April 18, 2006 — -- A year before Duke University's lacrosse team became the center of scandal, administrators and the school's athletic director were warned that the players had demonstrated "boorish" behavior.
According to news reports, 15 of the team's 47 players have court records for drunken and disorderly behavior. Two were arrested today on charges of raping and kidnapping a 27-year-old woman at an off-campus party.
The alleged incident may be part of a larger problem, experts said, of athletes whose attitude includes a sense of entitlement that manifests itself in crude and even lawless behavior.
Indeed, Duke University announced it had appointed a committee to investigate "the extent to which the cumulative behavior of many [players] over a number of years signifies a deeper problem."
One study of sexual assault cases found that while male student athletes make up 3.3 percent of the college population, they committed 19 percent of the sexual assaults. The Benedict-Crosset Study of sexual assaults at 30 major Division I universities over a three-year period in the 1990s concludes that "male college student athletes, compared to the rest of the male population, are responsible for a significantly higher percentage of sexual assaults reported to judicial affairs on the campuses of Division I institutions."
"There is a mentality among athletes that 'we can get away with this, that no one is going to challenge us because we are student athletes,'" said Richard Lapchick, professor at the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.
In recent years there have been allegations made against rugby players that included improper sexual conduct and rape at San Diego State, against basketball players at South Dakota State, and against football players at Penn State, the Coast Guard Academy, the Naval Academy, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Colorado.
If the athletes carry an entitled attitude it, could be partly due to the way they are treated long before they ever arrive on a university campus.
"They are given star status at 17, 18 and 19 years old," said UC Berkeley sociology professor Harry Edwards. "That is unprecedented."
The special treatment continues with highly competitive recruitment programs, some of which use women students as escorts and as a sort of enticement. "The unspoken assumption is that if you come here I'm going to be here for you," said Edwards.
It all starts to go to the heads of these athletes, especially once they enroll and are given all sorts of special privileges and star status. They become narcissistic, said psychologist William Pollack, director of McLean Hospital's Centers for Men and Young Men.
"They feel like they are gods, they can do anything," Pollack said. "They lose touch and sometimes they get lubricated with alcohol and women become a prize."
But former college athlete and coach Peter Roby, director of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, disagreed that this is a problem for athletes specifically. The former basketball player for Dartmouth College said damning the athletes misses the larger point. This is how society instructs men in general to behave, he said, and athletes have merely achieved the pinnacle of that goal.
"We have to be careful about sending a message to young boys in particular about toughness and how important it is," Roby says, "because it's going to lead them to make decisions that are going to result in them doing some things that society is going to say, 'How the heck could that ever happen?'"
On the field, athletics teach determination, sportsmanship and discipline. But without proper supervision, athletes are learning some ugly lessons as well.
ABC News' Tarana Harris and Lisa Chinn contributed to this report.