Kim Cates took a stance in the Duke lacrosse case—what does that mean for students today?

Kim Cates took a stance in the Duke lacrosse case—what does that mean for students today?

The clock strikes midnight. It’s Wednesday—or it was—but students continue to pulse to “Mr. Brightside,” unaware of the coming morning. Kim Cates glides from a corner of the bar, which she affectionately named “Lacrosse Alley,” toward the mass of tangled bodies that now spills across the dancefloor. 

Her eyes scan the crowd. She’s on the lookout. But for what? 

Cates is the owner and manager of Shooters II Saloon, a staple for Duke student nightlife. Her bar’s success has made her a household name in the surrounding community. She’s frequently listed in The Chronicle’s “Who’s Who at Duke” alongside administrators like President Vincent Price and Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs.

At a petite five feet tall, Cates quietly patrols her territory watching for disorderly conduct. She’s wearing chains of bullets, which have been refashioned into jewelry, on her neck and wrists to be in theme with the honky-tonk saloon. She’s 50 years old. This year, her bar turns 20. 

Cates is a Durham native, known for her southern charm and her no-nonsense attitude. The combination of these qualities have made her a savvy business-owner, drawing students to the local bar every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

But what is her relationship to the Duke community beyond a shared zip code? For Cates, the connection is obvious—she developed an unbreakable bond with the Duke men’s lacrosse team. The rest is history. 

“It’s a bond I don’t think could ever be broken,” Cates said. 

Many students are aware of Cates’ devotion to the men’s lacrosse team. It’s hard not to see. Above the entrance to Shooters hangs a life-size poster of the 2009 roster. Beside it is a hand-painted banner of Cates herself, riding a mechanical bull and holding a lacrosse stick. “Score one for Shooters” is written to the side. The banner was made for her by the mother of a former player. 

Cates attends most of the men’s lacrosse home games and has traveled to a few road tournaments. She’s been a guest at family banquets and personally knows some of the coaches. 

Walking behind the main bar, Cates points to a different poster. This one, she says, was the most meaningful: “INNOCENT FROM THE BEGINNING! INNOCENT NOW!! INNOCENT FOREVER!!!” 

The poster was signed by the 2006 men’s lacrosse team, which was drawn into the national spotlight after three of the four co-captains were falsely accused of rape. 

Cates attributed the success of her bar to the tenuous year following the accusations. She said that while Duke administrators and surrounding Durham community members assumed the players’ guilt, she voiced their innocence to all who would listen. Her activism had an effect on her business, she said. 

“When Duke students caught wind that I was supporting the lacrosse boys, my clientele started changing. My crowds started booming. I had to hire people like that,” Cates said, snapping her fingers. 

During a moment of turmoil and tension between Duke and Durham, Cates forged an irreplaceable relationship with the men's lacrosse team. The allegations of sexual assault were ultimately unfounded, but Cates' early and highly public support for the accused players and their teammates raised Shooters’ profile on Duke’s campus. And her business has “boomed” in years since.

In 2006, Cates’ relationship to the team complicated the existing campus discourse on privilege and power, race and class, gender and misconduct. 

Twelve years later, it still might. 

The prevalence of sexual assault on and around Duke’s campus today has administrators and students once again wondering who’s side she’s on.

A honky-tonk saloon

Well before the infamous lacrosse case began, Shooters was known as a local country bar. The saloon hosted live music, line-dancing lessons, wet T-shirt contests and “biker days.” 

Shooters existed at two other venues before moving to its current facility on West Morgan Street. The first bar in Hillsborough burned down within a month of its opening (Cates alleged it was torched by a former friend). The second bar was purchased for a price the owners couldn’t turn down. 

Back then, Cates said Shooters drew 300 locals a week. Now, the saloon packs up to 1,800 students a night—more than one-fourth of the undergraduate student body. 

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Cates said the lacrosse players were the first customers she ever had from Duke.

“This was their hideaway. We weren’t busy so I always bartended for them over there,” Cates said, gesturing to the side of the bar that’s now called Lacrosse Alley. “I got real close to them.”

