Monday, May 10, 2010

"Culture of Silence"

I've been meaning to write a post about the on-going disaster in the Gulf; which is absolutely stultifying and heart-wrenching to watch unfold; and more specifically about the economic and natural ramifications for New Orleans (again), but something else momentarily grabbed my attention that I've been chewing on in my mind.

Because I am creepily attracted to weird murder stories and fascinated by news and media coverage of such things (the details reporters think of to comment upon is mind-boggling), I've been following the Yeardley Love murder along with everyone else. There is one specific issue that's been brought out in harshly critical ways: the way that male athletes engage with society.

Sally Jenkins wrote a fascinating article for the Sports section of the Washington Post on Saturday that directly posits the question only a handful of people have dared to vocalize:

"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."

Jenkins goes on to point out George Huguely's former physical altercations, including a physical assult on a female police officer, who subsequently Tasered him, and the roughing up of a teammate who he thought had kissed his girlfriend. Clearly, although it may not be fair to point to these actions as "premeditation" for murder, it is certainly worth noting that the kid had a temper problem out of his realm of control.

But Jenkins also points to "the system" as being part of the problem which, although some might argue lets male athletes off the hook simply by blaming their behavior on a larger influence, has more than an element of truth. She brings up the Sports Illustrated article about Ben Roethlisberger and his band of protectors:

"According to the magazine story, on the night that he allegedly accosted an over-served undergrad in a Milledgeville, GA., restroom, Roethlisberger held up a tray of tequila shots and hollered 'All my bitches, take some shots!' He exposed himself at the bar. He forced his hand up someone's skirt. Yet police sergeant Jerry Blash described the alleged victim as 'this drunken bitch,' and Roethlisberger's bodyguards apparently blocked off the area. Protecting Roethlisberger, being 'in' with him, took precedence over ethics."

How is any of this appropriate? As a professional athlete, part of the job is the marketing of an image, and what the hell kind of image is being marketed here aside from one normally found in some rap lyrics? Any team manager is going to look at this behavior as a liability- regardless of whether or not an assault actually occurred- and understand that while touchdowns win football games, lawsuits take players out of commission and cost millions.

It's not so much that Jenkins is calling out male athletes as testosterone-charged cave men or implying that they are offered social "outs" that allow them to behave like total idiots, but she poses the question of why it would ever, ever be OK for anyone to act like this, let alone someone that's been given money to be a role model.

Of course, there's nothing new about these assertions that the world of sports perpetuates ideas of masculinity, brute strength, brawn over brains, and all kinds of other critiques that have been around since man was intelligent enough to understand that battles and wars are fought on all kinds of fronts. It's an old conversation, refreshed anew to accommodate a world of litigious people and no one can deny that it's sometimes even twisted around to accommodate opportunistic people anxious to use it in their favor. This, also, cannot be ignored.

But it seems that there are people who would defend this behavior as part of that so-called "culture of silence." Don't rat out your teammate, don't throw your friend under the bus for screwing up from time to time, keep it quiet. But the matter is complicated in the Love saga, because Love herself was an athlete. A good one. And Jenkins calls out the Virginia lacrosse team as having some semblance of responsibility in the matter:

"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? 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 a womens team, she seems not to have been accorded the same protection that Huguely was."

The story is gut-wrenching, upsetting, creepy, and hitting close to home. Love was a Baltimore County native, and the threads that connect all of us have brought the tragedy closer than is comfortable. Even more so, there are questions to be asked here and uncomfortable, unsettling things to think about. What might have been an isolated incident, an accident even, is slowly unfolding to reveal more complicated strands of a greater problem: no one could have prevented Huguely from going to Love's room that night, or staging an altercation, or banging her head against the wall. But who knows where intervention, earlier down the line perhaps when the stakes were not so high, might have derailed the course of events that unfolded that night. It's a tricky blame game, for sure, and no one is ever suggesting that Huguely himself isn't 100% personally responsible, but these are questions that need to be asked in order to help prevent this kind of behavior from occurring again.

They're questions that were asked when the Duke lacrosse team faced brutal speculation over the rape of a stripper (and begged the question- what are college athletes doing with a stripper in the first place), and asked again when Michael Vick's appalling behavior came to light, and will most likely be asked again in the future when another high-profile athlete does something stupid to garner negative media attention. But this time, they involved a college girl and her high-strung exboyfriend, and this time they involved a horrific accidental death. To not probe the different avenues of questioning leaves everyone liable in some way.

Cheers to Jenkins, and others, who have dared to voice these things.


Anonymous said...

The New Glitterati said...

Dear Anonymous,

I published your comment because I believe in a marketplace of ideas, and because I embrace the notion that all of our crowded opinions have a place on this planet.

However, I must say that I, personally, take huge issue with what you are attempting to communicate here. While I would never, ever deny that there certainly exist litigious "victims" who manipulate and subvert the justice system, it is an incredibly delicate and fragile concept to adequately sum up. Rape cases are, and should be, handled from one basis to another.

I also take issue with the fact that you are posting these links in response to a post I wrote specifically about violence and culture of masculinity. While I admit that certain schools of feminist thought border on the radical, I am unwilling to propose that these ideas of the athletic culture are anything smacking of such ideals.

I stand by my post, though I thank you for reading and adding your voice.