The first call on Monday morning came from my brother.
“Did you know?” he asked.
I knew exactly what he was asking me about and, to be honest, I was a little bit insulted by the question.
He wanted to know if I had known that former Duke basketball player Rasheed Sulaimon had twice been accused of sexual assault during the 2013-2014 school year. He wasn’t asking if I had known about it a year ago but if I had known in January when Mike Krzyzewski threw him off the team that those accusations were the reason.
The answer was no. In fact, sitting here right now I can’t be certain that’s why Sulaimon was tossed–it’s a reasonable guess but nothing more than that.
What bothered me about Bobby’s question was two things: First, he and many others had asked me in January if I knew the ‘inside story,’ about why Sulaimon had become the first player Krzyzewski had thrown off one of his teams in 35 years. The answer was no and, to be honest, I didn’t pursue it anymore than I pursue the reasons other players get thrown off teams or announce that they’re transferring.
Once upon a time it was my job to find out what was going on inside a basketball team: specifically Maryland’s basketball team when I was the beat writer for The Washington Post. When I was The Post’s national college writer a few years after that gig, I might have pursued the Sulaimon story if only because it involved Krzyzewski, who, after all, has won more games than any college coach in Division 1 history.
But at this stage of my life, the honest-to-God truth is I don’t care very much, whether the coach involved is Krzyzewski or one of my friends who coaches in The Patriot League or The CAA or anybody else. In fact, I’ve had coaches tell me why kids have been thrown off teams–not going to class, apositive drug test, whining about playing time, cheating on a test–you name it. I’m not sure I’ve ever written it.
In fact, when I was working on ‘A Season on the Brink,’ one of Indiana’s players failed a drug test–marijuana. Bob Knight told me about it because he figured I’d hear about it anyway from the players (which I did) and told me he wasn’t going to suspend the kid–not because he believed his story that he’d test positive from inhaling it second-hand at a party, but because, “he’s a good kid, he made a mistake and, frankly, it’s no big deal.”
I had no problem, ‘covering up,’ the test especially since I was 100 percent certain that Knight’s decision not to suspend him had nothing to do with wins and losses–the player wasn’t a star by any stretch–and because I knew if there had been some kind of rules violation involved in not suspending the player, Knight would have suspended him.
Sexual assault, of course, is an entirely different matter. It’s a serious crime, not a misdemeanor in some states, legal in others the way marijuana is these days.
What’s more, if someone brings charges, there is no way to cover it up.
According to the story in the Duke student newspaper, ‘The Chronicle,’–and, for the record I am much more an alumnus of ‘The Chronicle,’ than I am of Duke; it’s where I learned to be a reporter–implies that Krzyzewski and other members of the athletic department could have known about the accusations as far back as last March.
Anyone who knows me knows I’ve said a million times that the old line about the cover-up being worse than the crime (as in Watergate) is almost always true.
That being said, let’s review what we know–which isn’t very much–about this case and put it in a little bit of context.
Anyone out there remember what is still referred to as, “The Duke lacrosse scandal,” of 2006? Three Duke lacrosse players were accused of sexually assaulting a woman the team had hired as a stripper at an off-campus party. I was one of the first to say that if the players refused to take DNA tests–which they initially did–they should have their scholarships taken away. The players eventually took the DNA tests and they were negative. The prosecutor, claiming he had ‘other evidence,’ still got them indicted.
Let’s forget the media frenzy that followed the indictments, the stories about the rich white kids lawyering up to avoid jail. What matters is this: the ‘scandal,’ as it turned out involved the prosecutor–who was disbarred for the way he handled the case–and Duke, which shut down the lacrosse season, fired the coach and failed to stand behind the players after their indictments. Everyone was guilty until proven innocent.
For the record, the players behavior at that party was apparently despicable. Among other things, they yelled racial epithets at the two strippers, both of whom were African American. They acted like spoiled, arrogant rich kids. They did NOT commit sexual assault. They were guilty of being jerks–but nothing more.
When the dust finally cleared, Duke had to pay millions in legal settlements to the three players and to former coach Mike Pressler.
Krzyzewski lived through all that. In fact, behind the scenes, he quietly urged the school NOT to overreact to wait and see where the facts took the case before firing coaches and, in essence, the entire team for a season.
This situation is different. There have been no charges filed as yet, either criminally or in the student judicial system. Sulaimon, as of this moment, is still enrolled at Duke. If Krzyzewski had taken any action against Sulaimon based on an accusation and nothing more, he and Duke could potentially be exposed to the same kind of legal issues that came up in the lacrosse case.
Why then did Krzyzewski boot Sulamon in January. My answer to my brother was, “I don’t know.” My answer here is the same with this added caveat: he may very well have learned something that gave him reason to do what he did. Someday we may know or perhaps we’ll never know. My bet is at some point Sulaimon–or if there’s a legal case, his lawyer–will talk about it and then we’ll know more.
As is always the case–especially with Duke where those who can’t stand the place or the basketball coach–there has been and will continue to be a rush to judgment. That’s pretty much par for the course. And I know there will be those who will claim I’m just a Krzyzewski apologist, that I will defend him because he’s the coach at Duke.
Anyone who has followed my work through the years knows I’m no apologist for Duke. I’m not an apologist for Krzyzewski either–we’ve had more than a few arguments about the way he’s handled situations through the years. But I will tell you one thing: I know he didn’t engage in a cover-up here. I know this because I know how he feels about his three daughters. But I know this most of all because I know Mike Krzyzewski.
Which, in the end, is really all I need to know. I’ll leave the rest to others.