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Greater Than Championships: Ending Culture Of Silence In Sexual Assault Cases

This article is more than 7 years old.

On Monday, Rasheed Sulaimon, who was dismissed from the Duke basketball team on January 29, was accused of committing two sexual assaults. The former player has not been charged. Bill Littlefield finds in these circumstances an opportunity for Duke to aspire to a goal greater than a national championship.

According to USA Today, Mike Krzyzewski is paid just short of $10 million annually to coach the men’s basketball team at Duke University.

His team is currently ranked third in the nation, and though the two coaches leading teams ranked ahead of Duke are not paid as well as is Coach K, it’s not likely they’d choose to change places with him this week.

That’s not because Coach K recently dismissed a player from his team, though it’s the first time he’s done that in 35 seasons as the Duke coach. It’s because the player he dismissed was accused of sexual assault 16 months before he was dismissed. He was accused of a second sexual assault 11 months before he was dismissed. According to the Chronicle, the student newspaper at Duke, Coach Krzyzewski and half a dozen other officials in the Athletic Department at Duke were made aware of the charges in March of 2014.

Bob Ekstrand, whom the Chronicle identifies as “an attorney claiming to represent the player,” has said he believes the allegations are false.

The Chronicle reports that the accusations were made at “retreats” during which Duke students were encouraged to “discuss … issues involving race, gender, and sexuality.” According to the paper, the two women who discussed the alleged assaults chose not to press charges either through campus authorities or the local police department: “The fear of backlash from the Duke fan base was a factor in the female students’ decision not to pursue the allegations.”

Each woman was willing to tell her story at a retreat designed to encourage frank discussion of personal issues. It’s encouraging that they felt safe enough to do so in that context. But it’s shameful and sad that they don’t feel the same safety within the larger campus community. It’s also impossible to believe that Duke University is unique in this regard.

Of the suspended player, Coach Krzyzewski has said only that he “has been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program.” When he was asked on Monday whether he was aware of the report in the Chronicle that said he’d known for nearly a year of the allegations against the player, Krzyzwski said, “I don’t have any comment on that.”

Perhaps this story will be buried under the rumble of the prelude to the NCAA Tournament and then the trumpets and drums and profit of the tournament itself. Maybe Coach K will lead his team to Duke’s fifth national championship. This week’s news from Durham indicates that a greater and more lasting triumph there would the establishment of a culture in which the victims of assaults weren’t afraid to identify a basketball player as the assailant.


Bill Littlefield Twitter Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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