Thursday, May 6, 2010

a tale as old as time

Making the rounds today is this column by SBNation's Andrew Sharp:

Murder at UVA: George Huguely, Yeardley Love, and Lacrosse's Worst-Case Scenario

It's a well-written column. It's an earnest, well-meant attempt at making sense of something that wasn't supposed to happen, written by someone with some insight into the lives of lacrosse players. It's truthful and doesn't take leaps of faith with the facts of the case.

It's also wrong.

Flat wrong. As with many sensationalistic murder cases, this one has attracted attention from the media, much of it obnoxious and sleazy, in an attempt to Make Sense Of It All, which really boils down to little more than a battle for your precious advertising dollars. Andrew Sharp is to be commended for his effort to do something other than try and convince you that this is the culmination of a program gone rogue; in the end, though, he's little more than another unknowing victim of the culture that he purports to be an objective observer of. The focus here is on lacrosse culture as he describes it, ignoring almost entirely the aspects of that culture (which are most of them) that apply to the rest of society.

Lacrosse is a rich kids' sport, explains Sharp, and that means the social scene entails cliques, entitlement, parties, drugs, and of course, "lacrosstitutes." George Huguely went to an elite private school and then an elite university, and this background, somehow unique and insular, is supposed to have contributed to the murder.

There's nothing unique about lacrosse. Sharp treats it as such, implies as such, but it's not true. Rock has its groupies. Hockey has its puck bunnies. Football has...well, Ali Larter in a whipped-cream bikini, among other temptations available to football players in the football-obssessed culture of Texas. Hollywood? Sure, but in a real-life world where high school football stadiums cost sixty million dollars, do you doubt this goes on? In a world where baseball has a steroid problem and NBAers toke up like Cheech and Chong, do you see anything different if there are drugs in lacrosse? Rich kids are going to be cliquish and find their way to the liquor cabinet without the help of lacrosse.

Sharp blames lacrosse while claiming not to blame lacrosse. Of course you can't blame the sport of lacrosse. A bunch of sticks and balls did not conspire to murder Yeardley Love. But you can't put the finger on lacrosse "culture" and claim not to be blaming the sport. Sharp writes:

But if we're looking to understand this tragedy in a way that teaches us anything, lacrosse matters. .... George Huguely may not have felt "entitled" to date Yeardley Love regardless of her objections (that conclusion's too easy) but it's entirely conceivable that lacrosse's entitlement culture, filled with excess, enabled him to turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism, and without any social repercussions, burying his "issues" deep inside. .... And whatever the case, really, it all points to the same problem, where lacrosse is at least tangentially complicit.
If the police find any person in this case who is "tangentially complicit," they'll slap 'em in handcuffs and charge 'em with something. It's not legal to be complicit in a murder. So Sharp is, in fact, blaming lacrosse, whether he means to or not. If I asked you today about a case where an athlete murdered a girl with whom he'd previously been in a relationship, you'd say it was George Huguely; if I had asked you the same question last week, who might you come up with?

I ask because O.J. Simpson did not have the privileged, "sheltered" upbringing that George Huguely had. I ask because neither did Rae Carruth. It didn't take wealthy parents or an enabling social circle or a certain kind of lifestyle for these men to decide to kill someone. (We're just going to go with the standard assumption about OJ, alright?) Steve McNair didn't kill an ex-lover - but his ex-lover did. If you want to extend the "athletes killing people" (or trying to) meme, we can roll on to Mike Danton or Ugueth Urbina, neither case being somehow exacerbated by the culture of their respective sport.

With apologies to Angela Lansbury and her voicing of a kindly old mother teapot in Beauty and the Beast, the jealous murder of a lover is a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme. Robert Browning described it in a poem called "Porphyria's Lover." Victor Hugo's villainous Claude Frollo tried it - repeatedly. Greek mythology is chock full of this stuff.

And a quick Google search will turn up roughly ten quinzillion individual results, all around the world, describing how jealous, rageful people killed someone they loved or once loved. Did George Huguely need the lacrosse culture to help him commit this murder? Like hell he did. Is it really necessary to "find a reason" for the act of an intoxicated, probably jealous kid with major-league anger issues?

Ultimately, Sharp has it backwards. This kind of story would earn headlines in no newspaper but the Cav Daily if an English major had killed another English major. This story made headlines because the principals are lacrosse players, and that would be true if the principals were soccer players, basketball players, swimmers, or anyone wearing a UVA uniform, or a UNC one, or a Tennessee one, or a Cleveland State one. It's a lacrosse story because of the effects it'll have on the game of lacrosse, not the other way round.


I wish my own clumsy words could do any kind of justice to a personal hero of mine and the best human being in all of sports, but they can't. So I'm left with nothing but this: RIP, Ernie Harwell.

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