Lacrosse and Privilege

Athletes at Duke University made national headlines last week for a team party in which the athletes allegedly gang raped of a black dancer. It is interesting to note that the athletes in question here did not play football or basketball, but lacrosse. As a former high school lacrosse player, I am not surprised.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the sport, lacrosse is a game where people throw and catch balls with sticks and attempting to shoot the ball at the net for a goal. It is a fun game and I want to make clear that nothing about the sport of lacrosse itself prompts people to commit crimes.

Lacrosse, however, is also a sport of privilege. It requires at least $300 in equipment to begin with, plus fees for tournaments and indoor leagues. It is a relatively young sport, so it is still very regional. It is most popular in areas that predominantly upper middle class and white. The suburbs of southeastern Pennsylvania are among best areas for lacrosse. Duke has removed the roster from the athletics website, but I would guess at least a few players came from my area.

While I enjoyed playing lacrosse, I noticed with some hesitance the growing culture surrounding the sport. It is an elite sport and it attracts elite young men who form strong bonds outside of the game. Thus has emerged an old boy’s club where young men, not surprisingly, make poor decisions.

The Duke incident recalled a specific event during my final season. Lacrosse is an aggressive sport and altercations occasionally occur. In one game a black athlete from an opposing school punched one of my teammates.

I did not witness the event firsthand, but another player recalled with amusement on the bench that the altercation was precipitated by my teammate calling the black athlete a n—–. Knowing my teammate to be a moron and a racist, I believed the story.

A day later no one seemed to remember what happened, especially since someone filed a complaint and the school suspended my teammate. Many team members wore athletic tape with his number on their jerseys as a sign of solidarity. I did not, nor did a few others who likely suspected the story to be true. In the end my teammate was suspended for a week and forced to give a short speech in which he gave a non-denial denial, lamenting the situation and apologizing for any grief he had caused.

What impressed me was not my teammates’ bigotry, but how quickly my other teammates were willing to stand up for him – even when they knew he was wrong. Similarly the Duke lacrosse players have banded together and will not discuss the incident. This is teamwork at its worst.

These problems are not isolated to simply lacrosse, but any exclusive group that puts protecting itself above common decency. It speaks to the need for diversity throughout our academic community. 46 out of the 47 Duke players were white and many came from elite prep schools. It is unlikely they have had much expose to anyone outside their socioeconomic group. Perhaps if they had they wouldn’t view women, specifically black women, as sex objects.

Hopefully the players will eventually learn their lesson, but in the meantime we can all do a better job of being more inclusive in our lives.

Update: Corrected number of white players above. See comments for details.

4 thoughts on “Lacrosse and Privilege

  1. This is not a happy story, and I think your analysis is spot on.

    You said that all 47 players were white… I think I read somewhere that 46 of 47 were white, and that there was a freshman backup goalie who was black. He was the the only one who didn’t have to submit a DNA test.

    Isn’t 47 a lot of people to be on a team? How many play on the field at a time?

    I tried out for the KU club lacrosse team, despite never having played before. I lasted about a week, as I didn’t like getting hit with sticks. Though, the club culture at KU is far removed from what I’ve heard about the eastern teams.

  2. You’re right, the lone black player did not have to give a DNA sample because the victim said her attackers were white.

    In terms of culture, I am sure it varies from place to place, but I think it is most dangerous in affluent suburban areas. It’s not just lacrosse either, after sharing my story a couple of my friends from high school related similar stories from other sports.

  3. The guys on the varsity tennis team at my high school were like that, except for one. I was on the JV, as I was never privleged enough to have private lessons at the club like the 6 guys on varsity. But the JV was a different story. We all just had fun hanging out together and whacking a few balls back and forth. We hated the varsity guys.

  4. Hey Steve,still think that their guilty?? Just wondering if your knee jerk reaction has been modified by the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.Or have you read anything about this case other than what the liberal media has told you to think? And is an apology forthcoming??

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