complaints, but that doesn't preclude the school from looking into the allegations. Under Title IX, a university must investigate any indications of sexual assault regardless of whether a formal complaint is filed.
Inaction and foot-dragging are nothing new when it comes to campus sexual assault, especially when a big-time sports program is involved. There inevitably will be comparisons to the sexual assault allegations against Jameis Winston at Florida State and the child sex abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky at Penn State. Unlike Florida State, Duke ultimately disciplined the player, but the timing remains suspect. Krzyzewski's failure to act promptly, coupled with his continued silence on the matter, should raise suspicions that the university was hoping to keep the circumstances surrounding Sulaimon's release under wraps.
And it might have worked, had it not been for these intrepid student journalists. But why did the professional beat writers get scooped by a couple of college kids?
Possibly making matters worse, the Chronicle's article seems to suggest that the decision to dismiss Sulaimon was made only after Lincoln Wensley, a student intern, learned of the accusations and confronted a school official before quitting his job. Sulaimon was released six days after that conversation.
Aside from the questions of procedure, the Duke case calls to mind Florida State's handling of Winston in another, more tragic way. According to sources close to the two women, they refused to file official complaints for "fear of backlash from the Duke fan base." One of the women's friends told Wensley that she was "obviously scared because of the power the men's basketball team possesses on this campus."
These fears aren't unfounded. In "The Hunting Ground," a new film on campus rape, Florida State students are seen calling Jameis Winston's accuser a "slut" and a "whore." Penn State defenders accused child abuse victims of being in it for the money. The woman who accused Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy of domestic abuse is being portrayed as a gold-digger by some of the same people who assumed Ray Rice's wife, Janay, bore the responsibility for her beating because she stayed with her husband.
Victims of athletes don't just go up against a university apparatus designed to protect their attacker -- they also face the endless scrutiny of legions of fans who would rather dehumanize a victim than admit the inhumanity of their favorite players. Add that to the many other reasons victims often choose not to come forward.
More than 90 U.S. universities are under federal investigation for violating Title IX's requirement that they investigate sexual assault. Duke isn't among them. On Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators led by New York's Kirsten Gillibrand reintroduced the Campus Accountability & Safety Act to prevent universities from failing to act on sexual assault allegations. According to Gillibrand, the bill would "flip the incentive" so that it would be in the schools' "best interest to solve the problem and do it aggressively." But as we've seen time and again with college sports programs, the incentives for inaction often far outweigh any compulsion to serve justice. Krzyzewski can give all the "no comments" he wants, but he will ultimately have to answer.
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