The tragic death of Yeardley Love, a senior at the University of Virginia and a member of the women's lacrosse team, has once again brought a blitz of attention to college lacrosse. And, once again, the impression that most are left with is rather damning: this is a sport played by white, wealthy kids, and one that fosters excessive drinking, recklessness, and, at times, racism. These sound like wild generalizations, but as someone who played the game throughout high school and college, I'll admit that the observations do, to an extent, ring true.
When the Duke lacrosse scandal dominated headlines and TV tickers four years ago, the nation--and the vapid tornado of cable news in particular--was quick to judge. The team, in the fashion of most squads under assault, hunkered down in silence and banded together. But the broader lacrosse world, even my small corner of it in Haverford, PA, found itself marginally implicated, too, and many of us felt compelled to defend the culture of the game.
In 2006, Duke administrators canceled the remainder of the team's season. When allegations that three members of the team had raped an African-American stripper turned out to be unfounded--forcing the overzealous Durham district attorney to drop the case--the university was ridiculed for its hasty decision.
By contrast, the University of Virginia has allowed its top seeded men's team to continue playing into the post-season. One would suspect that the Duke case has somewhat figured into the University of Virginia's decision. But this is a very different situation. George Huguely V, the indicted midfielder from the men's Cavalier squad, has, for nearly all intents and purposes, already admitted to the crime, and, in my mind at least, also implicated--albeit on a very different level--the culture and friends that provoked reckless excess and failed to take notice of a young man spiraling out of control.
On college teams of this caliber--where players live together, eat together, work out together, and travel together for nearly the entire spring semester--players know the ins and out of almost every teammate's life: their injuries and health issues, their academic standing and classes, their romantic relationships and drinking and drug habits. Having played at a Division III school, I can tell you that this certainly was the case for my team.
So the fact that Huguely was at times reckless and violent, particularly when drunk, and was alarmingly obsessive about Love, would have been recognized by fellow players, and perhaps coaches, too, and certainly should have been addressed. The fact that this was not his first violent interaction with Love is the strongest charge against the friends and teammates that failed to recognize the severity of the situation.
In truth, there are many places in the game's culture where nights like the one Huguely had at Washington and Lee University in November 2008--when he was Tasered after resisting arrest and shouting slurs at a black, female officer who had found him stumbling into oncoming traffic--garner acceptance and credibility. As with other sports teams and fraternities, stories like these are traded like war stories among lacrosse players; they're the battle ribbons of a culture that enjoys hard-drinking and recklessness. They're a kind of proof of one's weekend warrior bona fides.