Remember what happened to beloved Penn State football coach Joe Paterno? In 2001 he was fired from his position of 45 years after it was revealed that he hadn’t taken action upon learning that one of his assistant coaches, Jerry Sandusky, was allegedly molesting boys.
Take note, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Last month, Krzyzewski dismissed player Rasheed Sulaimon from the university’s renowned basketball team—the first time Coach K had dismissed an athlete in 35 seasons. No reason was given other than the vague notion that Sulaimon had “been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member” of the Blue Devils.
But now, entrepreneurial reporting from Emma Baccellieri and Nick Martin in the university’s student newspaper, The Chronicle, has shown that Sulaimon was alleged to have sexually assaulted two female students—and that Krzyzewski and other school administrators had known about the allegations a year before the player’s dismissal. The alleged crimes may not be the reason Sulaimon was kicked off the court, but the fact that the school’s leadership didn’t take any action against the athlete until now is all too familiar and disturbing.
In the new documentary film The Hunting Ground, it’s made clear that colleges have often protected their star athletes against accusations of sexual assault. The Jameis Winston case at Florida State University is only the most recent example. And young women reasonably assume that if they report a rape by a campus hero, they are the ones likely to be vilified.
In fact, the students who said Sulaimon assaulted them never filed complaints against him, afraid of just such a backlash. Instead, The Chronicle reported, both students revealed their stories at a campus student-led diversity retreat called Common Ground, one in October 2013 and the other in February 2014. By March 2014, their allegations had come to Krzyzewski’s attention. But nothing happened.
According to The Chronicle, the university is obligated by Title IX to check out indications of sexual assault, even if the students don’t formally complain, and the majority of Duke employees are required to report sexual assaults. These steps don’t seem to have been taken.
As Kavitha A. Davidson points out in Bloomberg View, Duke is not among the nearly 100 schools currently being investigated for Title IX violations because of possible mishandling of sexual assaults on campus. Perhaps they’ll soon make the list? And perhaps Coach K should add to his must-watch list both The Hunting Ground and another documentary, Happy Valley, which recounts the story of Paterno’s downfall in the wake of the Sandusky scandal.
Meanwhile, Penn State’s new president, Eric Barron, announced in January that the school would revamp its policies on sexual harassment and sexual assault to make them more responsive to students’ declared needs.
As for Rasheed Sulaimon, he may no longer be a member of a highly ranked basketball team, but he’s still a student at Duke. And Jameis Winston will probably be one of the top picks in the upcoming NFL draft.
Michele Kort is senior editor of Ms. She is the author of Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro and coeditor (with Audrey Bilger) of Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage