Duke University's men's lacrosse coach resigned yesterday, and the school canceled the rest of the season amid a scandal that escalated with the release of a disturbing e-mail linked to an off-campus party March 13 at which an exotic dancer was allegedly raped.
Coach Mike Pressler resigned after 16 years. His departure followed the release by authorities of a message sent from a player's Duke e-mail account at 1:58 a.m., not long after the party.
The e-mail, contained in a search warrant application for a room in the university's Edens Quadrangle, referenced "tonight's show" and said, "I've decided to have some strippers over" to a dormitory. "I plan on killing the bitches as soon as [they] walk in and proceding to cut their skin off," the author says, adding that he would be wearing spandex and that he would find the act sexually exciting.
The e-mail and the resignation were further blows to an elite program at a top university that has been under the national spotlight since the story broke.
"It's extremely harsh, and very brutal and graphic," Seyward Darby, editor of Duke's student newspaper, The Chronicle, said last night of the e-mail. "I've had people say, 'That's simply disgusting.'"
The campus has been divided at every turn. "It's not even a divide that's 50-50; it's a divide all across the board. It involves race, it involves class, it involves our relations with Durham," Darby said, referring to the North Carolina city where Duke is located.
While many are angry at the lacrosse team, she said, the team "is very well known on campus; they are a very popular team," and some people feel the players "are being unfairly tainted by media organizations that assume they are all guilty."
Saying that he was "deeply troubled" by the allegations, Duke President Richard H. Brodhead announced several new steps to address issues raised by the case. He said in a news release last night that "the episode has brought to glaring visibility underlying issues that have been of concern on this campus and in this town for some time." The steps will include examining the "culture" of the lacrosse team, he said.
The party was held at a wood-frame house rented by lacrosse players. Duke's provost also lives in the pleasant neighborhood just off campus, where residents have complained periodically about noise from student parties.
According to police documents, the alleged victim and another dancer said they tried to leave the party when the men watching became "aggressive." Asked by one of the suspects to return, the dancer was allegedly pulled into a bathroom, overpowered by three males and hit, kicked, raped and robbed of cash.
Police have been looking into reports that racial slurs were shouted at the woman. The alleged victim, a student at nearby North Carolina Central University, is black, and all but one of the lacrosse team members are white.
On March 28, Brodhead halted the team's season but left open the possibility that it could be resumed if legal issues were resolved. But Brodhead, who has met privately with the team captains, issued a statement yesterday, saying: "The court released today a previously sealed warrant, whose contents are sickening and repulsive. I have canceled the men's lacrosse season and all associated activities, effective immediately."
Brodhead said the university typically executes an "interim suspension" in cases in which students are found to have made serious threats. He said one lacrosse team member had been given such a suspension but that privacy regulations prevented the player from being named.
Durham police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said last night that police have been trying to determine whether the e-mail was a joke or whether it posed a legitimate threat. "That will definitely be part of the investigation," she said.
A lawyer for the player accused of writing the e-mail said in a statement to The Sun that the message suggests the "lack of a guilty mind."
"While the language of the e-mail is vile, the e-mail itself is perfectly consistent with the boys' unequivocal assertion that no sexual assault took place that evening," said the statement by attorney Robert Ekstrand.
"As the e-mail relates to the allegations in this matter, the e-mail demonstrates that its writer is completely unaware that any act or event remotely similar to what has been alleged ever occurred," Ekstrand said.
The Associated Press reported last night that another lawyer, Glen Bachman, had taken over representing the player late yesterday and that Duke had suspended his client.
No charges have been filed. Michael said that won't happen, if at all, until next week at the earliest. Team captains said in a statement last month that DNA tests would "demonstrate that these allegations are absolutely false."
The news hit hard in the college lacrosse world.
"It's really tragic," said Harry Alford, the junior goalie at the University of Maryland. "It's bad for college sports in general. It definitely tarnishes lacrosse and the way it's perceived."
Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, whose Blue Jays edged Duke, 9-8, to win the national championship last season, said: "It's been an eye-opening experience for all of us. The repercussions are going to be felt in a lot of different places. It's all of our worst nightmares."
University of Maryland coach Dave Cottle, expressed regret that the allegations of an attack have affected so many people.
"It's a terrible, unfortunate situation for everyone involved, from the victims to the kids who were not a part of it to the coach who was not there," Cottle said. "Mike Pressler is a daggone good man."
Pressler did not return phone calls last night.
Navy coach Richie Meade said it wasn't fair that Pressler lost his job.
"A good man's life just changed, and it just doesn't feel right to me," said Meade, who added that he has known Pressler for more than 25 years.
"I don't know all the circumstances involved, but Mike doesn't deserve this. It's a shame."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.