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Two Years Later, Selena Roberts Still Can't Admit She Was Wrong About Duke Lacrosse

Mar 17, 2008 – 1:34 PM
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Michael David Smith

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Sports columnist Selena Roberts is a gifted writer who usually sounds just the right notes in writing about the way sports intersects with issues like race, class, politics and the law. But she was dead wrong about the Duke lacrosse case. Roberts wrote a terrible column on March 31, 2006 that centered around this 20-word paragraph:
But why is it so hard to gather the facts? Why is any whisper of a detail akin to snitching?
Roberts' thesis was that the Duke lacrosse players were banding together to protect the rapists in their midst. Of course, as we now know, it wasn't so hard to gather the facts in the Duke lacrosse case -- the facts were right there, out in the open, but a corrupt prosecutor named Mike Nifong (the only person who went to jail for the Duke lacrosse case) was so eager to twist the facts to his own political advantage that he would have sent three innocent men to prison had the attorney general not taken the case out of his hands.

But while Roberts got the story wrong in March of 2006, that can be understood -- it was a complex story, one that most members of the media got wrong. What is harder to understand is Roberts' continuing refusal to admit she was wrong, nearly two years after the fact.
Roberts has an interview with The Big Lead today that contains this exchange:

Q: Which column - over the span of your career - have you taken the most heat for? Why do you think readers were so upset?

Duke Lacrosse. No question. Basically, I wrote that a crime didn't have to occur for us to inspect the irrefutable evidence of misogyny and race baiting that went on that night. Not a popular stand. I received lots of hate mail, some of it threatening. I think the intense response came from Duke-player supporters who felt threatened when someone, whether it was me or another columnist, started poking at the culture of affluence and entitlement. We're always dissecting the African-American and Hispanic communities – is it gangs? is it the rap lyrics? - when trouble strikes minority athletes. Obviously, some segments of the Duke lacrosse crowd did not enjoy the scrutiny of their world.

For Roberts to suggest that people who objected to her column did so because they don't want her "poking at the culture of affluence and entitlement" is appalling. People who objected to her column did so because they believed, correctly, that the column was contributing to a climate in which the innocent Duke lacrosse players were being portrayed as rapists.

Roberts worked for the New York Times when she wrote that column in 2006, and the Times' sports editor is on the record as saying he very much regrets the paper's coverage of the Duke lacrosse story. Why is it so hard for Roberts, who now works for Sports Illustrated, to express her own regret?

Photo caption: A sign posted in Durham, North Carolina, on April 11, 2006, reads, "Nifong Admit how wrong you were! How stupid -- stop while you can save face and apologize. Lacrosse deserves it!"
Filed under: Sports