Ryan McFadyen, a defenseman on the men’s lacrosse team from 2004 to 2009, said that his upperclassmen teammates frequented the bar every other week, sometimes with students on the baseball team and women’s lacrosse team. When McFadyen later began attending Shooters as an undergraduate in 2004, the Duke showing was still sparse.

“The lacrosse guys latched onto her,” McFadyen said. 

‘I stood by them’: The ‘06 lacrosse case 

Cates’ relationship to the Duke men’s lacrosse team forever changed in 2006, when three of the co-captains faced criminal charges for allegedly raping Crystal Gail Mangum, an exotic dancer and a student at North Carolina Central University. 

Ultimately, the charges were dropped a year later after North Carolina's attorney general took over the case from Durham's chief prosecutor, who was accused of legal misconduct. The three players in question were declared innocent on March 23, 2007.

Shortly after rape allegations were first presented to police, the rumor mill began to churn in Durham. 

“I was hearing things, and I got a call from one of the boys and he asked, ‘Do you mind if I come by and talk to you?’” Cates said. “He came in during off-hours, sat down and walked me through the night [of the alleged rape] from beginning to end. He just wanted someone to listen.” 

Cates said she would not name the student who confided in her in order to respect his privacy. 

“I had no reason not to believe him,” Cates said, “He seemed honest and I trusted him. From that point moving forward, I stood by them when this whole town—all Duke—didn’t stand by them.” 

McFadyen, who had been present at the off-campus party involving Mangum and another dancer but was not one of the students accused of rape, also came under scrutiny. An email he’d written about the dancers, paraphrasing a line from “American Psycho,” became part of the ongoing investigation.

“I personally had a tough time,” McFadyen said. “I had to tell my parents the police had executed a warrant on my room. Try calling your parents and saying that. Have you ever told a dark joke? Imagine that being put in The Wall Street Journal.”

“I had no idea what [the impact] would be,” McFadyen said. “But Kim understood.”

As the case drew public attention, polarizing Duke’s campus and the surrounding Durham community, McFadyen said the team sought out a safe haven where they didn’t feel “under a microscope.” 

“She looked out for us,” McFadyen said. “There was an overarching halo of safety at Shooters where we could be ourselves, we could relax with each other and we could hang out with people who supported us. That didn’t exist anywhere else, especially on campus.”

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Cates’ support for the lacrosse players went well beyond the bar. She advocated on campus for then-North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper to take over the investigation. She encouraged first-years to register to vote. She posted signs across Durham, stating, “Innocent Until Proven Guilty,” and made anonymous calls to local TV networks advocating for the players. 

This form of support was unusual for a Durham local who was unaffiliated to the University, said David Graham, Trinity ‘09 and editor at The Chronicle during the lacrosse case. Graham is now a staff writer at The Atlantic and teaches in the Sanford School of Public Policy.

The lacrosse case was “such a dominant story,” Graham said, reflecting on the media frenzy and campus discourse. “Everyone had an opinion. Having a strong feeling about it was not unusual, but I think being an outspoken defender of the lacrosse team was somewhat unusual.” 

John Burness, Duke’s former vice president for public affairs and government relations, said the alleged rape angered Durham locals who had long felt exploited by the University and its students. 

“The behavior of Duke kids in neighborhoods near campus goes a long way toward explaining why, when the lacrosse incident first became public, you saw such a visceral reaction,” Burness said. “[Locals] were tired of students behaving badly over a long period of time.” 

This was a point made by the Group of 88—a coalition of Duke faculty members who were signatories of a controversial advertisement placed in The Chronicle that addressed systemic issues surrounding racism and sexism. The lacrosse case, they wrote, was a symptom of a historically inequitable relationship between Duke and Durham. The ad caused friction among faculty members who believed the it was inflammatory or, in the words of English professor Victor Strandberg, “poured gasoline on flames.”

McFadyen said it was critical that they had vocal support from a Durham local at a time when community supporters seemed few and far between. 

