Local News

Duke official regrets treatment of former lacrosse coach

Posted April 9, 2015 4:54 p.m. EDT
Updated April 10, 2015 12:19 a.m. EDT

— Nine years after Duke University forced lacrosse coach Mike Pressler to resign amid accusations that three of his players raped a stripper at a team party, a senior athletics official says many in the administration regret the way the situation was handled.

"I think that a lot of officials at the university have come to the realization or came to the realization within a year or so that, probably, Mike shouldn't have lost his job," Chris Kennedy, senior deputy director of athletics at Duke, tells "60 Minutes" in an interview to be broadcast Sunday.

After Crystal Mangum claimed three white players trapped her inside a bathroom at an off-campus house during a March 13, 2006, party and sexually assaulted her, the story became a national headline, and Kennedy said the Duke campus was in chaos over a story framed by class, race and sex.

"It was painful because you had 46 kids who were really suffering who knew for a long period of time … some number were going to be indicted based on no evidence whatsoever,” he said. “Imagine the stress of that on the kids and on their parents and everything.”

Attorney Wade Smith, who represented one of the players, recalled on Thursday the storm of controversy that followed the campus, the lacrosse team and the players for months.

"Duke University never could’ve been prepared for this. I mean, who could’ve been?" Smith said. "There were people marching in the streets, people with pitchforks. The community was furious."

President Richard Brodhead and other administrators needed to take action, Smith said, so Pressler was quickly sacrificed in an effort to quell the storm.

"With all this swirling around them, their thought was, 'We’ve got to move now,'" he said.

Pressler, a former national coach of the year, said he considered it "blasphemy" to leave his team in crisis. At the same time, he was being inundated with hate mail and found signs in his front yard mocking his support of “the Duke rapists.”

"Google up one of the boys' names, my name … you saw the word ‘rape,’ ‘sexual assault’ next to your name," he tells "60 Minutes." "That just was, even today, I get emotional about it."

Given the choice of resigning or risk being fired, Pressler stepped aside. A few months later, he was hired by Bryant University in Rhode Island, where he still coaches.

“[Loyalty] is everything," he said. "Without that, as a man, you have nothing."

Mangum's rape accusations were later found to be false, all charges were dropped against the players and Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong was disbarred and jailed for his handling of the case. Duke and Durham have settled lawsuits filed by the players, who have gone on to start families and have successful careers in law and finance.

"Things are not always as they seem," Smith said. "It would always be smart to wait, if you can, and let the facts clarify themselves. In retrospect, it would’ve been good for Duke to do that."

Unfortunately, he said, that lesson still needs to be learned, citing the uproar over a "Rolling Stone" story about a gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity that later proved to be unfounded.

"The truth is not going to just come and sit in your lap. You’ve got to look for it and find it. You’ve got to not leap to conclusions, and you’ve got to not assume people are guilty," he said. "The lesson is already gone. We didn’t really learn it for keeps."