Sunday, October 22, 2006


"Stained" is a column that I wrote when the Duke lacrosse team was being served up by the media all over the country. Facts were misreported, more opinions were heard than facts and almost everyone had piled up on the Blue Devils' lacrosse program. I took a lot of heat for taking the stance that I did in this column. Looking back on it, I'm glad that I took the unpopular side of the argument. It appears that I was dead on.

Commentary: Lax enters Virginia's high schools in first official year with a publicity black eye.
BJ Koubaroulis
May 24, 2006

Play along for a moment: Grab the closest pen and paper. Write out the names of the four major sports — football, basketball, baseball, and hockey. Leave a space next to each sport. Now, in less than 30 seconds, write down the first thing that comes to mind when you think of each sport. Do it. Quickly. Don't ponder. Just do it (sorry Nike).
Now, write down the word lacrosse. I think you know where this is going.
"This whole Duke thing this year has really scarred our sport," said Langley boys lacrosse coach Earl Brewer, who is in his 12th season with the Saxons. "It's a shame. I wear my lacrosse stuff somewhere and people say 'hey, what do you think about that Duke?'"

UNFORTUNATELY, every sport has its defining moment. The word 'unfortunately' was a purposeful and hand-picked descriptor, but can and should only be applied to the circumstances surrounding the sport of lacrosse. There is nothing unfortunate about the images that come to mind when thinking about basketball. Christian Laetner's buzzer-beater? (The Duke reference was unintentional.) Anything unfortunate about Michael Jordan's fist-pumping leap after "The Shot" over Craig Ehlo in the 1989 NBA playoffs? Of course not. Football is better for having had Joe Namath's guarantee, now known as "The Guarantee." Or what about "The Drive" which catapulted John Elway to fame and defined the NFL in the late 80's. Maybe for baseball fans it's Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire's awkward chest-bumping moment? I hope not, but, either way, the point is that the sport of lacrosse — a sport that has recently been earmarked as one of the fastest growing sports in the country — has, in its mainstream infancy, already acquired a defining moment.
To this point, the sport's defining moment is "The Rape."
Whether or not the Duke lacrosse players are guilty or innocent, at least in this argument, has no bearing. The sport's ambassadors to the mainstream are accused rapists. More importantly, the sport's defining moment didn't even take place on the field. It's not a game-winning shot from 20-feet out or an overtime thriller. Instead, the images of a vacant white house in Durham, N.C. — the scandal’s backdrop — or the speech on the courthouse steps delivered by the third Duke lacrosse player indicted for a potential sexual assault are the only mainstream images that most of us have seen. Both memorable images will be force-fed to the public over the next several months, forever scarring the sport and linking the words "lacrosse" and "sexual assault."
And if the accused are guilty — then the stigma will, and probably should — stick. It's the only way things can change for the better. And while it is important to note that America's major sports have all had their share of on and off the field scandals, none suffered these terrible blows in their mainstream infancy.
Locally, the sport enters its first season as a Virginia High School League recognized official state championship. The high school level is still where the sport is most popular. T.C. Williams boys lacrosse coach Charles Juris is using the scandal as an opportunity to teach lessons. “We all have to learn things from Duke — to have integrity," said Juris. "I tell my guys all the time, ‘Just because you’re a varsity athlete, you don’t have privileges.’"

THE SPORT is stained. It's unfortunate, but it's true. And for those fans who are too shortsighted to see the long-term effects of the Duke scandal, just take a step back and remove yourself from the depths to which you are entrenched in your love-affair with lacrosse. Think about the mainstream. The mainstream doesn't know who your heroes are. Most, probably, couldn't name one professional lacrosse player or if there even is a professional lacrosse league. Is there?
This is not about lacrosse anymore, or what its true core values are really about. It's not about what its players and coaches have learned to love about it. This is about how the sport will be received by those who don't know what a long-stick middie is. This is about how your subculture will be perceived.
“Lacrosse is such a tight-knit community. We build lacrosse programs to build strong characters,” said Annandale girls lacrosse coach Cindy Hook.
This case has treaded through a minefield of explosive and controversial topics including race, class, gender, and education and has questioned the character of not just three lacrosse players or one team, but of lacrosse players in general.
"I just hate that it's given us a black eye," said Brewer, who remains optimistic. "I told the guys on the team after it happened that my best friends, still to this day, are guys that I played lacrosse with or I coached with or had something to do with lacrosse. They are going to find out that when they go one day and they walk into a job somewhere and on that resume it says 'played college lacrosse, played high school lacrosse, ' It's going to help open a door for them, I guarantee it."

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