But Cates believes her support for the lacrosse players may have strained her relationship with the Durham community, which became increasingly tense in subsequent years as more Duke students visited Shooters.

“People in Durham, they’re not loyal,” Cates said. “Locals didn’t like me catering to Duke students. But I support people who support me.”

Despite the risk to the business, her employees said they encouraged Cates’ spirit of advocacy. 

“Kim supported and believed in those boys,” said Jason Ellis, a longtime bartender and DJ at Shooters. “She stood behind them and they stood behind her.”

‘Guilty until proven innocent’

From March 2006 through April 2007, the lacrosse case tediously unfolded. Although no verdict had yet been made, the allegations had profound effects on the players’ day-to-day lives—from the classroom to the locker room.

“It wasn’t ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ it felt like ‘guilty until proven innocent,’” McFadyen said. 

Within a month of the party, Duke’s then-President Richard Brodhead and his administration canceled the rest of the 2006 lacrosse season, and coach Mike Pressler resigned.

McFadyen said the administration remained silent, “which was basically a rush to judgement.” 

Burness challenged that opinion. Brodhead and the administration, he said, consistently maintained that the three lacrosse players in question were treated as though innocent until proven guilty. 

“It’s easy for them to say that in a vacuum with no real repercussion,” McFadyen said. “What about the 35 guys who were back on campus next Fall? What was the support there? It sounds to me like if John Burness would go back, he wouldn’t change a thing. But that’s hard to believe. The captains went to speak to the University the day the accusation came out. They told them the same thing they told Kim.”

He noted that Cates had access to the same information the University did, but still believed they were innocent. 

“Kim took a stance in the face of the University and in the face of the greater Durham community,” he said. “The University did not.”

McFadyen said that the lack of support from the administration made him further value Cates’ unwavering loyalty to the men’s lacrosse team. 

“Her effort in caring for us, it was more than we got from anyone, outside our parents,” he said. 

A new identity for Shooters

According to Cates, the lacrosse case marked a pivotal moment in her professional life. She believes it transformed Shooters from a honky-tonk bar into the bustling Duke nightclub that exists today. 

Ellis, who’s worked at Shooters for 18 years, agreed with Cates. He said the lacrosse case changed everything about the bar. 

A number of students had, in fact, frequented Shooters prior to the lacrosse case, said Graham and his Chronicle colleague Seyward Darby, editor of the 2005-06 edition.

Still, the Duke crowd grew substantially in the following years. Whether Cates’ support for the lacrosse team consciously or unconsciously drew a larger crowd to Shooters, one thing is clear—change, it did. 

“When I supported Duke lacrosse, I wasn't hoping to gain anything,” Cates said. “I just believed in my customers."

Today, Cates remains close to the lacrosse team. 

A few years after graduating from Duke with a master's degree, McFadyen said he reached out to senior lacrosse players and encouraged them to inform underclassmen about Cates’ role in their lives during the case. 

McFadyen said he told the players, “You have to understand what this place meant to us.”  


Shooters II Saloon now represents the “cornerstone” of Duke’s off-campus nightlife. But in this capacity, the saloon has elicited scrutiny from undergraduates, administrators and the media for perpetuating a culture of sexual misconduct. 

And yet, many students don’t know about Cates' role in supporting ‘06 men’s lacrosse—or how it may have impacted the way she views particular incidents of sexual misconduct. 

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Junior Inés Jordan-Zoob—co-chair of Duke Students Against Gender Violence and a member of the University’s Sexual Misconduct Task Force—said that Cates’ relationship to the ‘06 lacrosse team and the three students who were falsely accused of rape complicates current discussions surrounding sexual misconduct in Shooters.  

“I think the lacrosse case captures the taboo of discussing sexual misconduct at Duke,” Jordan-Zoob said. “We’re talking about power, privilege, race and toxic masculinity and femininity both on and off-campus, at Duke and in Durham.”

For the lacrosse team, Cates’ bar provided a “halo of safety,” as one player put it. Now, years later as sexual assault has been brought to the forefront of college campuses around the country, students are asking how far that halo of safety extends to others. 

