Lexus, Lacoste and Lacrosse: The Entitled Elite Male Athlete

There’s no shortage of explanations for the tragic death of Yeardley Love, University of Virgina lacrosse player at the hands of George Huguely, a player on the men’s lacrosse team, with whom she had recently broken off a dating relationship.  It’s human, after all, to search for some reason in what appears to be such a senseless tragedy.

Here’s what we know: Huguely, a rich preppy jock at one of America’s richest and preppiest schools, had some “run ins” with the law in the past.  On May 2, he “kicked his foot through [Yeardley Love’s] bedroom door and forced his way in,” according to The New York Times.  There, furious with her, he grabbed her and shook her so violently that “her head repeatedly hit the wall.”  The trauma killed her.

To some, Huguely was simply a monster, a deviant psychopath. (We often want to make crimes like this the province of individual psychopathology, because it means it has nothing to do with us “normal” folk.) Others, though, pointed out how unbearably common and “normal” such attacks actually are: In the United States alone, three women are murdered every single day by their intimate partners and more than a million are physically assaulted every single year.

Still others believe it was the violence of lacrosse itself, a game in which hacking your opponent’s arm with your stick is considered sporting. Others say it’s not the sport itself, but the culture of lacrosse–a culture fueled by class privilege and elite schools, where it is a high-prestige sport.

So, was it class (rich preppy privilege) or gender (men assaulting women)? Was it a sick individual or evidence of something deeper in the cultural fabric?

From the outside, George Huguely had it all: preppy handsome, quarterback and lacrosse star at his tony pre school, playing on the top-ranked lacrosse team in the nation, had a gorgeous girlfriend of similar background–and equal lacrosse skills. Such guys are the epitome of what I describe in my book Guyland as the “culture of entitlement.”  They think they can do anything they want and get away with it, and usually they’re right.

That’s because they are surrounded by a culture of silence among their intimate friends and associates, a culture of passive bystanders who might find their friend’s out-of-control behavior unpalatable but who would never think of confronting or challenging him. My guess is that someone–a roommate, fraternity brother, teammate–knew that George was freaking out, knew he was distressed.  But he said nothing, did nothing, told no one.  No coaches seem to have seen even a hint of his obvious distress. No residence hall advisers noticed anything odd.

This is a guy who had been sending threatening emails to Yeardley Love for some time and who had, two months earlier, according to the Washington Post, assaulted Love at a party where two North Carolina lacrosse players had to intervene to stop him. And where were his UVA teammates then? It may have been many of those same teammates who, a couple of years ago, didn’t see the suicide of their team captain Will Barrow coming either. Huguely’s team is also one on which eight players have been charged with alcohol-related offenses. Is anyone paying attention?

Suddenly this doesn’t seem like the isolated incident committed by one lone deranged guy.  It was that, of course, but it was also much more than that.

The culture of silence is itself surrounded by a culture of protection–a bubble of class privilege, athletic status and a fraternal wagon-circling when things go wrong. If things go terribly wrong, the culture of protection–including parents, coaches and alumni boosters–hire high-priced lawyers who manage to get records expunged and witnesses to forget what they saw.

Lacrosse’s bubble of protection is a bit different from that of football: It’s a country-club entitlement, based more on class than athletic revenue. According to Andrew Sharp, a high school lacrosse player who grew up in the same world as George Huguely (and writes about the incident at www.sbnation.com),  lacrosse is high-profile in a very small but very privileged swath of the American northeast: the Baltimore and D.C. suburbs, the northern tier of New York State, the Long Island suburbs and countless elite New England prep schools. It’s also just about the whitest sport that isn’t played on ice. (Note that lacrosse rules not just in any suburbs, but in those surrounding the East Coast’s most diverse cities.)

I’m loathe to blame everything on lacrosse, especially since my 11-year-old son is competing his first season playing the sport for our local team in Brooklyn–not every lacrosse player is all about Lacoste and Lexus–and he’s loving it. (His favorite player is actually named Michael Kimmel–no relation!–an All-American midfielder from Johns Hopkins.)  But the culture surrounding our male athletes, especially those in a high-profile arena, often shields them from the consequences of their actions.

