Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Our culture of sports violence: What hath we wrought?

When I was in high school many years ago, there were two kinds of kids my age: the "jocks" and everyone else. People like me tended to avoid the jocks because, to be honest, many of them were vicious bullies who took great delight in slamming you into a hallway locker when you weren't looking.

There were exceptions, and I even had a few friends who were athletes, including one of our star football players (he committed suicide the year after we graduated; I've always suspected he was gay and that had something to do with it). For the most part, though, I avoided the jocks as best I could.

I bring this up in the context of the death of Yeardley Love, a 22-year-old student athlete who was brutally murdered last week, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend who was also a student athlete. The University of Virginia is a very tight-knit community, and most of my parishioners are connected to the University. So my people are still reeling, still in shock.

Previously I have commented in this space that the culture of alcohol abuse at UVa needs to be closely examined by officials, alumni and all of us. I've heard comments in recent days from people (not in this parish), who ought to know better, saying "it isn't as bad as elsewhere." That seems quite beside the point. It is bad here. It needs to change.

But something else needs to be examined -- the culture of sports in America and how some male athletes (not all of them) have an attitude that rules don't apply to them, that violence is an acceptable form of solving problems, and that using and abusing women is normal. I hope university, college and high school officials across our country will take a deep look at this aggressive culture and do whatever it takes to change it. I pray that Yeardley Love will be the last to die this way.

The Washington Post had a superb commentary by Sally Jenkins the other day on this topic, and I commend it to you today:
George Huguely, Ben Roethlisberger, Lawrence Taylor: Male athletes encouraged to do the wrong thing

By Sally Jenkins
Saturday, May 8, 2010
George Huguely is said to have been a vicious drunk who menaced Yeardley Love, yet there has been no indication that any of his teammates said anything to police. Ben Roethlisberger seems to be a serial insulter of women, whose behavior is shielded by the off-duty cops he employs. And if the charges are true, Lawrence Taylor ignored the bruises on a 16-year-old girl's face as he had sex with her, never thinking to ask who beat her.

It's a bad stretch for women in the sports pages. After reading the news accounts and police reports, it's reasonable to ask: Should women fear athletes? Is there something in our sports culture that condones these assaults? It's a difficult, even upsetting question, because it risks demonizing scores of decent, guiltless men. But we've got to ask it, because something is going on here -- there's a disturbing association, and surely we're just as obliged to address it as we are concussions.
To read the full commentary, click HERE.

Photo of vigil for Yeardley Love at the University of Virginia, New York Daily News.

1 comment:

Peter Carey+ said...


I am pondering your post...and thinking, perhaps, that you are overgeneralizing and allowing your own bad experience with "jocks" to cloud your thinking about all the elements of the horrible events that took place last week.

I say this, of course, as someone who played lacrosse in high school and college, and who coached for more than 20 years, and also as someone who knows many many athletes who have gone on to do all sorts of vocations which benefit the world.

I am pondering a longer response (which I may write after I read Jenkins' article more carefully), but right now I am just wondering whether it is not so much about "sports" or "drinking" (though these may influence the situation), but rather about misogyny and domestic abuse and cycles of abuse at the heart of the situation...

Mostly pondering here, and I do appreciate your thoughts...

In Christ's peace,

Peter Carey+