Sunday was the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Duke lacrosse rape case. On the evening of March 13, 2006, a house where some players on the team lived was the scene of a party involving a female dancer. Shortly after leaving the party, the dancer, Crystal Mangum alleged that three members of the team raped her.
Those three players, their families and Duke’s head lacrosse coach would spend the next year defending themselves in the court of public opinion. There were rallies on campus calling for the team to be disbanded. There were mobs protesting outside the home of the incident. There were even signs calling for the accused to be castrated. Due process did not matter. Innocent until proven guilty did not matter. All that mattered was the narrative. And boy, did this story fit the narrative.
The Duke players were white and came from families that were relatively well off. In the court of public opinion, that’s about the same as showing up in a real courtroom with the murder victim’s blood on your hands. Crystal Mangum was black and lacked the financial resources of the Duke lacrosse players.
Eventually, the truth came out. Crystal Magnum was lying. The prosecutor, Mike Nifong, was disbarred and spent a day in jail for tampering with evidence. The media and the scores of people they had influenced had all been had.
Sunday night’s episode of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series was devoted to the Duke Lacrosse case. As I watched it, two things came to mind. These are two very important things that we either need to learn or be reminded of ten years after the fact.
First, you can’t trust the media. In my part of the world, such a statement will get you a hearty amen. But it’s not just the talking heads at ABC or MSNBC that you can’t trust. You can’t trust Breitbart and Drudge either. Whether right or left of the political spectrum, every form of media in the country has an agenda. Everyone is biased. If you look hard enough, you might find one or two media outlets that are biased toward the truth but for the most part all you’ll find is one news outlet pushing for more government control of something and another one trying to get their candidate, who also happens to be their biggest financial backer, elected as president.
There was a time in this country when news outlets cared about truth. Editors would walk around their bureaus repeating, “Truth! Truth! Truth!” to their reporters. Not anymore. Now I think that they say something like, “Narrative! Narrative! Narrative!” or “Money! Money! Money!”
And you’re the one who pays for it. We have more news outlets today than ever. But now, more than ever, it’s your job to be the reporter. It’s not enough to simply consume the stories that fit your agenda. You have to look for the truth, even if the conclusions are uncomfortable for you or your favorite candidate. Otherwise, you’re worse off than the uninformed. You’re misinformed. Uninformed people are dangerous because they simply do not care. Misinformed people are even more dangerous because they care deeply and act passionately but without all of the facts. Don’t be either one.
The second lesson is more important because it has to do with our sons.
Use your imagination and put your son on the 2006 Duke lacrosse team. Sometime around March 20, you hear a report on the news about a Duke lacrosse party that led to the brutal sexual assault of a woman. The entire team is put on trial in the court of public opinion. This troubles you because the entire team includes your son. He assures you that you have nothing to worry about.
A short time after the incident, police have the alleged victim look at a photo line-up. Rather than showing her several of the usual suspects with Duke players mixed in, every photo they show her is a player on the Duke lacrosse team. No matter who Crystal Mangum chose, she was going to choose a Duke lacrosse player. At random, she chooses three. One of them is your son.
Within what seems like minutes, he and two of his teammates are on the cover of magazines being portrayed as rapists. The three players hold a press conference. You are standing behind them, with the other parents as the boys stand trial in the court of public opinion.
The first boy declares his innocence and talks about the unfairness of these false accusations. He tells the media that the truth will be revealed soon.
The second boy says essentially the same thing and thanks his family and teammates for standing by him.
And now it’s your son’s turn. As he steps to the microphone, your heart races. You wish that you could speak for him but you can’t. He steps to the microphone with more confidence than his teammates and calmly states his name.
“I am innocent of the charges brought against me. While I planned on attending the party that night I decided not to. I went to the movies instead. Here’s my ticket stub and receipt.”
Watching the Duke lacrosse story inspired me as a father. It inspired me to raise sons who decide to go to the movies once they hear about there being a stripper at the party they were going to. You may call that pie in the sky. It’s not. It should be a goal of ever parent.
Our kids will make dumb mistakes. And when they do, they need our discipline, grace, instruction and love. But the problem for many parents is that they wait until the mistake has already been made before they ever think about discipline, grace, instruction and love.
It’s not enough to raise great athletes who get into a good college and perhaps go pro. Rather than trying to build the next James, Curry or Manning, we should be more interested in developing the next Joseph.
Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her. Genesis 39:6-10 (ESV)
Like the Duke lacrosse players, Joseph was falsely accused of sexual assault. However, justice was not served for him. He spent quite a bit of time in jail. But the truth didn’t stop being the truth. And Joseph didn’t stop being devoted to the truth.
Like any other parent, we would all be elated if we found out that our falsely accused sons were finally off the hook. But we should aim much higher than a mere not guilty verdict for our sons. We should aim for holiness.
When we do, like Joseph, things may not always work out the way that we would like in the court of public opinion. But there is a court that is much more important than that one. In the eyes of Jesus Christ, the righteous judge who knows no corruption, all that matters is truth and righteousness. Public opinion does not matter to him and it never will.
So as we go about the business of turning our sons into men, righteousness and truth should be what matters most to us.
There’s nothing you can do about a false accusation directed at your son. But there’s plenty you can do to disarm those false accusations. That work is done at the kitchen table where meals are eaten, at the bedside where prayers are given and on playing fields where instruction is given. Just make sure that how to effectively chase a ball isn’t the only instruction you ever give.
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7 (ESV)