In such a bubble, it may be hard for an entitled, constantly validated athlete to grant anyone else autonomy. Who was Yeardly Love to break up with George Huguely, anyway? Who did she think she was?

Maybe that’s all he wanted to communicate to her. Tragically, though, it’s what the entire world has now heard loud and clear.

Above: George Huguely mugshot. Photo public domain.

Comments

  1. Timothy J. Ward says:

    I wonder if any writer would describe a similar assault as having been inflicted by a poor dummy thug ? How about if that poor dummy thug received social promotions to play sports at the same school as the rich preppy jock ? Would he then be an aspiring to be rich dummy jock; how about a middle class in debt working class athlete ? I went to a private high school in the `60s where we, well some of us, worked hard to have ‘normal’ folks look beyond class . If we use such stereo-typed language are we not enforcing the same prejudices that do not allow us to disparage those who are not so ‘privileged. I found excellent models for changing society whether I was listening I was listening to Saul Alinsky or Gloria Steinem, Barbara Jordan or Bobby Kennedy. What names should I brand them with ? I am an ally against all abuse of this type ! Requiescat In Pace, Ms. Yeardley Love

  2. Julia Tew says:

    Sounds pretty much like textbook domestic violence. Yep, even rich, white, “christian”, athletic folks have to deal with domestic violence. And it’s so not always heterosexual.

    So could she have been saved? Hell, yes. How about strict enforcement of current punishments for offenders and more legislation to protect victims? How about including courses on identifying, escaping and preventing relationship abuse become a part of middle school education? (That’s right; this problem starts that early.) How about more funding for support for children dealing with violence in the home, since males who witness intimate partner violence are far more likely to become violent with their own partners later in life? Just a few ideas…

    And you know, the groundwork’s already laid for this kind of change. Make it happen. You, now, today, make it happen. Tell someone, especially your children, that violence against another person is unacceptable. Tell your friend who won’t let his/her partner go somewhere without his/her consent that that’s not cool. Talk about it. And for heaven’s sake, place the blame for violence on those who perpetrate violence, not on the victims.

  3. S Gubanc says:

    It’s the same story here in Iowa.

    Grinnell College student male athletes show how they feel about women? Where are the coaches???
    “Guyland” by Kimmell is paert of my gender course for good reason.

    Go here for details on Grinnell stituation.
    http://www.thesandb.com/news/remnants-of-on-campus-party-lead-to-administrative-action.html

  4. victoria blessing says:

    Julia, I agree! Not violent, Not silent. We can change things. Not by appealing, begging, groveling. We will change things if we take courage, join hands, stand together, fight together.

  5. R. B. Parrish says:

    “But it’s interesting that their friends and classmates found the story utterly plausible, as they told countless reporters.”

    This is the power of stereotyping. How many found the accusations against the Scottsboro boys “plausible”? And when the Coleman commission invited anyone with knowledge of past bad behavior on the part of the lacrosse team to testify, no one–not one student on the Duke campus–responded. The team was so little known on campus that an article written the previous fall cited their anonymity as contributing to their (very solid) academic achievements.

    “And the team did, after all, hire strippers for their team party in violation of all team and university rules.”

    The lacrosse party was a substitute for Spring Break, which the team had to miss when it stayed behind to practice. (What were other students nationwide doing on Spring Break?) Some twenty other groups at Duke hired strippers that year, including sororities (which put pictures of their male strippers on the NET) and Coach K’s basketball team. None of these were criticized and no other team had its season cancelled.

    There were 121 other asserted rapes in the Durham area in 2006. None of these received any attention. The lacrosse case wasn’t about rape; it was about power. It was about a plethora of popular agendas (else why ignore the other 121 rapes?). And as such, it simply became “too important for innocence to be allowed as a defense”.

    R. B. Parrish
    (author, “The Duke Lacrosse Case: A Documentary History and Analysis of the Modern Scottsboro”)

  6. Lacrosse or no lacrosse, it is unclear whether the state of Virginia would have helped Love or if the University of Virginia would have done anything.

