Elite Sports Culture Corrupts Youth

Brooke Woodward

On May 3, 2010, beautiful, 22 year-old University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love lay lifeless on her bed in a pool of her own blood after being brutally attacked by fellow Virginia lacrosse member George Huguely to whom she had been close for a long time. Outsiders may have looked at the two and envied their seemingly perfect lives. They had wealth, popularity, athleticism, and bright futures ahead of them, and so the question arises: how could this possibly have happened?

A number of factors likely contributed to George Huguely’s thoughts that night. However, there is one component that we cannot ignore: the culture of east coast lacrosse epitomizes privilege, extreme wealth, elitism and impunity. Fingers should not be pointed exclusively at Huguely for the death of Love, but rather at the greater culture that fosters violence, illegality and entitlement.

As a whole, these athletes are raised in a tight-knit bubble that incubates arrogance and superiority. They are stars on and off the field, and their peers cushion their actions, legal and illegal alike, solely because they play lacrosse. Their identities are largely determined by their cultish sport, and according to Andrew Sharp, a journalist and acquaintance of Huguely, “these were athletes that looked more like caricatures of a stereotype—overgrown hair, croakies around their neck, a lacrosse pennie, pastel-colored shorts, some rainbow flip flops and a backwards hat.” As members of a successful athletic community, the players look and act the part while their community turns a blind eye to their punishable actions as long as the team’s performance continues to flourish. Tragically, the players’ mentality eventually led one of them to murder.

Watch out Orinda. Dangerous jock culture hits closer to home than you may imagine; in fact, our best athletes in our most successful high school sport embrace the culture of the east coast. Parents spend thousands of dollars on private lessons, strength training, transportation to competitions, and equipment in order to give their children an upper leg on other teams as well as their own teammates.

In our Lamorinda community, winning sports teams prove that high achievement can give way to an entitled immunity from the law. In all of their glory, their unlawful acts are somehow lost or glossed over, fueling the athletes’ arrogant swagger and behavior.

Successful athletes too often become accustomed to being protected by their coaches, parents, and peers, who often regard substances and other illegal activity as permissible as long as the team is still thriving in competition. Much like those lacrosse players to our east, the freedom that accompanies our high socioeconomic status insulates our best athletes from reality.

With these elite sports in our community come dangerous social circles. The teammates stick together exclusively along with select outsiders, allowing them to get away with behavior that would otherwise be unacceptable. Despite this risk, parents are encouraging younger and younger children to play sports with hopes of college recruitment and scholarships, disregarding the fact that the sport’s culture may come to determine their child’s identity.

With wealth comes privilege and responsibility that these athletes seem to ignore. In a pathetic attempt to secure their image and popularity, many elite athletes in our community are taking the opportunities presented to them for granted.

While they are big fish in small ponds now, it will be interesting to see how they manage themselves once their constant support network ceases to protect them from the realities outside the Orinda bubble.  Unless the community takes responsibility for the actions of our elite athletes, we could easily become the center of a tragedy much like that at the University of Virginia.

Coaches, parents, and fellow students must crack down on the teams who believe they are immune to the law because the temptation to abuse their success increases each time society rewards them.

If people work to change this social norm, at least one fewer young boy may be saved from the detrimental realities of the elite jock society which rules our community’s youth.