From Lacrosse To Redick To Boat Accident, Duke's Woes Continue
Posted July 2, 2006 11:51 a.m. EDT
DURHAM, N.C. — Duke spent the spring wrestling with a steady stream of image-mangling press following rape allegations against three men's lacrosse players.
And as spring turns to summer, things aren't getting any better for the school and its once squeaky-clean reputation.
The rape case is still making news as it inches its way through the court system. And now, embarrassing incidents involving two of the university's most prominent sports figures -- graduated basketball star J.J. Redick and athletics director Joe Alleva -- have joined the case in the national headlines, adding to the misery for one of the nation's most prestigious universities.
These days, Duke just can't seem to get out of its own way.
"Any of these issues taken by themselves, taken without the lacrosse scandal, are non-issues," said Ronn Torossian, president and chief executive officer of New York-based 5W Public Relations, which lists rapper Ice Cube and GQ magazine as clients.
"Because of the rape scandal, you're now in the eye of the storm and you're going to be watched ... and you're being held to a different standard."
The latest bad news came Tuesday, when it was learned that Alleva needed 42 stitches to his head after a boating accident Friday on a Person County lake. His son, former Duke baseball player J.D. Alleva, was charged with operating a boat while impaired.
Authorities said the younger Alleva refused to give officers a breath or blood sample, but three officers smelled alcohol on him several hours after the accident.
That came less than two weeks after Redick was arrested on charges of drunken driving. Redick was The Associated Press national player of the year last season, finished as the Atlantic Coast Conference's career leading scorer and was a first-round pick of the Orlando Magic in Wednesday's NBA draft.
He was arrested early on the morning of June 13 with a blood-alcohol level of 0.11 percent -- the legal limit in North Carolina is 0.08 -- and was released on $1,000 bond.
More than anything, it is the ongoing lacrosse scandal that has subjected all aspects of life at elite Duke -- where tuition and fees run in excess of $32,000 annually -- to unprecedented levels of scrutiny.
The lacrosse case began when a woman told police she was raped by three players at a March 13 team party where she was hired to perform as an exotic dancer.
The allegations led to rape and kidnapping charges against Reade Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, N.J.; Collin Finnerty, 19, of Garden City, N.Y.; and David Evans, 23, of Bethesda, Md. School officials cancelled the highly ranked team's season and accepted the resignation of longtime coach Mike Pressler.
The decision to cancel the season came the same day authorities unsealed documents stating that hours after the alleged rape, player Ryan McFadyen apparently sent an e-mail saying he wanted to invite more strippers to his dorm room, kill them and skin them. Duke suspended McFadyen, saying it wanted to investigate the e-mail, then reinstated him as a student in early June.
More recently, rising senior midfielder Matthew Wilson was indefinitely suspended from the team after being charged with drug possession and driving while impaired. Police said they found marijuana in the vehicle and that Wilson registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.21 percent during a traffic stop on May 24.
All of it has led to plenty of unwanted attention for Duke, its 6,347 students and its alumni network.
John Burness, Duke's vice president for public affairs, noted that the number of stories about the university in the national media went from 3,700 in February to 7,300 in March to 33,000 in April when the lacrosse case was at its peak.
School officials also say the lacrosse case may be to blame for an expected drop in the percentage of incoming students who accepted the school's offer to attend starting this fall. Undergraduate dean of admissions Christoph Guttentag said in May that about about 40 percent of admitted students are expected to accept a spot at Duke this year, compared to 43 percent who accepted in 2005.
In April, when the lacrosse frenzy was at its most intense, some Duke boosters and lacrosse families hired Washington attorney Bob Bennett, once the personal lawyer to President Clinton, to lead a PR effort in defense of the team and school. The group, which was not school-sponsored, called itself the Committee for Fairness to Duke Families, but little has been heard from it since.
The school has commissioned several internal reports aimed at addressing concerns about alcohol, athlete behavior and the university's handling of the lacrosse case. But Duke has chosen not to mount an agressive public relations campaign to try to shape opinion regarding the incident.
"I think the general public understands this is a great institution and it's going through a tough period in a media frenzy," Burness said. "Our reputation isn't built on any one program. It's built on a slew of programs. When you have trouble in one, there's some spillover effect. But it's pretty much temporary.
"The ultimate test of Duke is how people perceive six months or a year from now in how we dealt with this saga and how we handled it."
Meanwhile, though, the hits keep coming. Alleva's accident was just the latest fodder for the creators of Deadspin.com, a Gawker Media sports blog known for its biting and sarcastic commentaries. After word of the Alleva incident got out, Deadspin editor Will Leitch opined that "it really hasn't been a good few months for Duke athletics."
"Just reporting the facts, folks," he wrote. "And they are starting to pile up."
Sean Cassidy, president of public relations firm DKC, which lists Sean "P-Diddy" Combs and Jay Leno as its clients, compared Duke's recent troubles to those of a major-market professional sports franchise undergoing a string of off-court problems.
"It could have (happened anywhere), but it doesn't excuse it," Cassidy said of the recent line of incidents. "The best-case scenario is it's pretty unappealing. But that said, is the timing a lousy break for Duke? Sure it is."