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Yeardley Love Slaying: Is Lacrosse's Close Culture Complicit?

5 years ago
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The late Yeardley Love, by all accounts a vibrant 22-year-old, could only have come from Baltimore. Her name could not be a better clue to the class identity of this University of Virginia slaying victim, found dead in her bedroom early Monday. The strangely Southern city of Baltimore is the only place I know that gives girls odd family names at birth and little lacrosse sticks to grow up by. To paraphrase the great coach Vince Lombardi, lacrosse is the only thing to many families who send their children to single-sex private schools in the green northern reaches of the city. Love attended Notre Dame Prep in Baltimore County.
A brief look at Love's promising life, tragically and violently taken on the verge of her graduation, is heartbreaking. Photos reveal a smile imbued with lilt and spirit. Out on the lacrosse field, where Love was a starter for the nationally ranked Cavaliers, pictures show a woman of well-trained athletic grace in the game invented by American Indians. She was a government major at the stately university founded and designed by "Mr. Jefferson." All that and so much more, left lying in a pool of blood.

A former boyfriend and member of the U-Va. men's team, George Huguely, has been charged with first-degree murder, but he alone should not be at the docket to answer for the loss. He is part of a tight network that often looks the other way when social pathology is staring them in the face.

Miss Love comes from the close-knit, privileged lacrosse culture in North Baltimore, which I know well. Year after year, it produces outstanding female and male players. They go on to the Ivies or to Duke, to Stanford, to Johns Hopkins, to the University of Virginia and so on. Among men, this goes back several generations. Because the families bond at every game, they tend to inter-marry and hence generate future local lacrosse sensations. As a former reporter at the Baltimore Sun who lived near a lacrosse field and museum, I am familiar with the intense devotion to this sport. Art, books, the theater: All are pretty much dead between March and May. Believe me when I tell you that in these circles, lacrosse is very nearly the only thing -- you go to the game every weekend, home or away, including some far-off place like Providence or Ithaca.

Miss Love excelled in this realm, was the epitome of this socializing experience. Her coaches, friends and teammates say she was a core player with a winning personality. It all sounded like a lament I heard when I covered the suicide of a young lacrosse player from the same part of the world a few years ago. His name was Alec, a son of privilege, with the proverbial everything to live for. Never had I seen so many SUVs as were parked at his family estate the morning after he took his life. There were hundreds of friends to commiserate with the well-loved family, who did all the right Baltimore things. The father, an investment banking executive, had been a lacrosse player as a young man. There were no answers about Alec among the brokenhearted.

So locked is this group within its own gated culture that they can fail to recognize signs of trouble among their youth -- because of the pervasive sense that nothing like homicide or suicide could happen here. That left Yeardley Love vulnerable to Huguely, also 22, if it was his unchecked rage that took her life with his bare hands. The Chevy Chase, Md., native hails from an even more entitled social milieu than Love. As a character key, his snapshot's smug grimace seems as telling as her smile.

Love, a Marylander who had transplanted to familiar soil in neighboring Virginia, should have been better defended when the killer broke down her door. If the entire lacrosse culture around Love had activated to protect her from a threat of violence, even if it came from someone from posh Chevy Chase, then she would be alive today. The young woman's teammates, roommates, coaches, university officials -- not to mention the men's lacrosse team -- failed to protect her from the danger right in their midst. To add insult to the bloody murder, the student who finally called police said she thought Love was drunk.

In breaking the news, University of Virginia President John Casteen told stunned students, faculty and staff that Love was a student of "uncommon talent and promise." One of their own, dead by one of their own? It's not the usual May graduation fare on the grounds of the venerable Virginia institution, but Love's slaying has to hang heavy on hearts and minds in the class of 2010. Her death will diminish each one.

The suspect may be the only accused "doer" in the eyes of the law. Beyond that, an examination of the society in which the tragedy happened may shed some light. A theory here suggests the Love tragedy happened on a close-knit community's watch -- because they apparently were not watching so well.
Filed Under: Crime, Woman Up

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The shock and shame that Stiehm projects seems to be directly related to the fact that these are "fine upstanding citizens." Just because they are rich, white, and athletic does not make these people more capable of "protecting their own." I find this article offensive; violence against women exists everywhere, and the death of Yeardley Love is evidence of that. Education, privilege, and class do not stop violence against women.

November 23 2010 at 12:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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