As the men’s lacrosse team prepares to take the field in today’s Final Four, another unfortunate sports column, this one from Mike Wise of the Washington Post.
“With all due respect to those ‘INNOCENT’ bracelets worn around
With all due respect to Wise, here’s North Carolina attorney general Roy Cooper: “We believe that these cases were the result of a tragic rush to accuse and a failure to verify serious allegations. Based on the significant inconsistencies between the evidence and the various accounts given by the accusing witness, we believe these three individuals are innocent of these charges.”
In short, each and every person who wore an “innocent” bracelet—which, Wise neglected to mention, contained the numbers of the three accused players—was vindicated by Cooper’s all-but-unprecedented declaration.
To rationalize his statement, Wise cited the facts that “aren’t disputed”: the McFadyen e-mail; the fact that college students held a raunchy spring break party (imagine that!), and that afterwards one of them (though not, as Kim Roberts admitted, any of the three to whom the “innocent” bracelets referred) made a racist comment.
Wise forgot to mention a few other facts that “aren’t disputed”—that the racist remark came in response to a racist taunt from Roberts; that we generally do not hold a group of nearly 50 people responsible for the reprehensible thoughts of one of its members; and that the McFadyen e-mail played off a book assigned in at least three Duke courses.
The second part of Wise’s statement is even more intriguing. It’s been a while since I’ve read the Harper Lee novel, but as I recall, none of the novel’s characters claimed that the man falsely accused of rape, Tom Robinson, was (to borrow a phrase preferred by Duke administrators) a “choirboy.” Indeed, Robinson’s personal character wasn’t a major theme of Lee’s novel. Nor was the character of Robinson’s friends, or any people who happened to play on sports teams with Robinson.
Instead, To Kill a Mockingbird explored how an ambitious prosecutor fanned racial prejudice and brought charges against a man he knew or should have known was innocent; how the majority of the town allowed emotion to overcome reason and joined the mob; and how Atticus Finch and his family experienced this prejudice first-hand when Finch defended Tom Robinson, stood up to the mob, and argued that all people—even those who don’t represent a group politically popular with the local majority—deserve the same procedures before the law.
To me, those are themes that resonate given the experience of Durham over the past 15 months. But, as I said, it’s been a while since I read the Harper Lee book. Perhaps Wise obtained a different interpretation from someone who has read it more recently than I have. After all, as Mike Nifong told the Herald-Sun last year, To Kill a Mockingbird is his favorite book.