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.