Although no one knew it yet, Duke's perception of itself, as well as how the university was perceived by the rest of the world, began to change sometime around midnight on Monday, March 14, 2006, after a night of shenanigans and heavy drinking by forty-one of the forty-seven members of the tight-knit varsity lacrosse team -- all but one of whom were white. The party took place at a nondescript rental house at 610 North Buchanan Boulevard, off Duke's East Campus, where three of the lacrosse players lived. It was spring break, and the rest of the Duke campus was quiet. Two days before, the Duke lacrosse team, then ranked third in the country, had defeated twentieth-ranked Loyola 9-7 in San Diego, improving its record to 5-1. After the Loyola win, coach Mike Pressler said, "Now we look ahead to one of the most difficult weeks in Duke lacrosse history," a reference to the team's upcoming March 18 match against rival University of North Carolina, followed by games against Cornell and Georgetown in quick succession. Little did Pressler know that for whatever reason -- boredom, feeling sorry for themselves for having to be in town when everyone else was on spring break, or simply because they could -- most of the guys on his lacrosse team would decide to have their own version of "Girls Gone Wild" on North Buchanan Boulevard in Durham, North Carolina.
After lacrosse practice on March 13, at around 3 p.m., Dan Flannery, a twenty-one-year-old senior cocaptain from Garden City, New York, ran a few errands and then went home to 610 North Buchanan. He found a number of his teammates already there. According to Jason Bissey, who lived next door, he and his roommate, Derek Anderson, remembered that the drinking began an hour before Flannery returned home. A group of guys were playing "washers," whereby a player tries to toss metal washers into a cup from a defined distance. "I remember in particular one young man wearing a sort of suspenders-like harness that would hold two cans or bottles of beer," Bissey said. Anderson remembered that as the day turned into night at 610 North Buchanan, more and more people showed up at the party. He remembered seeing as many as thirty people in the backyard, playing washers. "They were pretty loud that night," he later told police. "They had been playing washers for about seven hours."
Flannery confirmed that the drinking began early that day. "We decided to start drinking we were on spring break," he explained. At least once a week, the team usually went together to Teasers Men's Club on Ramseur Street in Durham, a topless bar -- it boasted of being the "area's finest" -- where to be admitted one had to be at least twenty-one years old. Since some of the players at the house were not twenty-one or had lost their fake IDs, they decided to see if they could hire two strippers to come by at 11 p.m. that night to dance during the party for a couple of hours. This was, apparently, a spring break tradition for the Duke lacrosse team. Recalled Ryan McFadyen, a six-foot-five defenseman from Mendham, New Jersey, "The tradition is: 'Hey, it's spring break. We're the only guys on campus.'" McFadyen remembered March 13 was a gorgeous day. At the practice that morning, they did a running workout with the speed coach. He also remembered that Coach Pressler came to the practice with something like $10,000 in cash that he handed out to the players for "meal money" for the eight days of spring break. "Coach Pressler handed out meal money for the week to every guy on the team that Monday," McFadyen said. It was like, 'Yeah, here's five hundred bucks. Here's five hundred bucks. Here's five hundred bucks.'" Afterward, he got a message on his cell phone from David Evans, Flannery's housemate and another cocaptain of the lacrosse team. "I remember the message he left," McFadyen recalled. "He said, 'Hey, we're having a barbecue over at 610. Get yourself and the sophomore guys over here. I need a six-foot-five-inch hunk of meat in my backyard right now. Get over here.' So people were making their way over. Some guys were there early. Some guys were there at two or three."
The idea was just to have some fun while the rest of the students were away. McFadyen got to the party around two o'clock. "Guys were drinking," he said. "We were hanging out. I don't think I had any beers yet, 'cause I know I went back to eat and went to the gym, worked out again." When he was at the party the first time, he noticed some of the guys were betting some of their meal money on games of beer pong. "Who wants to play?" he recalled people saying. "Who wants to play?" He then went to work out and got a ride back to the party. "We were there all day, grilling, having beers, playing washers, beer pong, just having a good time, playing some music. ... Everyone was drinking, and someone said, 'Oh, let's go to the strip club.' Someone's idea was like, 'Let's just have dancers come to the house as opposed to risking people going out and getting in trouble. We'll just order dancers to come here,' a very common occurrence on campus. I know Duke tried to issue some sort of moratorium, make a rule against it after the fact, but between keeping the frats on campus, sororities doing it during their rush week and people doing it during random events, it happens all the time, so it's common for sure. For us, it was just 'We'll just do it here. It'll be very casual.' It'll be the smarter choice, because there won't be anyone outside the team to screw anything up or get into trouble or risk anything."
Excerpted from "The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of Our Great Universities" by William D. Cohan, published on April 8, 2014 by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed with permission.