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Does Lacrosse Condone a Culture of Violence?

Last Wednesday, a former University of Virginia lacrosse player was found guilty of second-degree murder for killing his ex-girlfriend, a player on the UVA women’s lacrosse team.  George Huguely V admitted to kicking down Yeardley Love’s bedroom door during an argument and shaking her as her head hit the wall repeatedly, but claimed Love only had a broken nose when he left her and that she was still alive.  However, the state medical examiner determined that Love’s death was likely a slow, painful one due to blunt force trauma to the head, and that it could have lasted around two hours before she took her last breath.  The verdict was lower than the first-degree murder conviction that the prosecution had aimed for, but higher than the involuntary manslaughter charge for which the defense had advocated.

The jury wrestled with deciding whether it had been a crime of “malice” (in the jury instructions, “deliberate, willful and cruel actions”) or “heat of passion.”  The two are different under the law, and the jury determined that Love had not provoked Huguely, making it impossible to find that it had been a crime committed in the heat of passion.   However, the jury objected to the defense’s characterization of Huguely’s violence as just “what kids do.”   One juror said “[w]e had a juror who went to UVA and he and his friends drank a lot. He said that kind of behavior of kicking down the door is not normal. That should not be a characterization of students at UVA. For anyone to suggest that is normal is so offensive. The defense’s whole approach in that regard was not appropriate.”

Lacrosse has often been depicted in society as a violent sport played by snobs.  I think a lot of this perception is due to the Duke Lacrosse scandal from a few years ago, where Duke varsity men’s lacrosse players were accused of sexual crimes they did not commit.  In his blog, J. Patrick Dobel, a professor at the University of Washington, writes that “[t]he culture of lacrosse epitomizes privileged swaggering wealth and elite violence comfortable with its own superiority and confident in its ability to act with impunity.”  This seems like an unfair blanket statement based solely on a few very publicized college athletic cases of violence against women.  Not every lacrosse player is rich: most Major League Lacrosse (the outdoor league) players actually must work another job to make a living.  In the indoor National Lacrosse League, players in the 2012 season will make a maximum of $33,971.  An argument that lacrosse is superior fails because it’s simply not – it’s a major league sport that fights for recognition.

I’m not arguing that there isn’t violent behavior that happens in the lacrosse world.  In fact, there was an incident just last week in which players from the Rochester Knighthawks NLL team were charged in connection with a restaurant brawl.  I just think that we would have paid just as much attention to this case if it had been football players, or pop stars, or University lab techs, because that’s exactly what society’s done.  Violence against women is never okay, and if anything, this case points to exactly how complicated and intwined abusive relationships can be.  I don’t think that lacrosse culture is the culture to blame here, but the general culture of violence against women, and blaming sports is misdirected anger against a culture that glorifies violence.

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