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Athletes must be on best behavior

Three: the number of Duke graduates named as Rhodes Scholars from the Class of 2006. Four: the number worn by J.J. Redick--the face of Duke University last year.

While Redick's '4' will be raised into the coveted Cameron rafters, where it will live forever, the number three will be soon forgotten (unless Greg Paulus brings a national championship to Durham).

Whether fair or not, brilliant jump shots get immortalized on ESPN Classic. There is no ESPN for brilliant strides in the classroom. Despite what they may say, athletes aren't just regular students here at Duke-some are campus celebrities, a select few are national ones.

"Fundamentally, student athletes are one of, if not the most, visible faces of the University," Senior Associate Athletic Director Chris Kennedy said. "A lot of people derive their impressions of Duke or their views about Duke from what they see internationally on the basketball court and locally in all of our other sports."

Underneath the tidal wave of media coverage that swept across Duke Athletics this summer-from the lacrosse scandal to Redick's DUI arrest to the suspension of sophomore quarterback Zack Asack-is an undertow of serious questions facing the Duke community, particularly its athletic community.

The pressure of being the best, of embodying the excellence with which the Duke name has grown to be synonymous, has always weighed heavily on its student body. Yet, the pressure on athletes on this campus has never been more intense than it is right now.

A certain sense of pride is stitched into the D-U-K-E of every jersey. Tacked along with that pride is the responsibility of maintaining it.

Kennedy said athletes are certainly held to higher standards in public--when they're on the field and in the spotlight-but that those same high standards extend to what they do in their private lives as well.

"When J.J. has a DUI, it's front-page stuff across the country. When Joe Student does, it's not back-page news anywhere," Kennedy said. "So both in the public arena and in their private lives, [athletes] are subject to greater scrutiny and have to be more mindful of how they behave."

Starting this semester, student athletes will have to be even more mindful of their actions than ever before.

The previous policy of the University was that Student Affairs would only send a report to the Athletic Department if an athlete was cited for a suspendible offense. Now, if an athlete is written up by an R.A. or cited for anything on campus, the Athletic Department will be informed.

"We've been pretty good at cracking down on behaviors that we thought were inappropriate," Kennedy said. "The difference is going to be that we're going to know a lot more of them than we did in the past. We're already discovering that just two days into the school year."

Upon hearing this, some may find this new protocol harsh. But here's the reality: when an athlete signs his (or her) letter of intent, when he steps into Cameron or Wallace Wade or Koskinen, when he puts on his Duke jersey, he is committed to Duke. He chooses to become a representative of this university.

In deciding to come to Duke to play sports, an athlete has selected a certain path for himself. Just as some might choose to spend their four years here in the library or doing research or partying, his choice of paths has its consequences, its sacrifices.

Maybe it's not fair that an athlete's extraordinary talents also carry the burden of extraordinary responsibility. There are a lot of talented kids around here who do not face the intense scrutiny an athlete does. But you can't change the fact that people care about sports. You can't just lift away the attention athletes receive.

This is especially true for the lacrosse team.

So far, it seems as if everyone on campus has been pushed to one side or the other: either they unequivocally support its players and swear their innocence or they vehemently attack them as elitist bigots and womanizers.

There is a middle ground.

Legally, the lacrosse team may be innocent of wrongdoing. But regardless of whether a rape occurred in that house at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., as prominent representatives of this university, the team let the Duke community down by not living up to its commitment--not living up to the standards its players chose for themselves when they chose to put on Duke Blue.

The players of the lacrosse team reminded the world (not-so-subtly) that student athletes are human--actually, even more, they reminded us that student athletes are still 20 years old. But the consequences of their actions, of their mistakes, have affected an entire university profoundly.

"The events of March 13th and 14th created this great big spotlight and shown it on our 650 some-odd kids, so that every time one of them pops up, it's cast a very long shadow," Kennedy said.

Now, more than ever, student athletes must be mindful of their shadows.


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