Junior Julia Donheiser recently published an article in the Raleigh News and Observer’s College Town about reports of sexual assault at off-campus bars in Durham. Donheiser drew attention to a campus climate survey that was commissioned by Duke, which highlighted how a culture of sexual assault takes place in spaces the University cannot regulate.

The survey, conducted by research firm RTI International, showed that the greatest number of sexual assaults reported by Duke students during the 2015-16 academic year took place at bars, pubs and restaurants. 

According to the survey, which covered a single academic year, a third of the women who experienced any “unwanted sexual contact” said those incidents included events that took place in an off-campus bar, pub or restaurant.

Donheiser said she believes Cates’ approach to sexual assault prevention has not proved effective. 

“[Cates] cares about students. But she doesn’t have a very good idea of the way that people are talking about consent in 2018,” Donheiser said.

Moneta, who has worked at the University since 2001 and is the administrative sponsor for Duke’s sexual misconduct task force, noted that he’s aware of students’ safety concerns regarding Shooters.

“I certainly have heard from many students who describe less than comfortable conditions there under very crowded circumstances, but my interest is in working with our students to do whatever we can to address sexual misconduct,” Moneta wrote in an email.  

Cates responded that she wants to make Shooters a safe environment for all students and be a resource to those who may have faced some form of misconduct or assault. 

“I just want [Shooters] to get better,” Cates said. “I want Duke students to know that we try to keep them safe…We're only looking out for them. My door's always open for them to come talk to me if they've had a bad day or a bad night. I'll be willing to listen to them—and that's confidential.” 

She noted that if something bad has happened to these students, she will try to direct them to the right resources and has done this in the past. 

Cates said she has taken it upon herself to establish different security measures to prevent sexual misconduct and keep students safe. She has 38 cameras placed around the bar and frequently monitors them in person and by phone app for problematic activity. 

She also claims that she’s offered Moneta the opportunity to view footage if allegations of misconduct arise. She said he never has. 

Moneta did not comment on the administration’s knowledge of the camera footage. 

“I guess it's better for [Duke administrators] to think that we do wrong," Cates said. 

Beyond placing cameras, she has hired local police officers to patrol the outdoor area. “It’s not cheap, either. But the safety of students is the foremost important thing.”

Moneta responded, “I have nothing to say about Shooters or its owner. How they’ve established their security presence is their concern.” 

Cates said she tries to keep students safe by intervening in moments of possible misconduct, but also by defending them when she believes they have been falsely accused. 

“There have been things in the past where athletes have been accused of things here, and I’ve had to stand up for them—especially what happened after Duke lacrosse,” Cates said. “That was the craziest damn thing. It’s like the case with Rasheed Sulaimon.”

Cates adamantly defended former Duke basketball guard Rasheed Sulaimon when he faced two allegations of sexual assault in 2015, which were never filed with Duke’s Office of Student Conduct or the Durham Police Department. In an interview with The Charlotte Observer, Cates said Sulaimon was always well behaved in her bar. Later that year, Sulaimon transferred to the University of Maryland at College Park for reasons said to be unrelated to the allegations.

“I know things, I feel things. I've seen several students mistreated when I know they shouldn't have been treated this way,” said Cates, referring to students accused of misconduct. “I feel that sometimes, people need to stand up for them.” 

But Cates’ support of athletes has “some problematic tones,” Jordan-Zoob said. 

Donheiser suggested that Cates’ support is limited to a particular sect of privileged students. 

Cates has built intimate relationships with athletic teams, Greek organizations and selective-living groups. She has attended students’ weddings, accompanied them to workout classes and gotten brunch with them on weekends.

“Of course, Kim Cates is going to be on the defensive for these students if anything happens to them because she knows them,” Donheiser said. “I think a lot of the students that Cates has a good relationship with are not the students who don't feel safe in that space.”

Cates, however, challenged the idea that she only protects students with whom she has close relationships.

“I don’t care who you are, I don’t want nobody mistreating nobody,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, race, creed or whatever. That’s something a lot of people don’t realize about me.” 

