Sole Black Duke Lacrosse Player Says White Teammates Stereotyped


Oct. 31, 2006 — -- He is the only African-American player on the 47-man embattled Duke lacrosse team and the youngest man in the group.

In his first, exclusive interview with ABC News, Devon Sherwood said that his three white teammates who have been accused of sexually assaulting a black woman had been stereotyped by class and skin color.

"It's almost a reversal," Sherwood, 19, said in an interview today on "Good Morning America."

"'Well, their daddies are gonna buy them the big-time lawyers, and they're gonna get off. We can't have that,'" Sherwood said that critics have said.

"It's just been all the stereotypes. … I've even been stereotyped for being rich, being on full scholarship, [being] not in touch with my own black community at Duke. … It's terrible to find yourself being stereotyped," Sherwood said.

"And you're like, 'Hold on. This couldn't be much further from the truth,'" he said. "You know? So it's just amazing that the things you see and that [were] going on in this case and how the reversal from black stereotype to now rich white, privileged stereotype."

In the interview with ABC News' Chris Cuomo, Sherwood shared his views on his teammates, his own experience, the prosecutor in the case, race issues, and the night of the now-infamous off-campus party when the sexual assault allegedly occurred.

All three defendants insist they are innocent of the charges. Their trial is expected to begin next spring.

Sherwood said he found it "impossible" to believe that the rape allegations are true.

"I'm 100 percent confident," he said. "I know nothing indeed happened that night at all."

Asked how he could be so sure if he wasn't present when the alleged attack took place, Sherwood said he knew the defendants well enough.

"I don't hesitate," he said. "I believe in the character of my teammates. I believe in the character of specifically [the three defendants]. I would never ever … doubt them or think, 'Well, are they lying?' I would never do that, because I believe in them."

Sherwood was at the party the night of March 13, and stayed through the dance, but then left with other underclassmen, he said.

"It was kind of boring to be quite honest," he said. "We were just sitting around. And there was nothing to it. It was very boring. I was itching to get out of there, because it was. I'd rather be going to sleep personally to tell you the truth."

He learned about the rape allegations a couple days later at a bowling alley with the other team members.

"Everybody's having a fun time and I just looked over my shoulder. And I saw four captains talking to our former coach. And we knew something was wrong," he said. "We were like, 'What's going on? Did the coach find out about the stripper party or what?'"

When he learned of the allegations, he said that he was stunned.

"I was surprised. I was dumbfounded," he said. "You know what? It was almost, it was movielike."

Another thorny issue for Sherwood was the racial slurs his teammates allegedly directed at the dancers as they left the party.

Both dancers say that they were called racial epithets and that one of the young men yelled, "Thank your grandfather for my white cotton shirt," as the pair departed.

A neighbor confirmed to police that he, too, had heard the comment about the shirt.

Sherwood said his teammates had approached him when the allegations first surfaced, urging him not to believe everything that was being said about the team.

He said he was moved by the fact that while the three defendants were facing felony rape charges, their first concern seemed to be his feelings.

"I felt really special then, because I knew they were looking after me as well," he said.

Sherwood seemed to struggle a bit as he grappled with the notion that his teammates could have made such caustic remarks.

While the alleged slurs have never been flatly denied by the Duke players, it's unclear who among the dozens of team members at the party may have uttered them.

"If it is in fact true, it's disgusting," Sherwood said.

Noting that he's never heard his teammates even jokingly utter such insults, Sherwood said that racial remarks were a fact of life in America.

"It's not the first time I've -- I would ever hear anybody call … me by the 'N-word' or anything like that. … And it won't be the last," he said.

"If it's true, everybody's human," he said.

"Everybody makes mistakes," he said. "No one's Jesus. Like no one's going to be perfect all the time. So you just forgive. Don't necessarily forget, but you forgive and you work to correct the mistake."

As the only black player on the team, Sherwood was excluded from authorities' requests for DNA from all the team players.

"I was fully expecting … to give DNA. I remember the day vividly. I remember they got me to walk out with everybody else. And then Coach Pressler, our former coach who I love dearly, he said … 'Come here real quick.' I came over. He was like, 'You know, you don't have to go,'" he said.