    Unfortunately, in the state of Virginia, Yeardley Love could have only received a restraining order from a husband or ex husband – not a boyfriend. The Center for Public Integrity cited UVA as a campus in violation of Title IX and The Clery Act in their handling of rape cases among students. Are we confident that UVA would have handled the situation well if Love or her teammates came forward? I am not.

    We can’t blame lacrosse (I love the sport!)for creating violent individuals, or even his race/class. I went to school with an immensely talented football player who was a serial rapist, several women came forward, but my school chose to ignore this inconvenient fact.

    Certainly shining light on *domestic violence* plain and simple, and in this case, the white, suburban, Christian and wealthy culture of entitlement is important to discuss and deconstruct. According to People Magazine, Huguely inherited the behavior from his father, a man with personal wealth prone to think and behave as if he is above the law. This is not an isolated family, American society is one of entitlement, just look at our consumption rates at the expense of other nations.

    Until we:
    1. Call it what it is: domestic violence, sexual violence
    2. Educate bystanders & encourage prevention
    3. Make sure our schools/institutions are set up to receive & act on information
    4. Quit special privileges for rich/talented athletes
    5. Stop victim blaming (although Love was spared this fate, thankfully)

    We will continue to see women die at the hands of those who claim to love them.

  7. Bill Localio says:

    What a thoughtful article! Thank you, Michael Kimmel!! Of course some of these constantly validated athletes from elite backgrounds go on to work at hedge funds and banks which continue the culture of superiority, normal-rules-don’t-apply-to-me, and general elitism. I hope the final verdict on this crime does not portray it simply as the act of a psychopath but gives it the larger social dimension you sketch.

  8. Kristina F says:

    This article was interesting right up until the point when the writer admits his own son plays lacrosse. Hello?! But I guess his son will be one of the ones immune to all the evils he associates with this sport? And what was the point of the “Lacoste and Lexus” references? By spending more time on other cultural institutions like sports and class, this writer does everyone a great disservice and lets this guy off the hook. Let’s blame lacrosse, not the murderer. Let’s blame class privilege, not the murderer. When girls commit heinous acts–like the recent bullying that drove one girl from Ireland to kill herself–why don’t we also point to sports or class privilege? All in all, this article leaves a lot to be desired.

  9. The article makes connections that are absolutely illogical. A person who plays lacrosse demonstrates violent out of control personality traits and it is the sin of the lacrosse culture.Do we say the same thing about a person who comes from a region of the country? Are all people of that region part of the problem or crime? What about if the person is a movie director would we incriminate the entire entertainment community OR THE CULT OF MOVIE DIRECTORS? What about all the violence surrounding basketball and football players? Are these players part of a violent protective cult.

    As for a culture of silence in the lacrosse community? Please not only didn’t the author establish this point, silence is an attribute attributed to many criminal groups,certainly not particular to rich privileged families. Ever hear of the mafia. The article is poorly researched with a predetermined bias.

  10. nescac example says:

    Very recently, the captain of my NESCAC college's lacrosse team went to a DC private school and while visiting a school downstate he and a fellow lax bro took turns having sex with an intoxicated and unresponsive young woman four years their junior. This is not meant to criticize all lacrosse players as this young woman is also a college lacrosse player, but it simply corroborates this article's points. The young woman bravely looked to avoid official action as she only sought an apology from these men…but the captain from my school refused to acknowledge her when she contacted him. (The other apologized and took appropriate measures of restitution to her) Due to the lack of response from the lacrosse captain she contacted her college's councilor who brought it up to the dean. The schools were in contact – but what came of it? Nothing. No one heard of anything. What permits this special censorship by both colleges? Perhaps similar things happen on other campuses with members of other sports teams, but this is an important example that hopefully evokes some more thought into the limits colleges and universities will go to protect their athletes. In doing so it further prolongs more drastic events such as the murder of Yeardley Love.

  11. Joe Szczepaniak says:

    Nevermind all the women in the girlfriend’s life who knew she was dealing with this guy. None of them are responsible for standing by silently. No, only the men.

    What you fail to recognize is that with freedom comes power, and with power comes responsibility. That goes for men and women both.

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