The controversy that enveloped the Duke men’s lacrosse team 10 years ago is examined in the latest ESPN Films 30 for 30 documentary, “Fantastic Lies” (Sunday, March 13, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN, after Bracketology).
Acclaimed director Marina Zenovich’s (“Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired”) film premieres on the 10th anniversary of the Blue Devils lacrosse team party that ignited what became a national controversy and resulted in a legal investigation. The events of March 13, 2006 are detailed and their repercussions are explored.
As a Duke alum, star athlete and lawyer, not to mention working for the company underwriting the film, college basketball analyst Jay Bilas brings quite a unique perspective to the table. On the eve of March Madness and arguably his busiest week of the year, Bilas reflects on the film and the series of events set in motion March 13, 2006.
Considering your history and experience with Duke, you must have tons of conflicting emotions. In addition to your 2007 open letter talking about your stance on the controversy, what are your thoughts on finished product of the film?
There were no conflicting emotions on my end. When I first heard the news, I knew that I would be asked about the case due to its high profile, the fact that I was a practicing lawyer, went to school at Duke and worked on-air for ESPN. My first and only focus initially was to learn the facts. When I looked into the matter and learned the facts, and it wasn’t difficult to focus on the facts, it became quite clear to me that the rights of the accused were being trampled by the university. The rights of the accuser are incredibly important, but so are the rights of the accused. Somehow, a lot of people lost sight of that, and a very important and meaningful cause was used by too many people to overwhelm a particular case.
Have your thoughts or views about how this was handled – both by the university and media – changed at all over these last 10 years?
No. I was pretty clear at the time that I felt the falsely accused players were mistreated by the university and many in the media, and the right questions were not being asked on both sides of the case. The fact that there was an unethical and corrupt prosecutor made it more difficult, but when you saw the prosecutor making so many questionable public statements, it demanded a more skeptical view. The players had an inappropriate party. That is a far cry from being assumed to have committed a felony carrying long prison sentences. There was never one shred of credible evidence that a crime was committed. It was and remains incredibly sad for everyone involved.
What impact do you think this film will have on sports fans?
It is very powerful, and will remind people of the complexities of the situation, how unreasonable the response of so many people was, how the university community fell down on so many fronts, and how so many were on the wrong side of history. But, given the emotional responses that can surround such cases, sadly, such a rush to condemn the accused before facts are established could very well happen again.
If fans/viewers could take away one lesson from this film, what would it be?
Establishing the facts is important. Respecting and protecting the rights of an alleged victim are of vital importance. So, too, are respecting and protecting the rights of the accused. One can be against crime and for the protection of the rights of the accused at the same time. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. Too many forgot that in this case.