This case is a reminder about the dangers of overgeneralization. “The mainstream media is all bad.” Can anyone equate how Joe Neff covered the case with Duff Wilson’s approach? “Civil rights leaders abandoned their principles.” Can anyone equate Jim Coleman’s response with that of Irving Joyner? “TV covered the case in a shallow fashion.” Can anyone equate 60 Minutes with Nancy Grace?
A similar need for specific analysis occurs in dealing with sports journalists. John Feinstein, Mike Wise, and Mark Purdy have been embarrassing in their work. Yet Aaron Beard covered not only the sports angle of the case exceedingly well, but also was the lead reporter for AP’s solid coverage. And Jason Whitlock was one of the first journalists—of any specialty—to identify the correct storyline for the case.
A sensational column by Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel should be added to the work of Beard and Whitlock. In a week when so many sports reporters seemed to be writing the exact same story (the party was bad, the players aren’t choirboys), Wetzel produced a column that stood out, by introducing readers to an aspect of the players’ personal experience over the past 15 months that has received almost no attention from the national media.
His thesis? “This was a team, in many ways, without a school because it was a school, in many ways, that didn’t want a team. Some faculty members still don’t want it, no matter the dropped charges, the exposed lies and the track record of model behavior since.”
Co-captain Matt Danowski offered one of the most perceptive comments I’ve seen on the situation that the players faced:
We weren’t winning for Duke itself. We weren’t winning for the faculty. We weren’t winning for the students. We were winning for ourselves. It sounds cliché, but at one point all we had was 41 guys and our family. We didn’t have student support. We didn’t have faculty support. It was really just about us.
Danowski’s father, head coach John Danowski, analyzed the faculty’s responses to the allegations last spring: “It was an opportunity for people to move their agendas along. That’s the world. The world is about politics. It’s not about right and wrong or truth.”
As Wetzel noted, “There have been few apologies, fewer retractions. Not from fellow students, not from professors, not from administrators.” To my knowledge, a total of two Duke professors have apologized for their response to the case—Arlie Petters for signing the Group of 88’s statement, Thomas Crowley for submitting an inaccurate op-ed to the Herald-Sun.
Two other Group members privately apologized to lacrosse players, only to, incredibly, retract their apologies by signing the “clarifying” statement, which asserted that the signatories would not apologize for signing the Group of 88 ad. No other Group member has apologized—and many have said they’d do it all over again. The only apology from an administrator came after John Burness’ ill-founded attack on the players’ character on the eve of the innocent proclamation.
In the end, Wetzel (who actually talked to coaches and players on the team, unlike Wise, Feinstein, or Purdy) found out that the players, mostly
just wanted to be a team, even if some players no longer trusted, loved or had pride in the school on the front of their jerseys.
So here on a warm day in
, in front of a record crowd of 48,443 and a national television audience, they were just that—a team trying to be the best team in all the land. Maryland
Despite a furious (what else?) comeback, it didn’t happen. A group of men who attend the same school lost a lacrosse game here Monday.
That school had lost a lot more than that a long time ago.
Most people, I think, retain a type of “Mr. Chips” attitude toward the professoriate—that perhaps we’re eccentric, maybe a little bit out of touch, but that we chose our profession because we like working with students. No one who reads Wetzel’s article can conclude that the professors he quoted have such a mission.