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'Fantastic Lies' Brings Duke Lacrosse Scandal Lessons Back

On Sunday, ESPN will be debuting its latest 30 for 30 detailing the events and aftermath of the Duke lacrosse case. The reviews have been mostly positive but don't expect to see any of the notable characters from the incident.

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

We've all Googled our name. Sure, it's embarrassing to admit because it feels a little foolish and narcissistic, but pretty much everyone with a computer has done it. According to Google I could be a noted mathematician, a minor league baseball player, or the coach of the University of North Carolina Greensboro women's basketball team. The only news stories that include me are ones I've written about lacrosse. Like millions of others, it takes some digging to actually find the "real" me on Google. In a world where information is so available, there is something comforting about being able to disappear in the online world. But what if that wasn't the case?

For numerous parties involved in the Duke lacrosse scandal, searching one's name on the Internet is like walking into a minefield. Type in the name Reade Seligmann letter by letter and see how long it takes before Google fills in the rest of the name. When you hit the search button you get a smattering of articles about the Duke scandal. This is the reality that some of the Duke players involved in this incident live in. No matter what happened or didn't happen in the bathroom of that off-campus house in Durham, NC, the names of cast of characters involved will live amongst the scandal on the internet, and now in television format as well.

On March 13, the tenth anniversary of the infamous off-campus party where the story originates, ESPN will air a 30 for 30 documentary surrounding the most prominent event in the sport's history. Fantastic Lies, directed by Marina Zenovich, will feature interviews with former player's parents, media members and numerous other folks who had some sort of involvement in the case. Notably, however, no players were originally willing to talk on camera about the incident, although two former players, Rob Wellington and Tony McDevitt, did sit down on camera following a New York screening of the film. Don't expect the focus here to be on lacrosse. Instead the film spotlights the events surrounding the initial party, the aftermath, and the jump to condemn three specific individuals led by a "rogue" prosecutor.

The film doesn't escape criticism however. In 2014, William D. Cohan optioned his book, The Price of Silence, the result of which is the current ESPN documentary. Cohan's book takes the reader through 614 pages of the scandal, going through nearly every legal filing and event around the case in an effort to extract every last, complex detail. Recently, Cohan wrote an editorial for Vanity Fair in which he ripped Zenovich's portrayal of the events for failing to cover the entire story fairly. It should also be noted, however, that there was plenty of criticism of Cohan's own book, and that may be an understatement. Here are some key quotes from Cohan's editorial, which can give you a general idea of how he feels about the film:

"Instead, Fantastic Lies presents the narrative that the parents of the indicted players and their defense attorneys have been busily trying to preserve in amber for years: that the players were falsely accused, and that the Durham police, aided and abetted by Nifong, the rape nurse, and the media created an epic conflagration."

"...the film once again spews the defense version that justice was served, even though it was not, and that no amount of money, not even $20 million, could ever compensate the three players for what Mangum and Nifong did to them."

"In the end, sadly, it is another major missed opportunity to explain to a wider audience the complex story of the Duke lacrosse case."

At the end of the day, this is certainly not a simple case to approach. There are so many issues entangled in this case which all only aid to muddle the facts. I can't imagine trying to fully explain and string together every aspect of the Duke lacrosse scandal into a television documentary. I don't think anything unexpected will come out of this film and I will hold off judgment until I see it, but I am definitely excited to give it a viewing.

As a side note, if you are interested about the case, the 60 Minutes interview with Coach Mike Pressler is a must watch.

Relevant Reading:

Duke Lacrosse Player Still Outrunning His Past, Vanity Fair, 2014

Rush to Judgment, 60 Minutes, 2015

The Price of Silence, William D. Cohan, 2014

Remembering (and Misremembering) the Duke Lacrosse Case, Vanity Fair, 2016

Q&A with 30 for 30 ‘Fantastic Lies' Director Marina Zenovich, Inside Lacrosse, 2016