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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. No details have emerged about the cause of death 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.


Since a cause of death has not et been established, I don't know how you can say that we "unquestionably" know that a person has been murdered. Actually, the only thing that we know is that a young lady has died and a young man has been accused of causing her death.

Also, I take exception to the statement that was issued by UVA's president yesterday to the effect that it "appears" that the young lady's death was "caused by one of our own".

While it may very well turn out that a murder occurred and the accused actually committed it, at the present time I think we should all refrain from reporting assumptions as being "unquestionably" known.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/04/2010 9:33 AM  

Fair point about the President's comment. Although, in fairness, saying "it appears" is, more or less, an accurate description if someone has been arrested and charged with murder.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 5/04/2010 2:20 PM  

I, too, have a problem with the "unquestionably" part here. I mean seriously: it seems likely that a crime may have occurred, but the boy's lawyer has called it an accident. I wouldn't rush to judgment just yet.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/05/2010 7:41 AM  

He apparently (according to police affidavits) has admitted to choking and shaking the woman, causing her head to strike the wall or the floor (I forget which). Whether he *death* was an accident, this still sounds like a crime of some sort.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 5/05/2010 8:24 AM  

You just can't handle taking the word "unquestionably" out, can you.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/05/2010 9:38 AM  


I take issue with your description of the Duke lacrosse players as "unfairly infamous." A bunch of college students admitted hiring a stripper for a party and denigrated her with racial slurs after and perhaps during the night in question (not to mention serving alcohol to minors, which, while we can agree is a minor crime, would probably have gotten them suspended from the school or team all by itself).

The team's behavior on the night was reprehensible, though probably not illegal. Let's not turn them into saints just because the prosecutor overreached.

One more thing: In journalism school they teach that "murder" is a legal term that can only be applied after a judicial finding of guilt. It could turn out to be manslaughter or an accident or self-defense, in which case she wasn't murdered.

Blogger JimmyG -- 5/10/2010 9:14 AM  

I am not turning the Duke lacrosse players into saints. But let's not turn them into horrid people either. What, exactly, did they do that was reprehensible? Having a party with alcohol, including alcohol being consumed by minors? I'm shocked, shocked that this would happen on a college campus--there were only thousands of college students (including student-athletes) doing the same thing that same night. None of them would have been suspended from school for it.

Hiring strippers? Not everyone's cup of tea, but hardly unusual conduct and certainly not immoral in the view of many.

Using racial slurs? Yes, reprehensible, but there is some dispute as to what was said and in what context. And at most it seemed to involve only one player.

The worst thing that was done that night was the disgusting misogynist e-mail sent by one player after the fact--again, one player.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 5/11/2010 8:46 AM  

Sorry, but I think it is more likely that they are horrid people than saints. Put it all together: the stripper, the racial slurs by one player, the misogynist e-mail by another -- it doesn't paint a pretty picture. I'm not saying "lock 'em up," but this is more than just typical student hijinks.

I think I was pretty clear that the alcohol was a minor transgression. But the school would likely not take such a dismissive stance. Most scholarship athletes would be suspended, at a minimum, for serving alcohol to underage students, so I think it's fair to include that when you measure how irresponsible they were.

Blogger JimmyG -- 5/18/2010 9:00 PM  

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