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February 16, 2024

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Lacrosse season done at Duke, so is coach


DURHAM, N.C. – Duke University’s lacrosse coach resigned yesterday and the school canceled the rest of the season amid a burgeoning scandal involving allegations that three players on the highly ranked team raped a stripper at an off-campus party.

Mike Pressler spent 16 seasons at Duke and won three Atlantic Coast Conference championships. Last year, his team appeared in the national championship game.

“Coach Pressler offered me his resignation earlier this afternoon, and I accepted it,” said Duke athletic director Joe Alleva. “I believe this is in the best interests of the program, the department of athletics and the university.”

The rape allegations have roiled the campus and the city, raised racial tensions, and heightened the long-standing antagonism between the privileged students at the elite university and the poorer people of Durham.

The stripper is black and said her attackers were white. Investigators and witnesses have said the lacrosse players taunted her with racial slurs and insults.

Students and townspeople have marched on campus and off in recent days, angry over the school’s handling of the allegations and the team members’ refusal to cooperate with police. Investigators have said the athletes are sticking together and keeping silent. No one has been charged.

The lacrosse team’s co-captains have denied that anyone was sexually assaulted at the party, as have attorneys for the players.

Earlier yesterday, authorities unsealed documents stating that hours after the alleged rape, a player apparently sent an e-mail saying he wanted to invite more strippers to his dorm room, kill them and skin them. It was not clear whether the message was serious or a joke.

“The court released today a previously sealed warrant, whose contents are sickening and repulsive,” said Duke President Richard Brodhead said in announcing the cancellation of the rest of the season. Last week, Brodhead suspended the team from play.

The stripper, a student at a nearby university, has told police that she was hired to perform at a party at a house just off campus last month and was raped and choked three men in a bathroom. Investigators are awaiting the results of DNA tests on 46 of the 47 team members. The team’s lone black member did not have to provide a sample.

District Attorney Mike Nifong has said that he is “pretty confident that a rape occurred,” but that he does not expect to file charges until next week.

Duke, considered a national title contender before the lacrosse season began, had a 6-2 record with seven regular-season games remaining before the scandal broke.

The e-mail, according to an application for a search warrant of the player’s dorm room, was sent from the player’s Duke e-mail account just before 2 a.m. on March 14. Police said investigators received a copy from a confidential source, though they later won a court order seeking access to the account.

In the e-mail, addressed “To whom it may concern,” the player says he has “decided to have some strippers over” to his dorm room, “however there will be no nudity.”

“I plan on killing the bitches as soon as they walk in and proceeding to cut their skin off,” the author of the e-mail says, adding in vulgar terms that he would find the act sexually satisfying. The e-mail was signed with what police said is the player’s jersey number.

Investigators did not immediately return calls or e-mails seeking comment on whether the e-mail was serious. But a lawyer for the player who purportedly wrote it said the content suggests his client is innocent.

“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 attorney Robert Ekstrand. The e-mail “demonstrates that its writer is completely unaware that any act or event remotely similar to what has been alleged ever occurred.”

The warrant for the player’s room was made public on yesterday. In it, police provide a detailed timeline of the alleged attack and some additional details of their investigation. The warrant also adds conspiracy to commit murder as one of the crimes police are investigating.

According to the warrant, the alleged victim told police she believes the players used false names and falsely claimed to be members of Duke’s baseball and track teams.

A team captain and resident of the house where the party took place told police he used an alias when hiring the dancers at the party, the warrant said.

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