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 entitled 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 pro 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 responsibilities 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 stereotypes and black students are already a marked minority so the football or basketball 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 yacht racing or horse racing to sport their own elite wealth and class segregation. I think it is important to remember that violence emerges not just from poverty 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.