Saturday, May 8, 2010

"Where were her brothers?"

Early reports about the unfolding events around the Yeardley Love murder indicated that both the men's and the women's lacrosse teams would continue their seasons, "in her honor," even as a male lacrosse player was charged in her death.

I just shook my head -- did no one at UVA see that such symmetry was no longer appropriate?  Why didn't the men's team forfeit a game or two, stay home, sit out, hang their heads just a smidge?  That would seem to be the "honorable" thing to do.

Sally Jenkins gets it. In today's column, Jenkins, sports writer for the Washington Post, excoriates the culture of male athletes, men who don't even extend the culture of family to their sisters in sport, asking, with regard to the Yeardley Love murder:  "Where were her brothers?"  Her questions are pointed, this column should be mandatory reading for the NCAA.

She ends with a larger question:
What has happened to kindness, to the cordial pleasures of friendship between men and women in the sports world? Above all, what has happened to sexuality? When did the most sublime human exchange become more about power and status than romance? When did it become so pornographic and transactional, so implacably cold?
Her connection of these two issues -- a privileged male culture that is finally misogynist, and the loss of genuine sexual intimacy as a cultural good -- reminds us that structures matter.  The formal contracts we observe as social beings do actually function; we are "schooled" by our environment more than we know.

Structures civilize, they tell us who our brothers and sisters are, they name our commitments.

Jenkins gets this, connecting the dots between a powerful and insular male culture and the collateral damage to society that is, at least at UVA, a direct result.  Higher education is slowly realizing this, recognizing that civility needs to be made explicit in the way we construct residence halls, design orientation programs,  lay out walkways, organize the curriculum.  The sobering reality of the toxic athletic culture at UVA is not confined to that school, nor is it only found in sports, though elite sports culture seems to breed it most ferociously.  It is out there, it quickly becomes the default mode for social interaction, and we need to push back.

Readers of this blog have been asking similar questions about the story around sexuality for some time:  "when did it become ... so implacably cold?"  And why does the Church's dissenting voice so often seem to mirror this distance, this disdain?

Are there other lessons?  The Catholic Church could be a powerful and eloquent counter-witnesses to the pornography of contemporary culture, but something about that same Church has choked this witness into an externalized shrill moralism.  When the bishops could have acted, they were paralyzed by their own insular culture, and perhaps by their own shame and guilt, as products of that culture. The most fundamental move of catholicity was denied them...

"Where were her brothers?"