M. lax jogs to help innocent prisoners

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Just before 4 a.m. this morning, men’s lacrosse player Reade Seligmann ’09 planned to lace up his running shoes, throw on a bright-yellow traffic jacket and run laps around the Main Green.

Seligmann, the former Duke lacrosse suspect who was vindicated earlier this year, will be jogging for the Brown team’s fall charity project: a 36-hour run-a-thon to raise funds for the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to exonerating innocent prisoners through DNA testing.

Seligmann pitched the idea of a lacrosse team charity event for the Innocence Project even before he committed to transferring to Brown this spring. Head Coach Lars Tiffany ’90 liked the idea and organized the event this fall after team members approved, much to the delight of the New York City-based organization.

“It’s an extraordinary thing that (Seligmann) and the whole team are doing,” said Eric Ferrero, the Innocence Project’s communications director. “That’s money that will let us take additional clients and conduct additional DNA testing on behalf of our clients who are currently in prison fighting to prove their innocence.”

In the spring of 2006, Seligmann and two Duke lacrosse teammates were charged with raping an exotic dancer at a team party. The three were declared innocent by the North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper earlier this year.

Tiffany has asked each of the team’s 36 members to solicit 10 donations for the event, and he is optimistic the team can bring in $25,000, though he has not set a concrete goal.

Team members and coaches have been very receptive to the idea – even if it means jogging laps around a dark, deserted and chilly quad in the wee hours. Brian Sharnick ’08, a team captain who had a 2 a.m. shift this morning, said he doesn’t mind doing that for a good cause.

“I think some people enjoy the late-night times,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. You get to promote a good cause, you get to see your friends out and you get to hang out with your teammates.”

Some coaches, including Tiffany and Assistant Coach Errol Wilson, are also glad to be running shifts, even if it means braving the cold.

“I’m dressed like a polar bear,” Wilson said with a smile as he paced around the Main Green yesterday evening. But several steps and short breaths later, he had another worry: “I’m a little out of shape.”

The team members, who started running at 7 a.m. yesterday, will take turns running until 7 p.m. tonight, when they will end the run-a-thon at the men’s soccer team’s NCAA tournament game at Stevenson Field. Each player or coach jogs around the Main Green one at a time, and each player is expected to run three 20-minute sessions. Players are also staffing a table next to Sayles Hall to hand out information about the Innocence Project, though they will not be actively soliciting donations.

Though it’s no coincidence the lacrosse team chose to support the Innocence Project upon Seligmann’s arrival at Brown, the team routinely does charity events during the fall, their sport’s offseason. Last year, the team also did a 36-hour run-a-thon ­- to raise money to build a school in Laos, Tiffany said ­- and last month, the team volunteered to staff tables at a half-marathon to support public school programs.

Tiffany said he loves organizing charity events in the offseason.

“It’s exciting – honestly, I get giddy over this,” Tiffany said. “I feel that it’s my role as a head coach of Brown lacrosse to build men through such outreach events.”

The run-a-thon is especially timely, given the Innocence Project’s recent coverage in the media. The organization’s president was featured on 60 Minutes last week, and on Sunday, the New York Times ran a front-page investigative story on exonerated prisoners that featured the group.

With his personal story, Seligmann would be a natural spokesman on campus for the Innocence Project, even though the organization did not personally help him during the Duke case. But Seligmann was quick to deflect credit for organizing the event, saying that it was really his coaches who put in the grunt work to get the event together.

“Just having gone through what I went through really opened my eyes to the injustices” of the court system, Seligmann said. “The Innocence Project right now is the most legitimate program trying to change the wrongs of the criminal system.”

Seligmann became involved with the organization after being invited to its first banquet in April, shortly after he was declared innocent. At the banquet, he met other wrongly accused people, some of whom had spent years in jail for crimes they didn’t commit.

“It was one of the most incredible experiences that I ever had,” Seligmann said. “Getting a chance to meet some of these people really puts a face on some of these issues. To see what these people went though is mind-boggling. Getting a chance to talk about what they went through and how the justice system treated them really inspired me to make a