A party-hard mentality and the heavy alcohol consumption that comes with it are the norm for many men's lacrosse players, numerous students and administrators said.
The lacrosse team was as visible as any social group on campus even before the national media swarmed Duke after rape allegations last month.
Players frequently walk around with girls-sometimes called 'lacrosstitutes' by their peers-in tow and proudly display the Duke Lacrosse name on their chests. Most players come from wealthy Northeast and Mid-Atlantic suburbs where the bond fostered by the sport begins early.
Still, the behavior of members of the team is not a sharp departure from a similar conduct exhibited by some other undergraduates, including members of some fraternities, both students and administrators said. The athletic department reports a 100-percent graduation rate for the team, and players frequently go on to highly coveted jobs on Wall Street.
Duke's administration has been concerned about the lacrosse team's culture of beer guzzling and out-of-control partying from tailgates to dorm rooms to the streets off East Campus for some time. Fifteen of the 47 members of the team have been charged with misdemeanors, mostly for alcohol violations, noise violations and public urination.
"I can't think of an absolutely despicable, egregious offense, but the cumulative nature and the fact that the sanctions that were imposed by the coach and by the disciplinary process did not seem to have long-term effects," said Sue Wasiolek, dean of students and assistant vice president for student affairs.
The behavior is well-known by undergraduates, in part because of the players' visibility at football tailgates. Exemplary of the team's social presence on campus, players are credited with helping to transform tailgate from a small pre-game gathering to a campus-wide drinking event in the last several years.
"Laxers," as they are frequently called by students, dress in costumes and are not afraid to show their level of intoxication at the Saturday morning parties. At the final 2005 tailgate, players set up a foam pit where they further became the center of attention.
"I think they are associated with an extreme amount of arrogance," said junior Carly Knight, who lived below several lacrosse players in Southgate Dormitory two years ago. "The particular individuals tend to be very much thinking they are above normal dormitory rules just in the way they interact with people."
Knight said players urinated out their windows, kicked in one of her friend's door several times and were generally disruptive during frequent parties in their room. Other students have cited numerous examples of raucous and inappropriate behavior by members of the team.
Executive Vice President Tallman Trask, who oversees the athletic department, is aware of similar incidents in recent years, mostly related to alcohol consumption. Trask also said team members have been caught hitting golf balls onto East Campus near the location of 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., the site of the notorious March 13 party and alleged rape.
For years lacrosse team members have been among the students who lived in the houses bordering East Campus, where the team hosts "lacrosse parties." Trinity Park residents have complained about the behavior, in part prompting the University to purchase 15 properties, including 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., in February.
Sophomore Heath Gray, a former Duke football player who is friends with several members of the lacrosse team, said people should look beyond the partying stereotype.
"If students were to actually look at the people who they were summarizing, they would see that they are some of the most outstanding members of this University-both academically and with their social and community lives," Gray said.
Gray-a member of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity, one of the high profile frats that attracts varsity athletes-drew parallels between the lacrosse team and greek organizations. Members on the team go through the same experiences together, both on and off the field, and even hold a semi-formal during the school year, he said.
"It's a lot tighter than most fraternities, just because of every day spending all day long together," Gray said. "Pledging for them is just their preseason practices and all the hell they go through, and they still do community service like all the fraternities do.
"I would say they are exactly like a fraternity."
The team hierarchy from captains all the way down to freshman walk-ons is exemplary of the fraternal atmosphere, said Peter Wood, a history professor who frequently teaches members of the team and played lacrosse at Harvard University. Wood said he worries that the players may be too willing to follow each other, rather than make decisions for themselves.
"Obviously this is a group that is extremely tight-knit in ways that may be good on the field but may lead to some pretty difficult situations off the field," Wood said. "I mean, at what point does team loyalty become blind obedience?
"That's a question we all have to answer, whether we're on a lacrosse team or in the Army or anywhere else, and that's one of the things you learn at college-when do I go along with the group and when do I stand up for myself and say what I think?"
Wearing Duke on their chests
Trask and Wasiolek both said the team is similar to a fraternity, but they noted that the program's national visibility requires players to act with greater responsibility.
"They are athletes, they walk around with Duke's name," Trask said. "Everyone agrees that athletes need to be held to a higher standard. So even if they were just the same as some other group, that's problematic.
"It's all a matter of degree and so forth. I happen to believe that representing Duke University as an intercollegiate athlete is a privilege, and it carries with it some additional responsibilities that don't flow to all students."
Wasiolek said she and other administrators appealed to former head coach Mike Pressler at the beginning of the year to get him to curb his team's behavior, especially at tailgates. Beginning this year, Pressler agreed to have his players meet him at the flagpole in front of Wallace Wade Stadium at kickoff. Wasiolek added that the team was generally out of the parking lot by game time but does not know how well the team listened to Pressler.
Last year Trask took an in-depth look at the team's recent disciplinary history, examining all legal and other incidents. Trask found a culture of "boorish behavior" but did not believe the problems warranted major changes in the program.
Much like fellow students and administrators, other faculty members have reported having mixed experiences with the players. Paul Haagen, Duke Law professor and chair of both the Student-Athlete Counseling Committee and the Academic Council Executive Committee, has heard varying reports from professors concerning members of the lacrosse team.
"Some people have said, 'I know these kids, and they are really great kids,' and some people have said, 'Yeah, they're really rowdy,'" Haagen said. "I certainly have heard a great deal that the team has a bad reputation-that, I have heard. Now I don't know if people are speaking from actual experience with them or whether they are repeating what other people have said, but there's no question they have said they have a bad reputation."
The cultural roots
The "tough-guy" attitude exhibited by members of the team is not isolated to Duke and may be indicative of contact sports in general.
At elite prep schools throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states-the region where lacrosse predominantly is played-it has become the alpha-male sport. Like football stars in the South, lacrosse players tend to be the social center of their high schools.
"There is that whole [partying] stereotype associated with them, and that girls go for lacrosse players, that's really similar to here," said junior Chris Bierbower, who attended The Landon School, a Maryland prep school where five members of the current team went to high school.
"They keep to themselves a little bit. It's a bit of elitism-you have to be a jock to hang out with them."
Jack Watson, assistant professor of sports psychology at West Virginia University, said some research suggests that athletes, especially those in contact sports such as lacrosse, are more likely to have higher levels of off-the-field aggression in their personal lives than non-athletes. Such athletes are also more likely to commit aggressive crimes.
"I think that collision sports are probably-I'm not going to say recruiting-but more likely to attract people that are aggressive," Watson said. "I think that once you are in there and you are taught aggression, that you are more likely to use it in different situations."
Lacrosse differs from other collision sports, like football and ice hockey, in that it does not garner immense popularity and recognition after high school and college.
"It's not football-highly organized and if you're good at it you make a whole lot of money," Haagen said. "It's something that you do basically as some sort of expression of identity."
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