Monday, May 17, 2010

The Lacrosse Thing

You're a Wolf - Sea Wolf (mp3)
Cumbersome - Seven Mary Three (mp3)

Lax Bros. Pronounced "Lacks Brohs," not "brothers" or "bras."

Lax Bros is the name my school has given the guys amongst us who play lacrosse. It is not a term of endearment. Rather, it is a term that the rest of the school gave the Lax Bros because they are so annoyed by the general attitude and behavior of said guys. And then, said guys, taking pride in their different-ness and the fact that other students are jealous, gleefully adopted it for themselves as well.

Meanwhile, I sit back and think to myself, WTF? Riddle me this, Batman. How can a sport that registers on the same level of Pop Cultural Consciousness as curling or duckpin bowling get so much attention, most of it so super awful bad and negative?

First, the Duke Lacrosse Scandal. Now the Virginia Lacrosse Scandal. The first surrounded a case that, ultimately, was a crock of shit. The second was all too real. In both cases, the demeanor and attitude of  Lax Bros was under the microscope and looking ugly.

Professionally, I got lots of love for lacrosse. It's one of the most powerful marketing tools a school like the one where we work can have. In lacrosse, if you have any talent and potential, and if you live in the South, your chances of getting college attention increases exponentially at a prominent lacrosse school. Baseball or wrestling or football, you can play those most anywhere and, if good enough, raise the right eyebrows. Not lacrosse. Most schools don't have a team, and most of the ones that do have one more in name than in quality. It's also the perfect sport to appeal to a niche market all expensive independent schools need: "Full Pay Students."

That's my professional take.

Personally, I can't deny the pervasive, annoying reality of the Lax Bro attitude. Nor do I like that some coworkers seem to celebrate and encourage it. Unfortunately, the penis-dangling competition amongst adults in high school environments is neither exclusive to us nor exclusive to the sport of lacrosse.

A friend sent me this link to a very opinionated piece on the George Huguely murder, and it included this description of the stereotype in question:

For better or worse, I’ve grown up going to hundreds of lacrosse parties over the years, forced to acknowledge these "athletes" that looked more like caricatures of a stereotype—overgrown hair, croakies around their neck, a lacrosse pinnie, pastel-colored shorts, some rainbow flip flops and a backwards hat. (For all the generalizations you hear, 9 times out 10, this is actually what they look like.)

Herein begins my sympathy for the culture: They can’t help it. Lacrosse is a sport that’s somewhere between Youth Soccer and Jai Alai. It was created by Native Americans, but perfected by a bunch of Mid-Atlantic prepsters, eager to congratulate themselves on their dominance of a sport that only they can play.

Because of the expensive equipment, and the distinct advantages provided to those that learn the game on suburban travel teams or at expensive prep schools like Landon, the sport remains fairly insular among wealthy children. To excel at lacrosse, it helps to have parents that have the resources to fund the hobby, and the time to cart their children to and from games.

It's true of other sports, too—hockey, for instance, requires similar time/money commitments from the families of young players—but the economic divide is more pronounced with lacrosse. If it seems like the sport belongs to different class, that’s because it does; most of the schools that excel are all-boys private schools, with skyhigh tuition, strict dress codes, and large expanses of green field space. Look at the top 10 High School Lacrosse Programs in the country.

The writer, Andrew Sharp, throws down a vicious and pitiless assault on its culture.

A part of me takes great pleasure in watching him skewer it all. Any fan of Revenge of the Nerds or Glee would have to derive a healthy dose of joy from reading such a screed. But... but I also feel like the guy has put together something of a straw man.

In college, I knew lots of lacrosse players. Most of them were the very jerks Sharp describes. None of them, to the best of my knowledge, killed anyone.

And it's not like lacrosse players had a monopoly on egregiously awful stereotypes. I only encountered the UNC wrestling team out at bars six or seven times, but every single time, one of them got in a fight. It was like a meeting of Napoleon Complex Anonymous invading the bar scene. I also knew more than a few fratters. One frequent reader and former fratter doesn't even tolerate use of the word "frat," but expects you to say "fraternity." ("Would you call your country a cunt?" he asks. And I tend to think, "Well first, it ain't my frat. Secondly, if my country was named "Kappa Sig," I might well call it the C-word and a whole bunch of other awful names. That said, he knows I love him anyway.)

Point is, as despicable and predictable as most of those frat guys were, I'm pretty sure none of them murdered any girls in cold blood, either. Date raped? Gang banged? Grouped together to beat the crap out of a single dude? Oh yeah, they did all of that crap. But murder is a different level, and just because they're assholes doesn't make them automatic candidates for a capital crime. The Duke lacrosse thing serves as that reminder quite nicely.

In conclusion, I wish Andrew's essay had been much shorter. It should have been summed up in a few sentences:
  1. I hope George Huguely gets shivved in his nuts a few times in the clink.
  2. I pray for Yeardley Love's soul and beg God that nothing like this ever happens again.
  3. I sure wish so many lacrosse players weren't such giant fucktard narcissistic assholes.


Hank said...

I prefer "You wouldn't call your pigeon a pig".

Jason said...


Why don't you tell us how you really feel? :)

As for your attitude on lacrosse players, I can only imagine what you and Bob must think of us football players.

I think the big problem lies in the fact that the attitude that you talk about in this article is somewhat encouraged at various levels in certain sports. There is certainly a jockdom feeling of 'entitlement' at times which pervades mindsets and causes a lot of problems. Lacrosse is not the only sport where this is an issue (taking a deep look inside now).

The question in this specific case that probably must be dealt with the most is that is it Lacrosse which caused this tragedy or the personality defects of Huguely, or some combination of both? In my experience, leadership from coaches and within the team help in dealing with situations like these.

Sorry to hijack this well written piece.

Bob said...

While I generally agree with Billy, I do think it is worth reading both the Sharp article and the comments that follow it. Both provide interesting glimpses into the American mindset.

Billy said...

@hank -- Thanks for the extra example. I knew I'd forgotten two of 'em.

@Jason -- I really don't mean to paint all lax players with poop. Or athletes. Or any group. In fact, although I do a bad job of it, that's kind of my point. Not all lax players are f-tard narcissistic a-holes, and only one or two of the f-tard narcissistic ones are murderers.

Hijack anytime you like, pal. That's why we love comments!

@Bob -- Agree. Lotta built-up resentment to this culture... And other interesting vibes.

Stephen said...

It may be true that lacrosse is usually played only by rich kids, but it's different on Long Island. When I was growing up there, lacrosse was our version of spring football. At my own high school, the players on our lacrosse team did not typically go on to a 4-year college.