As community outcry grew louder, Duke University President Richard Brodhead announced Tuesday that the university has suspended all games of its nationally ranked men's lacrosse team until rape allegations are resolved.
"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 at an evening news conference. "Sports have their time and place, but when issues of this gravity are in question, it is not the time to be playing games."
After days of public silence, the team captains issued their first statement since a woman alleged that she was sexually assaulted at a team party.
They expressed remorse for a lapse in judgment in holding the March 13 party but proclaimed their innocence in a meeting Tuesday with Brodhead.
"We also stated unequivocally that any allegation that a sexual assault or rape occurred is totally and transparently false," the captains said in a prepared statement.
The players said they had decided the team should not play competitively until "DNA results verify our unequivocal denial of these allegations."
Brodhead went further, though, saying play would be suspended until the legal situation is sufficiently resolved.
According to court documents, two black women were hired from an escort service to dance for what turned out to be a lacrosse team party at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. After only several minutes there, documents report, the men inside the house became excited and aggressive. After fleeing the house amid racial slurs, police and neighbors report, the women were persuaded to go back inside. One of the women reported that she was pulled into a bathroom by three of the men, where she was strangled, beaten, raped and sodomized.
In compliance with a search warrant, 46 members of the lacrosse team submitted last week to DNA tests.
Meeting with reporters for the first time since the team members reported for DNA testing, Brodhead on Tuesday said the players denied having sex with the woman who made the allegations.
Brodhead and Athletics Director Joe Alleva stressed that the decision to forfeit games was not done as a penalty against the players but in recognition of the seriousness of the situation. They added that players had faced harassment.
"The behavior was bad behavior, boorish behavior," Brodhead said of the March 13 party. "But from there to what is alleged is a very serious step."
The university will take appropriate action once the facts become clear, Brodhead said.
Angry students confronted Brodhead after the news conference.
"How are you going to protect us from these lacrosse players?" shouted Bridgette Howard, a sophomore from Baltimore.
Brodhead promised to meet with students today but cautioned them about casting judgment until the legal process is complete.
Details of the night of the incident continue to emerge.
Emergency 911 tapes revealed that on the night of the alleged incident, two passers-by, both black women, reported that a man who came out of 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. shouted a racial slur at them.
Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong said another search warrant was issued in the case, but the judge who signed it ordered it sealed.
"I would like to think that somebody who was not in the bathroom has the human decency to call up and say, 'What am I doing covering up for a bunch of hooligans?' " Nifong said. "I'd like to be able to think that there were some people in that house that were not involved in this and were as horrified by it as the rest of us are."
Since the woman reported the incident, questions have swirled about why investigators waited two days to execute a search warrant at the house and why nine days passed before all members of the team but one were ordered to police labs for DNA testing.
Many people have criticized the team's decision to play two games after the report and asked why it was not until Saturday that Duke athletics officials decided to cancel any games.
Duke officials said the lacrosse team had training in the fall about alcohol abuse, drug abuse and sexual violence.
Court records show that 15 members of the current roster had misdemeanor charges related to drunken and disruptive behavior.
"Unfortunately, they are young men, and sometimes young men make bad judgments," Alleva said.
Leaders of the state NAACP said Tuesday that they wanted to meet with Brodhead to discuss the situation. Amina Turner, executive director, said the university should take the high road and zealously deal with the situation. "Our concern is because of the confluence of race, class and gender," she said, "to make sure it doesn't become another 'boys-will-be-boys' situation."
(Staff writers Samiha Khanna, Benjamin Niolet and Lorenzo Perez contributed to this report.)
Staff writer Anne Blythe can be reached at 932-8741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.