- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Another allegation of sexual assault by a high-profile college athlete has raised questions: “What did Coach K know and when did he know it?”

Determining if Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski sat on disturbing claims for nine months before dismissing Rasheed Sulaimon is important.

But it’s not as critical as finding remedies for a culture where would-be accusers are reluctant to face the wrath of fans and the clout of athletic administrators. Those two groups often wish victims would suck it up and keep quiet to avoid causing trouble.

It’s no wonder that many women do just that, especially when they know what usually happens (they are blamed) and doesn’t happen (assailants are punished) in other cases.

According to The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper, Krzyzewski was made aware in March 2014 that two female students allegedly were sexually assaulted by Sulaimon in separate incidents during the 2013-14 academic year. On Jan. 29, 2015, the junior guard became the first player kicked off the team in Krzykewski’s 35 years as head coach.

“Rasheed has been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program,” Krzyzewski said in a release at the time. “…After Rasheed repeatedly struggled to meet the necessary obligations, it became apparent that it was time to dismiss him from the program.”

A week earlier, according to The Chronicle, a Duke senior who worked in the basketball office for more than three years quit after learning of the allegations and notifying his supervisor. The student reportedly had an exit meeting with deputy director of athletics Mike Cragg and was told that Coach K and athletic director Kevin White knew of the “rumors” surrounding Sulaimon.

Krzyzewski has declined comment on the matter. White didn’t mention Sulaimon by name but said Tuesday that the department always follows proper procedures in matters of student conduct.

“Coach Krzyzewski and his staff understand have fulfilled their responsibilities to the university, its students and the community,” White said in a statement.

Coach K’s silence looks bad, but federal law forbids college administrators from discussing students’ educational records, which include just about everything. He can’t say the accusations are bogus, or they prompted the dismissal, or what transpired in between.

Unless a school botches a case so badly that the Department of Education investigates, or alleged victims file a lawsuit, public comments from officials are virtually nonexistent.

Duke might be headed down the road to depositions, which has been crowded with sexual assault cases against athletes at New Mexico, Florida State, Michigan, Oregon, Vanderbilt and Missouri in the last few years.

The problem on college campuses isn’t relegated to athletes (or fraternities) alone. It has received attention from Congress, the White House and Hollywood.

“The Hunting Ground,” a new movie from the filmmakers who exposed the epidemic of military sexual assaults, states that one in five college women will be sexually assaulted — 100,000 during the current school year — and as many as 90 percent of reported assaults are acquaintance rapes.

However, the film also states that student-athletes are responsible for 19 percent of reported assaults, despite the fact that they comprise just 3.3 percent of the male student body.

Producer Amy Ziering and director Kirby Dick’s previous film, “The Invisible War,” led to significant policy changes in the armed forces, including the Military Justice Improvement Act. The Campus Accountability and Safety Act is currently working its way through the Senate and could have a similar effect for college students.

But we need more than new laws to change the culture on campuses. We need to create a new mindset, from the president’s office to the freshman dorms.

Administrators need to realize that covering up for alleged perpetrators harms the school more than pursuing the truth, no matter where it leads. Fans need to stop hating on alleged victims and act as if the women were friends or relatives. And athletes need to exhibit zero tolerance for teammates who reject the need for clear-cut consent, or fudge it with date-rape drugs and/or copious amounts of alcohol.

If there’s any romance involved in these hookups, this would kill it, but athletes should consider getting permission before a sexual encounter. They can run off a bunch of form letters and leave blank spaces for names and dates. Or they can whip out their cell phone to record a short statement.

Unlike the clips of egregious sexual behavior that some miscreants circulate, these videos would end before anything begins and they would remain private unless the young lady eventually claims that she was violated.

No need to fear allegations if you have evidence that the activity was consensual.

It’s too early to tell if Krzyzewski and other Duke officials are guilty of looking the other way after learning of Sulaimon’s alleged behavior. But it’s way past time to change a culture that protects college athletes at young women’s expense.

Just imagine if it was your sister, daughter or close friend. No amount of school pride or athletic glory is worth their pain.

• Deron Snyder can be reached at deronsnyder@gmail.com.

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