Twenty years ago …

For a February day, it was an unseasonably warm day in my hometown. I had stayed after school to turn in my uniform and equipment and I waited in the gymnasium lobby with another one of my teammates, for our ride home. We weren’t old enough to have our drivers licenses.

She and I looked out the window of the lobby, waiting for her mom’s minivan. We said to each other, Did you hear about the quarterback? 

Whispers had circulated through school that something had happened. That a classmate of ours was in jail. That someone was hurt. That someone else had stayed home from school, then came to school and found shelter in the school library.

We went through the school, in search of the local paper. It was on a desk in the main office. The assistant principal wouldn’t let us see it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that may have been a violation of the First Amendment. Or some form of institutional censorship. Still, I anxiously wanted to get home. I wanted to find out what happened.

I’ll call you and tell you, I told my teammate before I got out of her mom’s minivan.

The paper was in our red box. The story was stripped across the top of the front page. Our former classmate was in jail, accused of killing a former classmate two days earlier. The story explained that he was being held after allegedly stabbing our former classmate – whom the paper described as a “rival suitor” – in front of his house and burying the body nearby, under a pile of leaves. The story also explained that the former quarterback from our high school was enrolled in his first semester at a private school in the city.

His absence wasn’t prominent. In fact, I hadn’t noticed was of gone from the school until that day, when people in my seventh-period art class talked about him in hushed tones.

But I had grown up with his family.

His sister was one of my teammates and a person whom, even at a young age, I connected with.

His brother was a happy, friendly kid who reached out to help people, especially in sports and gym class. I remember his sincerity and his sense of humor. His brother was what you would call “a sweet kid,” and he would have made a fantastic coach.

That all changed. They were suddenly isolated and had isolated themselves, cast as a certain pariah on our peninsula. I felt badly for his brother and sister, that they had to go through this. But I didn’t feel badly for the quarterback. He’d committed a heinous crime and later pled guilty. He remains incarcerated.

***

I don’t remember the day he pled guilty as much as the day we found out he’d committed the crime. My best friend recalls the moment he found out, too, when an older classmate of ours stormed into the lobby of the school, holding up a fresh copy of the local paper, and screamed, “I never trusted that fucker!”

It stuck with our school – and divided our school – through the remainder of the school year. There were two factions: those who stood by the former quarterback and those who saw him as a person who committed a brutal crime.

But there were layers.

We remembered seeing him walk home after football games, carrying his equipment bag. It was rumored to be  punishment if he hadn’t performed to his father’s expectations. We remembered how he was surrounded by girls. We remembered how he had a certain swagger to him, how he always seemed to have his way.

That summer at field hockey camp, the stories came spilling out. How the former quarterback had tried to drown someone at a pool party. How he had attempted to push someone out of an amusement park ride on a class trip to Virginia. How he had grabbed classmates and thrown them into walls, lockers, goalposts … How he nearly ran someone over in his orange sports car. Years later, I realized that we were dealing with an unstable individual. And that the emotional instability wasn’t just limited to him.

I recently had dinner with a friend of mine from high school and we talked about that time.  She told me a classmate of ours believes and maintains the killing was justified because the man he stabbed “fucked with the quaterback’s head.”

“Excuse me,” I asked, setting my fork down onto my dinner plate. “But who deserves to be brutally murdered in front of heir own house and buried under a pile of leaves?”

***

Twenty years ago this week, my classmates and I were taught a hard lesson in morals. We learned that classmates killing other classmates didn’t just happen 30 minutes north of us or an hour west of us, or in the parts of those cities we’d only seen in movies or heard about in hard-core rap music.

It happened in front of our neighbor’s house. To someone we know. In our little corner of Suburbia, U.S.A. And it was the second murder in our neighborhood in eight years that involved a high school student. It’s worth noting we also lost a classmate to a brain aneurysm, another to a respiratory disease and a third to a fall off a high-level bridge – that’s another post for another day – but none of the losses stuck with me as much as this one. And I barely even knew the person who lost their life. I barely knew the person who took it.

I remember now a lot of the good times from high school, more than I did 10 years ago when the adolescent anger was still fresh.  I remember the people – the classmates, the teachers, the coaches, the administrators – who helped me and who made an impact on me.

I remember the people who sat next to me in classes and the conversations we had. I remember funny moments with teammates.

I remember the good times I had driving around with friends on a weekend night.

