Field lacrosse is supposed to be a gentleman's game. Referees can hand out penalties for swearing or, if they’re particularly strict, if anyone other than a team captain speaks to them.
In fact, one of the senior lacrosse referees in Ontario regularly admonishes athletes for swearing on the field by saying “Watch your language, I’m carrying a picture of my mother in my pocket.” He’s not afraid to hand out fouls for anything he deems to hurt the image of the game.
Sportsmanship toward opponents, officials and teammates is considered a prized characteristic in lacrosse players.
Unfortunately, this respect for the game doesn’t always translate to respectful or even legal behaviour off the field.
On Monday University of Virginia senior lacrosse player George Huguely was arrested and charged with first degree murder of Yeardley Love, a member of the school’s women’s lacrosse team.
According to news reports, the two had a relationship that recently ended. Huguely admitted in a search warrant affidavitissued to Charlottesville, Va., police that he and Love had an altercation and that he “shook Love and her head repeatedly hit the wall.”
It’s a shocking tragedy that has upset the community surrounding UVA. A young life has been snuffed out before it even really began.
This isn’t the first time that NCAA lacrosse has been rocked by controversy. In 2006 three members of Duke University’s team were accused of raping a black student from North Carolina Central University who was hired as a stripper at a party held at the house of one of the captains of the Blue Devils.
Although all charges were dropped against the three athletes, the messy affair created a firestorm around Duke’s campus and ignited racial tensions in North Carolina. The lives and reputations of many of the parties involved were ruined.
Obviously, the Duke scandal and the murder in Virginia are unrelated crimes that took place years apart and involve independent parties.
Still, they offer a sad commentary on the behaviour of varsity lacrosse players. Both incidents underscore the fact that many young men involved in athletics are violent, often towards women.
It’s not limited to lacrosse at the university level either. There have been many famous professional athletes accused of sexual assault including NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and, more recently, Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Coaches, captains, athletic directors and anyone else in a position of authority on these teams have to start stepping up and teaching their athletes the importance of respect and discipline on and off the field.
The emphasis placed on sportsmanship and good conduct when playing lacrosse should also be applied to real life beyond the confines of competition. Yes, winning is important. Drive and determination are too. But being able to succeed on the field is even sweeter if it’s accomplished by a classy, respectful person off the field.
I’m not saying that coaches can control their athletes or single-handedly stop domestic abuse. Everyone involved with sports, at all levels, should re-double their efforts to breed a healthier attitude toward women.
That Ontario Lacrosse Association referee has the right idea - banning swearing may seem quaint, but encouraging a gentlemanly attitude in all facets of life is a worthwhile pursuit.
Sadly, there will likely always be violence in society. It will never be completely eradicated. But in an atmosphere like a varsity team where young athletes are being shaped into men, role models like coaches or senior players should still do their best to encourage healthy and respectful interactions.
None of this can reverse the tragic fate of Yeardley Love, but her memory can be honoured by the athletic community as it addresses this issue.