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Excerpts. To help you think about what has happened to the University of Virginia over the past few years.

Orin Starn, the sports-anthropology professor, is less sanguine. Duke, he says, has become “this place that’s sort of divided against itself. On the one hand, you have this university that wants to be this first-class liberal-arts university, with a cutting-edge university press, these great programs in literature and history and African-American studies, that’s really done some amazing things over the last twenty years, building itself from a kind of regional school mostly for the Southern élite into a really global university with first-class scholarship. But then you have another university. That’s a university of partying and getting drunk, hiring strippers, frats, big-time college athletics.

… If you were starting from scratch at Duke, no one would have imagined an athletics program where the budget is almost fifty million dollars. This huge outlay of expenses and energy and visibility of sports is just clearly out of proportion with what it should be. Yes, athletics has a place in college education, but not this sort of massive space that it’s taking.”


Even before the lacrosse scandal, alarms had been sounded over the coarsening of undergraduate life. Toward the end of Nan Keohane’s tenure as president, the school undertook an extensive study examining the lives of women at Duke. The project’s summation reads like a scholarly anticipation of Tom Wolfe’s “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” the 2004 novel (published after Wolfe’s daughter graduated from Duke) portraying college life as a soul-deadening, booze-fueled marathon of sexual predation:

Students rarely go on formal dates but instead attend parties in large groups, followed by “hook-ups”—unplanned sexual encounters typically fueled by alcohol. Men and women agreed the double standard persists: men gain status through sexual activity while women lose status. Fraternities control the mainstream social scene to such an extent that women feel like they play by the men’s rules. Social life is further complicated by a number of embedded hierarchies, from the widely understood ranking of Greek organizations to the opposite trajectories women and men take over four years, with women losing status in the campus environment while men gain status.


[T]he University of Virginia has allowed its top seeded men’s team to continue playing into the [lacrosse murder] post-season. … George Huguely V, the indicted midfielder from the men’s Cavalier squad, has, for nearly all intents and purposes, already admitted to the crime, and, in my mind at least, also implicated — albeit on a very different level — the culture and friends that provoked reckless excess and failed to take notice of a young man spiraling out of control.

… [T]he fact that Huguely was at times reckless and violent, particularly when drunk, and was alarmingly obsessive about Love, would have been recognized by fellow players, and perhaps coaches, too, and certainly should have been addressed. The fact that this was not his first violent interaction with Love is the strongest charge against the friends and teammates that failed to recognize the severity of the situation.

In truth, there are many places in the game’s culture where nights like the one Huguely had at Washington and Lee University in November 2008–when he was Tasered after resisting arrest and shouting slurs at a black, female officer who had found him stumbling into oncoming traffic–garner acceptance and credibility. As with other sports teams and fraternities, stories like these are traded like war stories among lacrosse players; they’re the battle ribbons of a culture that enjoys hard-drinking and recklessness. They’re a kind of proof of one’s weekend warrior bona fides.


Huguely’s team is … one on which eight players have been charged with alcohol-related offenses. Is anyone paying attention?… If things go terribly wrong, the culture of protection — including parents, coaches and alumni boosters — hire high-priced lawyers who manage to get records expunged and witnesses to forget what they saw.

Margaret Soltan, November 25, 2014 6:04AM
Posted in: extracts, sport

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