Advantages of the privileged lacrosse sect
I’ve been thinking a lot about lacrosse this week, and not so I can make stupid jokes.
After the alleged rape of a NC Central student at the hands of perhaps 40 Duke lacrosse players at a party, after said lacrosse team collectively dummied up when the police tried to get to the bottom of the case, after the injury report on the young woman involved was made public, I’m in no mood for jokes.
There’s nothing funny here.
It is an odd twist of fate, however, that connects me to the tragedy.
I know something about lacrosse.
I grew up on Long Island, perhaps the world headquarters for the game once played by Native Americans, as they say, on fields five miles long. Long Island is where lacrosse was born, the cradle of virtually all modern face-off theory, and the place where the legendary NFL running back Jim Brown, before he squandered his talents on football and made a couple of unwatchable movies, was known as the greatest midfielder ever produced in Nassau County, if not the world.
Furthermore, I grew up in Garden City, a global epicenter for lacrosse.
The incredibly waspy game, along with drunken golf and an obscure form of elevated cold weather tennis, are the official sports of my hometown.
It’s no joke in Garden City. Even today you can see 10-year-old kids hanging out in playgrounds or walking through their neighborhoods with pricey lacrosse sticks in hand, catching imaginary passes, cradling tennis balls or scoring on phantom goalies.
It is the hope of all these young men, and their status-conscious parents, that they will one day play varsity lacrosse at Garden City High for the legendary coach Doc Dougherty.
In my day Dougherty was an icon. His teams were made of iron and they rarely lost; when they did it was rumored Dougherty made them jog home from the game behind the bus in full gear. Losing at home, of course, was unheard of.
I know Dougherty firsthand only through the remedial gym class I was forced to take senior year, when he’d toss a slew of basketballs to my artsy buddies and me before retreating to his office to read the paper, drink teacher-grade coffee and yell at the jocks cutting class to quit hacking off in the locker room.
But he was revered in my town by the school that coveted the titles he’d bring year after year, by the cigar-smoking members of the Garden City Men’s Association who relived their glory days through the success of the program and also by the parents whose children played for him ‘— every starter on the Garden City High School varsity lacrosse team got, and likely still gets, a lacrosse scholarship to schools like Hobart, the University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton.
There are four students on the current Duke roster that came from my hometown, including captain Dan Flannery who according to the Durham Herald-Sun lived in the house where the party was held and who is alleged in documents to have used an alias to hire the stripper.
That’s what she was ‘— a stripper. And much has been made of this fact, though she was also a student, a mother and a daughter. And the cops in Durham agree on one other label: rape victim.
Flannery’s name is in the Garden City High record books for leading the Trojans in points from 2000 to 2002, right next to the names of some of my friends from back in the day.
Though, to be honest, most of the guys on the team weren’t my friends. Most of them existed in an orbit that a clumsy wiseass like me could never attain in the universe of high school.
And I remember a lot of guys from my high school lacrosse team as complete jerks, not quite as mean as the football guys because they were not as stupid, but jerks nonetheless. Especially during a winning season.
Duke, by the way, was ranked as the No. 2 men’s college lacrosse program in the country this season, a season which has been wisely interrupted by Duke President Richard Brodhead.
But still nobody on the team is talking. No one, not even the sole black member of the team who must have felt some offense when the reported racial slurs ‘— ‘“Thank your grandpa for my cotton shirt’” was reported by the Raleigh News & Observer ‘— started flying. I can almost hear this team, this band of boys, huddled as a group with their sense of entitlement and privilege wrapped around them like a blanket, saying, ‘“If everybody keeps their mouth shut, they’ve got nothing on us.’”
I placed a call to Dr. Lawyer, also a graduate of Garden City High, who shed some psychiatric and legal light on the issue.
‘“In a group mentality like that they probably couldn’t appreciate the full weight of what they were doing,’” he says. ‘“But if the jury system works, they’ll soon be able to appreciate exactly what they were doing to the young woman in question. It will be happening to them in prison.’”
Dr. Lawyer is good with the quotes like that.
I placed another call to my uncle, Tom Pagano, who is superintendent of schools in Ocean Township, NJ and played football for the same high school, Delbarton, as five members of the 2006 Duke men’s lacrosse squad.
‘“Actually,’” he reminded me, ‘“I only went [to Delbarton] for a year. I was kicked out.’”
As an academician and a former athlete, he spoke authoritatively on the subject: ‘“Parents think that by getting their kids into sports they’re keeping them away from drugs and alcohol, but we’re finding that the jocks are the biggest abusers’…. They’ve had accommodations made for them for years’… social, academic, legal. It really shows us the privileged status of athletes. And it makes you wonder: is this the first time they crossed the line, or is this just the first time they got caught?’”