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Porto: Coaches And Cultural Change

05/25/10 7:55AM By Brian Porto
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(HOST) Commentator Brian Porto has been thinking about coaches, young atheletes, and cultural change.

(PORTO) Recently, numerous media stories reported the tragic death of Yeardley Love, a 22-year-old senior and women’s lacrosse player at the University  of Virginia.   Allegedly, her death came at the hands of her former boyfriend, George Huguely, also 22, and a senior on the men’s lacrosse team at Virginia.

Presumably, Ms. Love’s death attracted widespread media attention because victim and alleged assailant were, in the words of one journalist, "handsome children of privilege" and "just 22, with so much awaiting them."   Both Love and Huguely hailed from well-to-do suburban families, and both had graduated from private high schools.   We don’t expect murder victims or suspects to be wealthy suburbanites who went to prep school.

For me, though, the youth and the potential of both victim and suspect are what make this event both important and profoundly tragic.   A classmate aptly said, "It is sad that - one life is over and the other life is significantly altered."   I mourn mostly for the lost life of Yeardley Love, but I grieve, too, for the significantly altered life of George Huguely.

In the aftermath of Ms. Love’s death, law enforcement authorities in Virginia and officials at the University will likely try to determine whether her death was avoidable and how to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.   Ironically, the world of men’s college lacrosse suggests the answer.

A long way, both literally and figuratively, from Yeardley Love’s death, was the reaction this spring by men’s lacrosse players at the State University of New York at Oneonta to the announcement by senior captain Andrew McIntosh that he is gay.   McIntosh did not hear a single disparaging comment from teammates after his announcement; instead, they shook hands and complimented him on his courage for acknowledging his sexuality publicly.   Coach Dan Mahar probably set the tone for that reaction a year earlier, long before the McIntosh announcement, when he told his players that he would not tolerate them using the word "gay" as an epithet.

The same sort of cultural change represented by the reactions of the Oneonta lacrosse players to their captain’s announcement is needed regarding relationship violence, too.   And nobody is better placed than coaches to teach young men that such violence is unacceptable.   Young male athletes spend more time with coaches than with any other teacher, and they often listen to coaches more intently than they listen to their parents.   Perhaps the most valuable lesson a coach can teach a young man is that rejection is often a blessing in disguise, especially when it signals the need to change one’s attitudes or behavior.   It may not require thanks, but it surely does not justify violence.

I hope that coaches in Vermont and New Hampshire will convey the message that rejection never warrants violence.  If they do, perhaps families in this region will be spared the anguish that the Loves and the Huguelys surely feel now.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries on-line at VPR-dot-net.
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