In 2007, I wrote an article for Inside Lacrosse explaining my own struggles with alcohol abuse in college and for a few years afterwards. To make a long story short, I had fallen into the party culture of our sport as a college and professional player and it had completely dragged me down as a person. When I was 25 years old, I decided that alcohol was causing too many problems in my life and that I needed to make a change. So, I sobered up and never touched a drop of alcohol for six years as I grew up mentally, emotionally and spiritually. In the past year or so, I have learned that I am now able to enjoy a beer at dinner with friends on special occasions, but I never have more than that as I understand the word "moderation" now and have no desire or impulse to get drunk or even buzzed, for that matter. Anyway, towards the end of the piece for Inside Lacrosse, I wrote, "I must admit that I’ve watched the world with a different view for the past couple of years. I’ve seen many things in the lacrosse world that would have never happened without alcohol being involved. I’ve seen multiple people die and many lives ruined because of alcohol, and that saddens me." It still saddens me that these things continue to happen in our great sport and the family that we all care about deeply. I know this article may trigger or upset some people, but I am simply writing it out of love for our sport and everyone involved.
The following article is my take on the George Huguely V and Yeardley Love tragedy. Many people in lacrosse are tip-toeing around this topic, like it is some deep, dark family secret, and that's because it is. It's an extremely sensitive topic that is sad and quite challenging to talk about. But we need to be open and discuss it, to discover any healing from a tragedy like this. If we just try to sweep it under the rug, then we are minimizing the tragedy that took place. If you have not heard about the story, just type "Huguely trial or Yeardley Love" into Google and you will find plenty of information. Also, there was an interesting article in the Baltimore Sun this past week entitled "Huguely trial highlights alcohol abuse at colleges, universities" that is worth a read and is along the same lines of what I am about to discuss. I should start off by saying that I sincerely offer my prayers and condolences to the late Yeardley Love, her family, her former teammates and her friends, a couple of whom I know but many of whom I do not know. No woman should ever have to go through what she did in her death and the most tragic part about this whole situation is her loss.
Last night, the drama came to a close as a jury convicted Huguely of second-degree murder and recommended a sentencing of 26 years in a state prison. The sentencing brought me great sadness, but I am not sad nor do I feel bad for Huguely. There is absolutely no excuse to ever touch another woman or another person in a violent way. Severe punishment for these types of actions is deserved and in our society, you get locked up, and rightfully so. Huguely is now facing the consequences of his decisions and actions and will be going to a state prison for over 20 years, which is certainly no cake walk. He is paying dearly and getting what he deserves. At the same time though, there was no punishment that could account for the pain and suffering that Love's family and friends will endure for the rest of their lives.
Honestly, the tremendous sadness that I now feel is over the fact that alcohol has once again contributed in ruining two more lives, along with the lives of their families. Let me be clear though, alcohol is never an EXCUSE, but I believe it was a major FACTOR in this case. One of the most poignant pieces of evidence that came out in the trial was a letter that Huguely had written to Love, shortly before her death. Chillingly, it read, "Alcohol is ruining my life…I'm scared to know that I can get that drunk to the point where I cannot control...how I act." There are a multitude of other psychological and emotional factors that could be involved with the Huguely case. But, it seems to me that if he was a stick of dynamite, alcohol was the match that lit the fuse. There was little evidence that Huguely was violent in any way, shape or form when he was not drinking, but when he was drunk, there was serious trouble.
Being inebriated though, is not an excuse for any action and it is an explanation that holds little weight in the court of law, for good reason. We cannot have people running around in our society doing whatever they want to do and then just explaining, "But, I was drunk!". This is a huge lesson that young people (and some adults) must learn. Everytime people go out and get drunk, then they are playing with fire and putting their own lives and the lives of others at risk. So, they are responsible for the choice of whether to drink or not and the consequences of that decision. Huguely chose to keep drinking, despite the fact that he had run into some problems and despite the fact that he realized he was out of control. It is an absolute shame to me that Huguely waited too long to get help. His decision to keep drinking heavily is one that he certainly must be regretting a great deal at this point. What is worse though, is that this decision was a contributing factor in the death of Yeardley Love.
Now, some people are pointing their finger at our sport. People are saying that lacrosse is the problem as it is filled with over-privileged people who become monsters from playing a violent game. Their statements are ignorant though and they have no idea about how much lacrosse has grown throughout the country, the different walks of life participating and the number of amazing people who permeate our game. Lacrosse is a tight-knit family and we all care about each other at the end of the day, despite all the competition that we are active in with each other.
