When matters turned to the field and not the legacy of Mike Nifong’s misconduct, most of the media attention during Duke’s run to the national championship focused on the team’s two leading scorers, Matt Danowski and Zach Greer. But in both the semi-final win against Cornell and the one-goal loss to Johns Hopkins, junior midfielder Brad Ross stood out. Against Cornell, his goal gave Duke its first lead (4-3); he also netted the team’s first goal in the fourth quarter. Against Johns Hopkins, he scored two goals and was robbed of a third as time expired.
Ross also was a key figure in the lacrosse case. He was the only team member that Crystal Mangum twice remembered, with 100 percent certainty, seeing at the party. Indeed, in the April 4 “witness” lineup, Mangum even described what Ross was doing—standing outside, she said, chatting with Kim Roberts.
There was, of course, a small problem with Mangum’s recollection: Ross not only wasn’t at the party, he wasn’t even in
The Baker/Chalmers report recently claimed that the indictments of three factually innocent people without probable cause had to go forward because defense attorneys didn’t give the DPD exculpatory evidence. But Ross did just that—to no effect.
In early April, just after President Brodhead canceled the season, Ross assembled cellphone, dorm keycard, and other forms of electronic evidence showing that he was in Raleigh from 3.00pm on March 13 through 1.00am March 14 and establishing (through his dorm keycard) that he returned to Durham only well after the party ended. His attorneys presented this material to authorities—thereby proving, essentially before the legal case even began, that Mangum was an unreliable witness, that the flawed procedures used by Mike Nifong and the DPD had yielded flawed results.
A reader of the Baker/Chalmers report might have believed that authorities would have welcomed Ross’ exculpatory evidence. At the very least, it should have slowed down the rush to indictments. Instead, the Ross evidence was ignored. The DPD, it seems, was far less interested in exculpatory evidence than the Baker/Chalmers apologia claimed.
Brad Ross is from
In the two weeks after the party, Ross assumed that he couldn’t be a suspect—but, as we all have learned,
Ross compiled this material; it was presented to authorities, along with that of a few other players (such as Adam Langley) who also were not at the party. But this proof of Mangum’s unreliability as a witness made no difference to the Durham Police or to Nifong. Neither ever followed up with Ross about his exculpatory evidence. Instead, much as they did with Reade Seligmann’s more highly publicized ATM video and cellphone records, the Nifong/DPD team ignored Ross’ unimpeachable electronic evidence, since it contradicted their preferred theory of the “crime.”
Last spring, then, Ross was in an all-but-unique position: while publicly identified by Nifong as a suspect and thus (at least) partygoer, he hadn’t even been in
With the resumption of school in the fall, Ross was in the public eye for the first time: on October 8, in one of the most important articles of the case, Joe Neff revealed both Ross’ alibi and the fact that Mangum had twice, inaccurately, identified him.
His friends already knew he hadn’t been at the party, so Neff’s scoop wasn’t news to them. With the attitude on campus having grown more supportive, Ross could focus again being a student—he majors in Sociology with a minor in Philosophy—and returning to lacrosse. Moving into the starting lineup, his preseason goals were simple: establish himself as a scoring threat, solidify his position as a starter, and provide leadership from a junior class decimated by the absences of Seligmann and Collin Finnerty.
The highlight of his regular season came on April 16, when the ACC named him Men’s Lacrosse Player of the Week. In the first game after AG Cooper publicly declared the three falsely accused players innocent, Ross scored three goals against Virginia—including the game-winner in overtime—in a contest that clinched the ACC regular season title. Then, in Duke’s NCAA quarterfinal game against UNC, he scored the goal that stopped an early six-goal UNC run, setting the stage for the comeback that transformed a 6-1 deficit into a 19-11 victory.
The team’s co-captains took note of Ross’ impressive performance. Matt Danowski described him as “unbelievable” and the team’s “X-factor,” someone whose “dedication to the game and to improving is what kind of sets him apart from everybody else.” Eddie Douglas added, “A lot of our offense is triggered by guys like Brad.”
Before the Final Four, Ross got a call from Seligmann, who told him to ignore the media hype about the team winning a national championship as redemption for the falsely accused players. They should win it, Seligmann said, for themselves. Ross took the advice, he said, while at the same time sad knowing that Seligmann would never again suit up for Duke.
Ross took the same approach in the run-up to the Final Four as he did throughout the regular season. He expected both Cornell and then Johns Hopkins to overplay Danowski and Greer, and knew that he and the team’s other midfielders would have to step up their performance—as they did.
Just as Ross is a highly inconvenient figure to the Baker/Chalmers argument that the investigators eagerly sought exculpatory evidence, so too does he present an obstacle to critics of the NCAA’s decision to grant this year’s sophomores, juniors, and seniors an extra year of eligibility.
UVA coach Dom Starsia fumed, “You feel like they have suffered, but are they being rewarded for what happened? Even without making any judgments about the players, all of us in lacrosse took a little hit here.” (Starsia took less of a “hit” than most: UVA won the Duke-less 2006 national championship, after Duke had crushed Virginia in their previous meeting.) To the N&O, he again used the “rewarded” theme, suggested that it was appropriate to punish the players for holding the party, and criticized the NCAA for “going back and sort of re-examining the level of punishment.”
Of course, some players were punished—the 2006 seniors did not receive another year of eligibility. And if Starsia is claiming that holding a spring-break party is sufficient to justify losing a season of play, how would he rationalize denying the extra year to someone like Ross, who never attended the party?
So now, with two years of eligibility remaining, there’s a real possibility that Ross could face Seligmann on opposing sides of the field. Asked how he would handle the situation, Ross replied, “The same way that Reade would for Brown—do everything I can to win for my team.”
In the last 15 months, first Nifong, then opposing lacrosse teams, and now the defenders of the Baker/Chalmers report have overlooked Brad Ross. Those who have done so have come to regret their error.