Sherwood said he knew his teammates weren't mad, "but it's almost like I'm leaving them … It's like I'm not there with my troops. That's the kind of sense I felt."

He said that, as the first player named in print, he also felt strangely isolated by his race, a feeling he said he never felt on the field or in the locker rooms.

"Devon Sherwood. … The lone black player," he quoted an early newspaper article as referring to him.

"The 'lone' being the key word, as if I was in a corner in the locker room. Everybody else was 50 yards away from me. It was a very, very key word there -- the 'lone.' Instead of saying the 'sole' black player, the 'lone' black player."

Sherwood said that last spring he was the target of accusatory, anonymous e-mails

"One e-mail, [the] person basically said that if my teammates [go down] then I should go down as well, that I should quote-unquote, rot in hell."

"I don't know why. I wish I knew why. … But at the same time … I really don't care. But at that time I was like, 'Whoa. This guy wants me to rot in hell. Like, he doesn't even know. He doesn't even know who I am. … What my favorite food is or anything like that. He doesn't know me at all. And he wants me to rot in hell if these guys go down, too," he said.

"I would get random e-mails saying I was letting down my race, that I should turn in my teammates, referring to me as a 'young black soldier,' basically saying I was letting down my race, I was letting down my forefathers, which is completely insane," he said.

Sherwood said he turned to his mother, Dawn, a class of '75 Duke graduate school alum, who counseled him to take it all in stride.

As tensions throughout Durham rose with the quickening pace of the investigation, Sherwood found himself in the middle of an escalating conflict.

Two of his teammates had been indicted. A third indictment was in the air. A team member said there had been threats of drive-by shootings.

The case was the talk of the town and the nation. Protests were launched, on and off campus. The county courthouse was a daily mob scene. The forthcoming district attorney election was a neck-and-neck race. The media were everywhere.

But there were moments of levity.

In late April, days before the primary election, the New Black Panther Party threatened to march onto campus, armed, and conduct its own interrogations of the players.

Counterprotesters -- among them, white supremacists -- emerged and vowed to meet the Panthers at the gates of the school.

Sherwood's mother began to worry about her son, as she saw images of the protests on television from her Freeport, N.Y., home.

She and other family members began calling around, trying to locate Sherwood in Durham and make sure he was safe.

Time passed, and no one could seem to find him.

When they finally got him, he answered the phone, groggy and annoyed.

"Yeah," he said. "I'm asleep in bed. You woke me up."

His mother said she always laughed when she told that story.

Sherwood said he felt Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong had used race "to his advantage to get re-elected."

"I think he's used that. He's used … the black people of Durham -- and the white people of Durham -- as well."

Nifong indicted two players -- Colin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann -- two weeks before a tight primary election that he won by a margin of 3 percent.

Two weeks after the election, he indicted Duke lacrosse captain Dave Evans.

Sherwood said he had felt a deep camaraderie with his teammates since the day he joined the team as a walk-on player.

"I had one brother when I came to Duke. Now I have 47 brothers. … Forty-six of them just happen to be white," he said

Sherwood's parents were both Duke graduates, and his father, Charles, from the undergraduate class of '75, is believed to have been Duke lacrosse's first black player.

The younger Sherwood turned down a scholarship at another school to play at Duke, where he said he felt most comfortable after meeting with Pressler.

Sherwood said the entire experience, which he said had torn apart the lives of his teammates and their families, had also strengthened the bond between the young men.

"We're almost inseparable," he said. "We have a bond for life that no one else has. We know that we're in a unique situation."

"And it's something to be … definitely something to remember. I wouldn't say I think 'cherish' is the right word, but … it's something that is very unique and that you can definitely remember for the rest of your life -- and know that if you have a problem or if you need to talk to somebody that you can call any one of those 46 guys. And that they'll be glad, they'll gladly want to listen, to try and help in any way they possibly can."

He said he was a little bit haunted by the absence of his teammates.

Evans graduated, and Finnerty and Seligmann have been suspended from the university because of the criminal charges against them.

"It hurts," he said. "Like, you walk. … And you see [their] lockers, just empty, nothing there."

"It's kind of like -- it's not -- I don't want to say ghosts."

"But it's just like, you know, you wish they were there with you."

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