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    Saturday, April 08, 2006

    Type: The Lacrosse Player

    Lacrosse Players
    The elitism of preppies, the boorishness of jocks. By Dave Jamieson, for Slate
    :

    The scandal at Duke University that's been dominating the news the last few weeks—white lacrosse players have been accused of raping a black student from neighboring North Carolina Central University—has stained one of the nation's top colleges and highlighted racial tensions in Durham, N.C. The controversy has also exposed the culture of an elitist and relatively obscure sport.

    I was shocked when I heard about the alleged rape. But I can't say that I was surprised to hear that 15 of the 47 players on the Duke lacrosse roster have arrest records that are laced with alcohol-related crimes. (Disclosure: I was guilty of the same sort of alcohol-related crimes in college.) Five members of the team are alumni of the private Catholic high school I attended in North Jersey. One of them is Ryan McFadyen, the player who wrote an e-mail the night of the alleged assault detailing his fantasy to invite some more strippers over and then kill and skin them.

    McFadyen may not have committed a crime, but he is guilty of a common lacrosse sin: puerile meatheadedness. According to court documents, a search of McFadyen's home turned up a poster that apparently pays homage to the crude sexual maneuver known as "the shocker." (For those of you unfamiliar with the nuances of the shocker, consult Wikipedia, or, better yet, your local lacrosse squad.)

    Students, faculty, and Durham residents have carried out near-daily protests on Duke's campus. But if any of them are wondering how alcohol-fueled misogyny could fester at one of the nation's top schools, then they simply don't know lacrosse. A brief sociological account is in order. Lacrosse players hail from the privileged, largely white pockets of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. They unite and form tribes in Eastern prep schools, where they can be spotted driving SUVs with "LAX" stickers affixed to the rear windows. Many grow addicted to dipping Skoal and wearing soiled white caps with college logos on them. They gain entry into top colleges by virtue of their skills with the stick. They graduate, start careers in New York, marry trophy wives, and put lacrosse sticks in their kids' cribs.

    More than any other sport, lacrosse represents the marriage of athletic aggression and upper-class entitlement. While a squash player might consider himself upper-crust, he can't prove his superiority by checking you onto your ass the way a lacrosse defenseman can. And while lacrosse may share with football a love for contact, it is far more socioeconomically insulated than the grid game (except in odd places like Maryland, where it's managed to cross class lines). Some aficionados take pride in the fact that their sport was invented by Native Americans, but I don't imagine many members of the Onondaga Nation end up playing lax at Colgate.

    Still, how could college lacrosse players be any more misogynous than your typical football-team steakhead? Perhaps it's because, unlike their football brethren, an unusually large proportion of college lacrosse players spend their high school years in sheltered, all-boys academies before heading off to liberal co-ed colleges. Most guys from single-sex schools are able to adjust. Others join the lacrosse team. The worst of this lot become creatures that are, in the words of a friend of mine, "half William Kennedy Smith, half Lawrence Phillips." In the warm enclave of the locker room, safe from the budding feminists and comp-lit majors, their identity becomes more cemented. How else to explain the report in a Duke school paper that, roughly two weeks after the alleged rape, members of the team were spotted drinking in a Durham bar, chanting, "Duke lacrosse!"


    I was really glad to see someone wrote about this because I was thinking it, but, for some reason, didn't mention it: while most schools have a basketball team or football team, only the ritziest have a lacrosse team. My high school didn't have one, but the private schools and the richest public schools in my hometown did. And unlike basketball, baseball, and football, this is a sport still pretty much dominated by whites not only off the field, but on as well. It's sort of like masculinized tennis. It's not just brutish in the usual way, it's a particular kind of entitled brutishness that isn't simply entitlement because of one's athletic ability, but entitlement because of one's whole damned life.

    I'm sure this isn't all lacrosse players, but I think Jamieson's right to point out that there are differences between the athletic culture of football and basketball vs. lacrosse.

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