At the same time though, lacrosse does have a problem. There is a tremendous amount of alcohol abuse and alcoholism in our game. The rest of us are enablers because we simply look the other way as these problems continue to persist. These abnormal and unhealthy behaviors are so rampant in our small world that they fade into being considered as normal and acceptable. In our culture, it's not viewed as strange or unhealthy to get totally obliterated on a weekly basis. Go to the NCAA Lacrosse Final Four. Go to any one of the coaches' conventions. Go to an after-party at a pro game. Go to a college dorm or bar on a Saturday night. Tell me what you see players, coaches and fans doing at all those places; it's not just moderate drinking for the most part, it's a lot of people getting absolutely wasted. I'm not the only one pointing this out either. The NCAA has even released studies that found that the sport of lacrosse has the highest rate of alcohol and drug abuse in college athletics. Just the fact alone that a guy like Huguely can thrive in our culture and not get called out on behaving in manners that are completely unnacceptable, shows that our entire lacrosse world is skewed in some way.
We are already primed with excuses, though. People will fight the idea that alcohol has anything to do with this Huguely case. We will say, "Well, that kid was messed up!", or "He's an evil monster!", or "I would never do something like that when I was drinking, that guy is just an idiot." We may say, "Well, we can't be held responsible for everyone's actions…there is always one bad apple in a bunch!". We may point our fingers and explain, "Well this is a problem in all of athletics, in all of society, so why should our sport take the blame?". We will exclaim, "Lots of people in our society go out and get drunk every night and do not commit murders!" And all of these lines of reasoning may be true to a certain extent. But, there is another side to all of this that we tend to ignore. In actuaility, there are lots of people in our society that go out and get drunk at night and end up in jail, just like Huguely. Or they end up in a hospital. Or they end up dead. And even if this one sad story was the first and only example of an alcohol-related tragedy in our sport (which it certainly is not), then wouldn't that be enough for us to look in the mirror and wonder if something needs to change? Unfortunately, for all the people involved in tragedies like these, there are no second chances.
Fortunately for lacrosse, and for all of us, we all get that second chance to make a change right now. We can either keep making excuses OR we will say to ourselves, "ENOUGH WITH THE INSANITY! IT'S TIME TO WAKE UP AND GROW UP! IT'S TIME FOR ALL OF US TO MAKE A CHANGE BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE…AGAIN." We will step up and make the necessary changes in our personal life to effect the greater whole. We will stop abusing alcohol all the time and turning our lacrosse events into drinking contests. We will either learn to drink in a responsible manner (if we are of age) or we will just abstain from drinking altogether. We will stop cultivating the "lax bro" image that only cares about "playing hard and partying hard". We will stop modeling to the younger athletes of our sport in magazines, websites and other media that it is cool to drink hard. We will stop using alcohol advertisers to pay for our pro teams and leagues. We will realize that this behavior is not "normal" in the real world and it is why many people on the outside frown upon our athletes and our sport. We will understand that all of us, in some way, have a stake in this systemic failure that is currently letting our youth down. We will stop this madness or...we will just keep going until the next tragedy happens. And just maybe when it does, instead of Huguely or Love, it will be your son, your daughter, your player, your teammate or YOU.
I know it's harsh and I know it's extreme, but if we all don't come together in lacrosse and decide to create change all together, tragedies like these are going to continue to happen. If so, we will all be somewhat responsible once again. Whether it's fair or not, lacrosse will and should continue to shoulder some of the blame, until we all finally decide that enough is enough.
What can we do to make a change? Big changes start with small steps. Everyone in our game first has to look themselves in the mirror and decide what they need to change in their own lives. For now my contribution is going to be this : I am starting a Facebook group and Twitter hash-tag labeled "#BESOBERBESTRONG". I would love for coaches, players and fans throughout our game and other sports to join it. It would be especially great to have some professional players sign up for it and be role models for the younger athletes. On the Facebook page, I will encourage people to post any thoughts, ideas, experiences or insights about their lives while abstaining from alcohol and drugs. For example, maybe you went bowling with a bunch of friends and everyone was sober and had a great time; post it on the group page and attach a comment to tell everyone about your awesome night together! There are too many examples of what life is (supposedly) like with alcohol, so we need to create a new experience and portray a new paradigm for our youth. It's a small step for us to take, but we all need to do little things to make a difference.