Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Thursday, April 12, 2007
Apology to Duke lacrosse players not enough

By Jemele Hill
Page 2

I never wrote it, but I felt it -- which is just as bad. I said it in private discussions with friends, some of whom tried to get me to see the whole picture, not just the picture I wanted to see.

My being a black woman, my knowing too many athletes who treat women like items to be purchased in a vending machine, and my witnessing enough athlete rape trials where accusers are overwhelmed by their fame and fortune -- it all tainted my perception and made me doubt your innocence.

I feel stupid now.

Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann
Will the media spend as much time clearing the names of Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann as it did publicizing the crimes they were accused of committing?
I could blame Durham County district attorney Mike Nifong, but that would be too easy. Oh, he's a lout, no doubt. He played upon the emotions of a community and its long-held hostilities, and put his reelection bid above morality and common sense. He played all of us and should be punished with nothing less than disbarment.

I could blame Jesse Jackson, who I have hoped for years would disappear to a faraway land where CNN wouldn't follow. As usual, Jesse showed up and showed out. He incited the masses and then left everyone else to sort out the wreckage. And if Jesse wants to gain an ounce of the credibility he no longer has, he would find the nearest camera -- and we know he's good at that -- and express sorrow with all the sincerity he can muster. But the day Jesse apologizes for causing a scene is the day Rosie O'Donnell wears a muzzle.

But if there is anything to be learned from Don Imus' fall, it's that real apologies are never accompanied by rationalizations.

So to Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans, the three Duke lacrosse players whose lives were mangled by an unsupported rape accusation, I say two of the hardest words in the English language:

I'm sorry.

It's not enough, and I won't pretend that it is. For the last year, your lives and those of your families have been more difficult than any of us can possibly imagine. I'll never know what it was like walking around normal society labeled a rapist. I'll never know what it's like to lose everything -- your school, your program and your life -- because of one unproven accusation.

You deserve all of that back and then some, but unfortunately, you won't get it. You have every right to not trust anyone and think less of people. Duke University abandoned you. An overzealous prosecutor tormented you. A community, a nation, didn't believe you. Journalists everywhere, sensing ratings and salivating over the salaciousness of black strippers and white athletes, chose to keep you under attack.

Not that this is a contest to see who was wronged the most, but the Rutgers women's basketball team at least received justice, because Imus was suspended and dropped by MSNBC, which simulcasts his morning show. Plenty of people are outraged on their behalf.

But who is outraged on your behalf? What justice will you receive? Will the same networks that willingly aided in destroying your reputations now give you airtime to vent your frustrations? Will Jesse Jackson now offer the three of you a free scholarship like he did the "victim," since he helped assist in your battered reputation?

Maybe the only modicum of fairness you have received is that the News & Observer in Raleigh decided to print the name of your accuser. I don't normally advocate that the names of alleged victims be printed, but it feels right in this instance.

I know I'd certainly like to ask your accuser a few questions, even though she stood by her story as North Carolina's attorney general vehemently proclaimed your innocence. Does she understand she has tanked not only her credibility, but that of other women, too? Does she understand the next time a woman comes forward with an allegation this serious, all of our minds will scroll back to this case, and we will be less inclined to believe her? Does she know women with legitimate sexual-assault complaints will look at this furor and decide silence is best?

I can't deny that your race, gender and class have everything to do with how you were treated then and how you are treated now. Some people believe white men are exempt from sympathy and incapable of being maligned, so they will not swallow their pride and offer you the decency you should have received in the first place. Yes, you made an unwise decision to entertain strippers at a residence, but that just makes you guilty of being like 90 percent of college males.

There will be a lot of finger-pointing in the coming days and weeks about whose fault all of this was. The media will analyze each other. Civil-rights leaders who claim to be against all injustice will stay silent. Hopefully, you will be able to regain a fraction of the life you once had.

I'm glad the story of your innocence and the Rutgers situation unfolded the same week. If anyone felt a sense of victory over Imus' rebuke, they should look at what happened to you and know it will be a long time before we can truly celebrate.

Jemele Hill, a Page 2 columnist and writer for ESPN The Magazine, can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.