STJ REACTS TO DUKE LACROSSE

Many college athletic departments across the country were forced to take a closer look at their student policies following reports that several members of the Duke University lacrosse team were involved in the alleged off-campus rape of a young woman last month.

Reade Seligmann, of Essex Fells, N.J., and Collin Finnerty, of Garden City, N.Y., two of Duke’s lacrosse players, have been indicted on rape charges. Authorities assert the athletes are two of three white men a 27-year-old exotic dancer said raped her in a bathroom of a house on March 13.

The story has been prominent in the news for the past several weeks, as it progressed through the justice system and generated public outrage in the local community. Many media outlets have questioned whether a sports team mentality contributed to the alleged violence and possible coverup if a crime was committed.

Matt Lauer, of NBC’s “Today Show,” asked during the April 21 show, “Is there something about the sport of lacrosse that causes players to act out of bounds?” During the morning news show, reporter Ron Mott detailed past allegations involving lacrosse teams, including St. John’s.

“Several players at St. John’s University in New York were acquitted of gang rape charges in the early ’90s,” Mott said. “Five years ago, a prep school in Baltimore disbanded its team after teammates watched a porn movie starring one of the players. And now, Duke.”

It cannot be concluded, however, that the sport is the cause of such incidents, according to Chris Monasch, athletic director for St. John’s.

“I think people have to be careful to attaching the significance of this happening to a particular sport, because from time to time, and I think it’s the rare exception, there are incidents with student athletes that I think everybody agrees are unacceptable,” Monasch said. “You can’t categorize it. The fact that it happened with lacrosse, you’d really need to do a much broader study of behavior before you reached any conclusions. I think it’s unfair to reach some of the conclusions that I’ve seen in the media.”

Former Red Storm lacrosse player Kevan Pimentel agreed.

“The negative press and fiery, opinion-driven news shows kind of make me sad,” Pimentel said, “because the actions of so few can be projected toward a community of thousands of lacrosse players across the country. I truly hope that nothing like that could ever happen at St. John’s, mostly to maintain the dignity of the sport as a whole, which has been dragged through the mud for the past month.”

St. John’s lacrosse head coach Rick Sowell concurred, stating that it is unfair for the media to make such generalized statements about the sport because of one incident.

“I think it’s really unfair for anyone to paint a broad brush and say this is a lacrosse problem,” Sowell said. “I think it’s a lot broader than that. You have to do a lot more research before you come out and make a statement like apparently Matt Lauer made. It’s unfortunate. I think there is a stereotype of lacrosse players. I’m not going to say that lacrosse players don’t have a chip on their shoulders, but I wouldn’t say it was a paintbrush over the whole sport.”

Citing St. John’s “excellent student development program,” Sowell believes educating student athletes about the potential consequences of their actions is a key factor in keeping them out of trouble.

“There’s always a chance that something can happen, but you educate the kids and make them understand the values of being under the microscope and what comes along with that,” Sowell said.

In an effort to prevent such incidents from occurring at St. John’s, a number of precautions are taken. Both the University and the athletic department have strict codes of conduct. Rules and regulations regarding sexual harassment are especially emphasized, said Monasch.

According to the University’s code of conduct, as well as the student-athlete code of conduct, students thought to be in violation of sexual assault regulations will be reported to the New York Police Department and would be subject to campus disciplinary procedures.

The athletic department emphasizes the recruitment of young men and women who will be successful at the University, academically, athletically and socially, Monasch said. A comprehensive program is then implemented, starting with freshman orientation and lasting until graduation, that helps the student athletes make the right decisions.

“[The code of conduct] is reviewed with them numerous times during their careers here and it’s clear what the expectations are and what the consequences are if they don’t live up to that,” Monasch said.

Meetings and seminars are held for athletes, emphasizing the values of the team and the University. It is also expected that coaches and teammates look out for one another and help guide each other through such situations, said Pimentel, now a student at Colorado State University.

“Our guys have been great at keeping themselves out of trouble,” agreed Sowell. “Those few incidents back in the fall, we were able to nip them in the bud because of the way the system is set up here at St. John’s. If you do get a little out of line, guess what, we’re going to throw you a hammer. It deters it from becoming something that happens on a regular basis.”

All necessary precautions are taken by the University to try to ensure that such incidents do not occur at St. John’s, according to Monasch. However, incidents that occur at other universities serve as reminders, he said.

“I think it serves as a good reminder for all of us that we have to constantly be vigilant in the area of what our expectations are for our student athletes,” Monasch said. “We emphasize that when there are incidents around the country we try to make it a learning process for our coaches and our athletes. Just a reminder that you have to be aware of the pitfalls that are out there.”

Pimentel agrees, but still is uncertain of what the media attention will do to the lacrosse community’s integrity.

“I think this publicity is taking too much attention away from the positive aspects of this season,” Pimentel said. “I think that the people who truly are part of the community, and those who understand it-understand that this situation is an unfortunate hiccup in the society of the game. I don’t think the image will change for the negative.

“Once this goes away,” he continued, “we can all get back to the lifestyle of the sport we love.”