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Duke Lacrosse Players Smeared Again in Media Coverage of UVA Murder Case

1:07 PM, May 7, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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I could have told you this was coming as soon as the terrible news about the death of UVA student Yeardley Love broke.

The 22-year-old women's lacrosse player, just weeks from graduating, was found dead in her apartment early Sunday morning, in a pool of her own blood. Her ex-boyfriend, lacrosse player George Huguely has been charged with first-degree murder. He waived his right to an attorney and admitted to kicking in the door to her room and shaking her so that her head hit the wall many times. Love probably died of blunt force trauma. Huguely's lawyer concedes his client attacked Love, but says he didn't mean to kill her.

As K.C. Johnson, expert on the Duke lacrosse case, points out there is a fairly recent crime analagous to this one, but it's not the one the media are using:

A Division I athlete accused of killing another Division I athlete is extremely rare. The last such instance appears to have occurred in 2003, when former Baylor men’s basketball player Carlton Dotson murdered another team member, Patrick Dennehy. Dotson is currently serving a 35-year sentence for the crime.

Instead, the fact that Huguely is a lacrosse player has been enough to justify harkening back to another campus tragedy— one caused not by a violent athlete, but mostly by the irresponsibility of media and law enforcement. Some in the media are taking this opportunity to make the same mistake again.

The Washington Post, after noting that Huguely had commented on the Duke case several years ago, recalled that the charges against the Duke players had been "dropped." (Actually, the North Carolina attorney general issued a public exoneration.) The AP, through ESPN, reported that the falsely accused Duke players had attended the same prep school as did Huguely. (Actually, only one did.) And Emily Friedman of ABC linked Huguely’s high school to the "2006 rape scandal" at Duke. She didn’t explain how the phrase "rape scandal" could describe an event in which no rape occurred.

The Post and the AP eventually corrected their inaccuracies; ABC has not done so. Seeing the national media link their names to an accused murderer because of events fueled by Durham authorities’ misconduct doubtless will fortify the falsely accused lacrosse players’ civil suit against Durham.

Huguely spoke out in support of the Duke players in '06 with an uncontroversial quote, allowing the Huffington Post to mention that Duke players were "facing accusations of sexual assault" without mentioning that the assault never happened.

Media coverage that equates the Duke case with Love's murder both demonizes the Duke lacrosse players (again) and diminishes the crime perpetrated by Huguely.

The Virginia men's and women's lacrosse teams, both contenders for a national championship, have decided to continue their seasons, with the blessing of Love's parents. The men face Delaware at home in Charlottesville Saturday. The women will find out their pairing Sunday night, and will be at Love's funeral in Baltimore this weekend.

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