Like many parents in Baltimore, I’ve been intently following the trial of George Huguely, former University of Virginia lacrosse player accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, Cockeysville-native and Notre Dame Prep grad Yeardley Love, also a former UVA lacrosse player. As the mother of two pre-teen children who are being raised in an environment that ranks the gifted student-athlete above most everybody else, the tragic story of Huguely and Love gives reason to worry as I look to my own children’s futures.
I’ll admit that my husband and I have, since our children were about six, helped them strap on sports gear and have spent countless hours on the sidelines rooting them on. We also tirelessly review spelling words with them, help them figure out math problems, and push them to complete book reports. But we’re not living entirely in the moment.
We sometimes wonder how all this will play out down the road. Will our kids get into the college of their choice? Will their athletic careers end after high school, or will we have an opportunity to cheer them on in college too? What we rarely consider is, after all this preparation, our kids — successful and well-prepared as they may seem — could very well wind up routinely spending their college weekends in a drunken haze. If it happens to elite athletes attending a prestigious university, then why not to our kids too?
As an outsider who was neither a top-flight athlete nor scholar at a prestigious university, I do know — it’s impossible not to know, if you are from Baltimore — that UVA’s men’s and women’s lacrosse teams are two of the best in the nation. I’m also aware that UVA is one of the nation’s most prestigious public universities. Presumably, both Huguely and Love worked hard to earn coveted spots on the top-ranked teams at the top-ranked university. It appears both of them also fell easily into the recreational pursuits that seem to come with the territory: heavy alcohol consumption. Sure, most college kids drink, but the athletic students most of all.
Sobering statistics bear this out. According to the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, the profile of college students most likely to binge drink are male, white, under 24 years of age, involved in athletics and members of a fraternity or sorority. In Dying to Drink: Confronting Binge Drinking on College Campuses (Thomas Nelson, 2005), author Henry Wechsler, Ph.D. writes that half of college athletes — 57 percent of men and 48 percent of women — are binge drinkers, and experience a greater number of alcohol-related harms than other students. Lacrosse players are implicated even further: A recent NCAA study found that they are the heaviest users of illicit drugs among college athletes.
It’s pretty clear that at UVA, as in other colleges across the nation, recreational drinking is an integral part of student-athletes’ social life. On more than one occasion during Huguely’s trial, references have been made to copious alcohol consumption prior to Yeardley’s death. In fact, it’s described as the primary backdrop to the students’ weekend. Prosecuting attorney Warner D. Chapman, speaking at the trial said that, “There was alcohol consumed in significant amounts…by all who were involved.” Chapman also stated that George Huguely, “had been drinking virtually nonstop since early that Sunday morning” before approaching Yeardley Love’s bedroom that evening. Trial lawyers are rightfully hung up on whether Huguely’s actions were pre-meditated. But as blitzed as he must have been when he approached Love’s bedroom, how’s anybody to know what his addled mind intended?
I’m sure it’s safe to say that neither Huguely nor his parents ever intended his actions to lead him where he is today. It’s not what parents envision for their children as they steer them along, supporting them through formative years on the athletic field and at the homework table. But as college cultural norms — exposed via this terrible tragedy — tell us, heavy drinking and the unintended consequences that can result from it are a very real, and sobering, possibility for young adults. Maybe it’s time to change that cultural norm. I’m open to suggestions.
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