Where does responsibility lie?

Administrators said the campus conversation about sexual misconduct must be coupled with a conversation about the undergraduate drinking culture. 

“If you could change the drinking culture, I think you could change aspects of the sexual assault culture,” Burness said, reflecting on a problem that has remained constant throughout his 21-year career at Duke. 

Burness said the drinking culture is difficult to address, given that the majority of it now takes place off-campus as a result of changes to alcohol policies and residential life that were enacted by the University in 1995. 

Those who drink on-campus could face penalty if caught. In this manner, the University effectively pushed the student drinking culture off campus to local houses and bars like Shooters. 

Moneta noted that the off-campus drinking situation is a long standing issue, “which has vexing challenges due to the legal age of consumption and conflicts between our legal obligations and traditional social culture associated with the undergrad college age group.” 

On the other hand, Cates argued that students still begin their night drinking on-campus. 

“These pre-games are in the dorms. They're on West Campus,” she said. “They don't need to blame my business for this stuff. It's a cop out."

Some undergraduates said they wished the University would take more of an active role in responding to the drinking culture, rather than turning a blind eye to the issue.  

Jordan-Zoob said that gender violence does not start or stop when students step off campus, regardless of where students are drinking. 

“As we seek to tackle the pervasive issue of gender violence on our campus, we ought to look at the spaces beyond our campus—not in the lens of how they can help us fight our ‘problem,’ but how we can work together to create a safer and healthier community as a whole,” Jordan-Zoob said. “Simply put, this means working directly with the owners of prominent off-campus venues for drinking and parties, like Shooters, Devines, The Tavern, Metro 8 and so on.”

Jordan-Zoob proposed one particular solution—the University should connect local bars with the Women’s Center, which has recently created a sexual assault education program known as the Five Key Norms. The program addresses subjects like silence, power, violence, toxic masculinity and toxic femininity. 

“It is not hard to draw parallels between these terms, what they speak to, and the culture of certain athletic and social groups at Duke,” Jordan-Zoob said. “If we have so many qualified professionals tackling major issues that affect our society on campus, why can’t we seek to bring these initiatives to the greater Durham community?”

Donheiser also said the administration should work with Cates to formally train her staff in sexual assault intervention and prevention. 

Women’s Center Director Stephanie Helms Pickett said the center has “a desire to train local bar staff” through a sexual assault prevention program called Raise the Bar. 

“I would be glad to do that,” Cates responded. “They should talk to me if they are saying my business is the cause of sexual assault. They need to let me be a part of the solution.” 

But Cates believes that her ability to prevent sexual misconduct is limited to the confines of Shooters.

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"It bothers me when people say I don’t do anything. What goes on after they leave Shooters, I cannot control that,” she said. “People just want to blame it on something.”

McFadyen said that blaming Cates for a campus culture of sexual misconduct is problematic. 

“Kim Cates doesn’t create [an unsafe] environment, people in the space create that environment,” he said. “To put that on one person, means that students are not taking responsibility for it. If Kim Cates could know and care about every single person, she would.” 

Jordan-Zoob said the responsibility to address sexual misconduct and gender violence off-campus doesn’t merely fall to one party or another. 

“There’s a fundamental chasm between all the efforts we’re making on campus and the community around us, which we interact with so regularly,” she said. “There needs to be a mutual effort. It falls on all of us. That’s radical, and that’s bold. But it needs to happen if we’re serious about change.”

Although Moneta suggested that Cates should be responsible for security measures in her bar, he also noted that “there has been no reluctance on our part to work with anyone who genuinely wants to make a difference, and I (and others) remain available always to engage in thoughtful discussion and planning.”

Cates said she, too, would be like to work with the University. 

“I would like to have a better relationship with the Duke administration,” she said. 

But ultimately, Cates is skeptical. She claims the University has been unresponsive and, at times, hostile to her efforts to reach out to them. And she will always remember how they treated the ‘06 men’s lacrosse players who were falsely accused of sexual assault. 

“Duke still won’t admit they’re wrong,” she said.