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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Lacrosse and irony

I am interested in this story, given that I am in the process of finishing edits on a book of chapters on the Duke lacrosse scandal.

A member of the highly ranked men's lacrosse team at Virginia, George Huguely, has been arrested and charged with first degree murder in the death of a member of the similarly successful women's team, Yeardley Love. The irony is that the player attended Landon in Bethesda, Maryland--the same school as five members of the now-unfairly-infamous 2006 Duke team. In the early days of the Duke mess, the Washington Post did a story about Landon, including the following from Huguely: "I sympathize for the team. . . .They've been scrutinized so hard and no one knows what has happened yet. In this country, you're supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. I think that's the way it should be."

The Duke connection is going to become a major talking point on this story in the coming days and weeks, since Duke is the only public reference point for any story about lacrosse.

That, no doubt, does not thrill officials at Duke, which is so close to putting this story behind it (all members of that team either have graduated or are about to graduate). It also is unfortunate to the extent any part of the story becomes a) Are lacrosse players somehow more likely to engage in violence (or at least misogynist or sexist behavior) against women; b) What is in the water at Landon and Landon's lacrosse program; or c) Look at Huguely's attitude, as reflected in that quotation about having sympathy for the accused players (a comment that turned out to be correct, both in the abstract and in that case.

Still, if we believe the Duke case has some "lessons," watch in the coming days how carefully both UVa and the police/prosecutors play things. All public comments from university officials have been about Love as a person, with no mention of Huguely, although he did throw out the line that "she appears now to have been murdered by another student." [Ed: As Mark says in the Comments, this sounded conclusive, if tentatively--but saying "appears" makes this, more or less, an accurate description of the situation in which a UVa student has been arrested and charged with murder]. No details have emerged about the cause of death (other than that it indicates violence) or type of injuries or about the nature of their relationship or its current status. Huguely became the investigative focus and was arrested very quickly, but the ex-boyfriend always is a first look.

We do not have the nasty race and class implications here (although one could find such implications in the outpouring of love and praise for the victim). And, unlike at Duke, a crime unquestionably did occur--the only question is who committed that crime. But the gender issue will be front-and-center to the extent this has hints of domestic violence on campus and involving athletes--primarily athlete as alleged perpetrator (not unusual, unfortunately), but unusually in this case also as victim. And this could trigger some conversations about the relationships between male and female athletes, particularly those playing the same sport.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 4, 2010 at 08:49 AM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink


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Your questions A and B above are somewhat inevitable, and will undoubtedly become part of the media narrative, but are quite frankly ridiculous. It's true, as you note, (and unfortunate) that the vast majority of Americans (outside of Maryland) know lacrosse only through the Duke scandal. But two "incidents" (and only one real crime) in five years hardly makes a violent trend, for a sport or even for a school. Even correcting for the far-larger number of participants, I suspect football, basketball, baseball, and many other sports have a much higher number of violent and/or misogynistic incidents, though most of those are lower-profile (there's your race-class hook, perhaps).

Of course, if the claim is that lacrosse incidents have a tendency to blow up, that could be true, and I suspect that's entirely race/class-based: Lacrosse players tend to be white, upper-class, and privately-educated; either the kind of kids who "just don't do that sort of thing" (so there's shock value), or the kind of kids who make great, entitled villains in the public imagination.

Posted by: MNO | May 4, 2010 11:28:26 PM

I was actually surprised the President of the University was as tentatively conclusive as he was in the university's statement about the tragedy:

"That she appears now to have been murdered by another student compounds this sense of loss by suggesting that Yeardley died without comfort or consolation from those closest to her. We mourn her death and feel anger on reading that the investigators believe that another student caused it."

Posted by: Mark McKenna | May 4, 2010 11:08:06 AM

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