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.

"We can no longer dismiss these actions as representative of a few bad apples," says Jay Coakley, author of "Sport in Society: Issues and Controversies," and a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado. "The evidence suggests that they are connected to particular group cultures that are in need of critical assessment."

What do we mean when we ask whether there was something in the lacrosse "culture" that led to the murder of Yeardley Love? The Latin root of the word "cultura" means "to grow." It means the attitudes, practices, and values that are implanted and nourished in a group or society.

There's a lot we still don't know about Huguely and his "brothers," but three attitudes and practices of at least some members of the Virginia lacrosse team seem obvious: physical swagger, heavy drinking and fraternal silence.

In 2008, a drunken Huguely was so brutally combative with a female cop that she felt she had to Taser him. Last year, he assaulted a sleeping teammate who he believed had kissed Love, several former players say, and this year, he had other violent confrontations with Love herself, witnesses say.

We can argue about gaps in the system, but one constituency very likely knew about Huguely's behavior: his teammates and friends, the ones who watched him smash up windows and bottles and heard him rant about Love.

Why didn't they tackle him? Why didn't they turn him in?

Undoubtedly, many of the young men on the Virginia lacrosse team are fine human beings. I don't mean to question their decency. I don't mean to blame them.

But I do mean to ask those who knew of Huguely's behavior an important question. Why did they not treat Yeardley Love as their teammate, too?

Where were her brothers?

Why was she not deserving of the same loyalty as George Huguely? She played lacrosse. She wore a Virginia uniform. She was equally a champion. And yet because she played on the women's team, she seems not to have been accorded the same protection that Huguely was.

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