Saturday, May 8, 2010

Lacrosse, Sport, Entitled Violence

What is it about lacrosse? I don’t want to repeat the Duke debacle of self inflicted flagellation, but the murder of a Yeardley Love by a Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely  brings to mind another dimension that the Duke mess revealed. The culture of lacrosse epitomizes privileged swaggering wealth and elite violence comfortable with its own superiority and confident in its ability to act with impunity.

I do not want to ignore the pain and tragedy of loss of Yeardly Love's life at the hands of alleged killer Hughly. I do not want to pile on the sport of lacrosse, which it well deserves, but rather reflect upon the wider and deeper issue of how sport accomplishment can provide a kind of entilted immunity that breeds reckless violence especially towards women. Lawrence Taylor plays out the end game of his squalid life where his violence and flouting of norms was protected and enabled by his extraordinary football talent. Pro bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger receives a slap on the wrist for violence against women while Michael Vick loses his career for violence against dogs. 

Media and sports commentators talk a lot about the violence associated with football and basketball at the college and po level, lord knows they provide weekly examples. This violence grows in a violent milieu that many of the minority players escape. Football values and exploits  the violence and anger.  The violence permeates the sport and surrounds the culture;  players channel violence and anger to escape and succeed on the field. The simmering violence places heavy moral responsiblities upon the coaches who recruit, train and educate the young men and women who play on their teams. Many of these successful athletes become used to being protected from their own violence in high school and college and as pros by rich patrons and strong institutional protections.

Lacrosse presents a different from of entitlement. It's a niche sport protected and supported by serious east coast wealth. East coast lacrosse traditionally grows and thrives in elite environs. It may be slumming now into community centers and the middle class, but the sport flourishes at elite finishing schools and is traditionally dominated by privileged scions of wealth from whom lacrosse is an outlet and status for their own superiority and a stop on the way to their investment banker careers.

Lacrosse violence grows from different sources of entitlement but is just as real. The Virginia lacrosse player had a history of flaunting rules and alcohol. More interesting as this case and the Duke case reveal, the coaches see the alcohol saturated culture as a natural part of the team and in both cases seem to do little to deal with it. In the Virginia team's case, the team had rules against drinking but the coach set aside one a day a week to binger drink!  

Turns out the Virginia lacrosse player had an ignored history of violence and alcohol misuse, much like 20 percent of the team and the Duke team. It is important to remember here how much this says about the failure of coaches to address or control this aspect of their sport and to abet the entitlement and escape from consequences that follows not just form being a star on a number one team on a campus that values the sport but coming from a background where money and status bought a fair degree of immunity in the past. So the coaching, sport and status amplify the privilege of wealth. 

The violence of the rich elite also differs on campus. Black violence on campus asserts itself because it plays into so many feared sterotypes and black students are already a marked minority so the football or basktball associated violence extends and deepens stereotypes of fears of the atavistic outlier. The casual violence of white lacrosse players is hidden, more normalized, less stigmatized by the media or the schools or, it seems, coaches. This marks the lacrosse tragedy as culturally deep, ugly and dangerous, especially to women.

The point of the game here is not just the sport, but the dominance and elitism of the sport, flaunted much as the rich use yatch racing or horse racing to sport their own elite wealth and class segrgation.  I think it is important to remember that violence emerges not  just from proverty and despair but from arrogance and privilege. Lacrosse, its history and its players represent this, and the murder of a Yeardley Love by a lacrosse player with a history of violence illustrates this.

Any time society values skills and rewards them, the temptation to abuse power exists and is amplified by the temptation to forgive, forget or let off. This seems the norm when sports privilege faces off against women's dignity. The end game of Lawrence Taylor, Tiger Wood, Ben Roethlisberger and scores of other elite athletes reveals this. The lacrosse case reflects the same problem only the genesis begins with wealth and arrogance, not sport.


  1. Baloney!

    This was a crime of passion, allegedly committed by a person romantically involved with the victim. It had nothing to do with lacrosse or any other athletic endeavor.

    Such crimes happen many times a day, every day and all over the world. They will continue to as long as human animals populate the earth. Usually it rates a two-line mention on page B-17, if that.

    The ONLY reason this story made "news" is the lacrosse hook. It gives the MSM an opportunity to try to get even for the ass-whipping they took after the Duke Lacrosse Frame, when they helped gin up a near-lynching.

    That's all this is, nothing else.

  2. According to the Coleman report, the Duke players' conduct overall was no worse than that of other college students their age (one of the "sins" of which they were accused was "suspicion of throwing water" in a water fight. Serious stuff.)

    But Malcolm X was right in at least this: that the media is the most powerful force in the world; it can make the innocent look guilty, and the guilty innocent. Statistics were compiled to show the Duke players in a bad light by taking using a sample of FOUR students, one of whom was a lacrosse player, and then declaring that "25%" of offenders in that category were lacrosse players. Another example used a sample of TWO students, resulting in "50% of offenders were lacrosse players."

    For what it was worth, the lacrosse team collected more money for Katrina relief than any other Duke team; had nearly twice the number of players on the ACC academic honor roll as any other lacrosse team; and had a 100% graduation rate. They were not BMOC; a magazine article about them in 2005 noted that their relative anonymity on campus assisted their academic performance.

    None of that fits the stereotype, though, I guess.

  3. What a lazy load of hooey. Get off your tail and get some current information before you tar lacrosse students with the same tired "entitled, elitist, class segregation" nonsense we've had to endure for years.

    Start with your own university. Go interview Stew Kearns, the UW lacrosse coach, and see how his program is embracing your "privilege of wealth." Ask about the culture of lacrosse in the state of Washington. Go see how "elite" they are.

    Then go visit the high school teams of Garfield and Franklin. See if those players fit the stereotype you're harboring.

    Our state has 49 male athletes playing college lacrosse in significant programs nationwide. Most are from public schools throughout the state. There's a couple from Lakeside, Prep and Overlake, but you'd be hard pressed to characterize them or the others as "used to being protected from their own violence."

    Certainly the top ten teams in the NCAA include the elite university programs you mention. But I find it a little ironic for you that the one thing holding back the rest of NCAA schools from be eligible for the lacrosse national championships, is Title IX, the subject of your other posting this month.

    Maybe Bush's tweak was wrong, I don't know. But returning Title IX to its 1972 configuration as Obama did is to be ignorant of the changes that have happened in the collegiate sport landscape over the past 40 years. The rule needs updating, we're seeing too many unintended consequence.

  4. abb said: "The ONLY reason this story made "news" is the lacrosse hook."

    That's not true, abb, and I think most rational people realize that.

    In your opinion, why did the senseless murder of a UNC-Chapel Hill student, Eve Carson, make headlines two years ago, abb?

  5. My son plays varisty lacrosse and we are far from rich. The author of this story did not do his homework. Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in America and is even surpassing soccer as a favorite among today's youth. Youth baseball has to be the worst sport. Parents are crazy and unless you are friends with the coach, your kid plays outfield.

  6. Actually, I have to agree. Youth sports codifies violence, particularly in football, lacrosse and (to my surprise, but it has become more evident to me in the past year) basketball. Discussion with coaches and and referees have yielded no insight. There are real benefits to participation in team sports, with fitness and team cooperation at the top of the list. But there are downsides too, including encouraging the development of kids who "like to hit", and youth injuries. I have seen elementary school-age players down on the field ignored with head injuries while the play continues at the other end. Winning becomes the only acceptable outcome, and violence is a means to that end.