A college party gone wrong leads to three lacrosse players being embroiled in a nightmare, false allegations, multiple careers destroyed, a university’s reputation tarnished and a sports team nearly loses its future. “Fantastic Lies” takes a look at the events of March 13th, 2006 and the impact it had on Duke University, the Durham County District Attorney’s Office and the lives of several people involved in the mess that was the party, accusations, investigation and trial.
Lacrosse is not a major sport in the United States. It has a few professional leagues that are shown on TV, but they are usually on channels that are hard to find without some kind of special package with you cable company, satellite provider or streaming service. Many colleges have teams, but those games are even harder to find through television or streaming. But after a party involving lacrosse players at Duke University in 2006, the school’s lacrosse team left the small blurbs of sports websites and became a front page story tackling sex, race, class and violence.
This documentary gives an excellent example of how the case started, what we know happened and how a District Attorney desperate to improve his career for a potential run for higher office ended up damaging three college students’ lives, costing a coach his job and, in the end, destroying his own career. Mike Nifong’s actions led to him being removed, disbarred and jailed as he pushed a false narrative that he wanted to be true and so did many in the media. College students inviting exotic dancers to a party isn’t uncommon in the United States. Unfortunately, too many college students will try to take things too far. But one exotic dancer decided to make an accusation that disrupted a lot of lives. And, despite the fact the evidence didn’t add up to the accusation, he pushed for prosecution. In the end, Nifong got what he deserved but too many people’s lives were destroyed because of it.
Someone whose story has interested me throughout this entire ordeal is Mike Pressler. He was the lacrosse coach at Duke University in 2006. He had been there since 1991 and led Duke to the lacrosse National Championship in 2005. In the wake of the false allegations against three of his players, Pressler was fired while Duke presented his termination as a resignation due to the students’ presumed guilt. Pressler argued his players were innocent and his team’s season shouldn’t be canceled until DNA test results were returned. Pressler was correct but Duke was trying to save face publicly. He was made a scapegoat. He is an innocent victim of Nifong’s ambition and refusal to see facts. Pressler was only able to find a job at a small school in Rhode Island. He turned the Bryant University program around and led them to their first lacrosse National Championship tournament in 2013. He remained loyal to the Bryant University program until retiring following the 2021 season. He rebounded but his firing remains one of the many injustices of this case.
The important lesson to learn from this story is to get all the facts. False accusations can damage someone’s reputation, sometimes irreparably. These lacrosse players had a bad idea and it led to something far worse. They were falsely accused and the person determined with finding the truth decided he wanted to find HIS truth instead of THE truth. But what should be remembered is this case shouldn’t be used to detract from legitimate reports of sexual misconduct. Many sexual assaults go unreported because the victim doesn’t think anyone will believe them. This case has certainly made it harder on actual victim because too many people who want to dismiss them will point to this case. The woman who made the false accusation and the District Attorney who pursued a trial once it was clear the accusation was fault damaged a lot of lives. They damaged their own lives. They damaged the lives of the accused. They damaged the lives of a coach. And they damaged the lives of actual victims. This documentary did an excellent job of covering the case as a whole and how we as a society should strive to be better.