On one of those Friday nights, I remember riding in one of those cars, seeing the high school quarterback walking down the two-lane highway, his equipment bag slung over his shoulder and his head down. We didn’t pull over and offer him a lift home.

“Are you going to wear the ribbon?”



This is pretty much how I felt when I saw the Boston University hockey team was wearing a blue puzzle piece on their uniforms for autism awareness … as opposed to a white ribbon for a campaign against violence towards women, a campaign sponsored by the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.

Or would that be hypocritical?


The Terriers wore white ribbon stickers on their helmet during the annual Beanpot tournament … days before Max Nicastro was arrested and pleaded not guilty to two counts of rape.

Come on, now,  BU. Consider one of the finite rules of public relations: Presentation is important.

Amd given the current state of affairs in the BU hockey program, it might behoove both the hockey team and possibly the athletic department to do a little more than just assemble a “task force” to examine the culture surrounding the hockey program.

What to do at BU

Boston University president Robert A. Brown announced today that the school wants to assemble a task force “to examine the culture of men’s hockey.”

Wait. So two days after Max Nicastro pleads “not guilty” to two counts of rape, Boston University’s administration wants to assemble a task force to examine “the culture” of the program?

Two BU hockey players – Nicastro and Corey Trivino – have faced charges relating to sexual assault (and have been suspended) in a four-month span, and the administration wants to create a glorified committee, with meetings and all?

Becuase nothing says, “hey, let’s do something proactive about this problem” like conducting meetings over the next few months.

This situation doesn’t just require an examination. It should require consequences.

Consider the extreme: Suspending the program for the remainder of the season – or at least forfeiting  berths in the Hockey East and/or NCAA tournaments – and making an example of the group. Such has happened before: In 2000, Vermont suspended its men’s hockey program for the remainder of the 1999-2000 season, in light of a hazing scandal on campus. Duke suspended its mens lacrosse program in 2006, after allegations of rape surfaced following an off-campus party. (Charges were ultimately dropped against three lacrosse players and the district attorney who prosecuted the case was disbarred.)

But that won’t happen.

From today’s BU release regarding said task force:

“We will ask the task force to look at our program with fresh, impartial eyes,” Brown says, “to determine whether the culture of hockey at BU meets the high standards of our academic community. If it does not, if the task force finds a culture where players are privileged or entitled or held to lesser standards, it will recommend changes to the way we think about and manage our hockey program.”

Furthermore, this task force will include ” representatives from the faculty, staff, and University trustees and overseers” and “will be determined over the next several weeks, as will the specifics of its charge.”

Here’s a tip: Include students on this task force. Maybe even include non-hockey athletes.

Seek out people who interact with members of the hockey team on a daily basis, who live in the same buildings and take the same classes as members of the hockey team. They’ll be able to give you some stronger insight on the kinds of people members of the hockey team are (no, they aren’t all bad, but what’s happened at BU hasn’t helped the profile), what they bring to the culture of the school and how they are perceived, character-wise, versus who they really are.

Nobody wins

One college student is dead.

Another could be going away for a long, long time.

George Huguely was painted as a drunk, overprivileged athlete whose heinous transgression came in the heat of passion – in legalese, that’s voluntary manslaughter.

But Wednesday night, Huguely was convicted by a jury in Charlottesville, Va., of second-degree murder and grand larceny. His sentence for the 2010 killing of Yeardley Love has not yet been determined, but after 7 p.m. Wednesday night, Love’s mother and sister spoke as sentencing witnesses in court.



Huguely’s father, according to several media reports, was not in court on Wednesday. During sentencing, nobody testified on Huguely’s behalf.

***

When I learned of the verdict, I didn’t shout or leap in the air … or even celebrate in any way. What is there to celebrate? It was a sad moment. Not even bittersweet. Learning the verdict against Huguely left me with a strange, empty feeling.

Because Love’s death could have been prevented.

Because Huguely’s behavior and his actions could have been stopped.

Because there’s another man out there who abused a woman to the point of death, and his actions and her death won’t receive as much attention.

Who wins? What did anybody win?

Yeardley Love is dead.

George Huguely will go to prison. Legally, he has been branded as a murderer.

Really. Who wins?

***

If someone finds anything from this, I hope it is the girl who wants to walk away from her abusive boyfriend. She will.

Or the lacrosse/baseball/football players who know their teammate has a problem, but has to find a way to confront them. They will.

Or the kids in high school who are targeted and picked on by the “cool kids” for being different – because at my high school, George Huguely would have been one of the “cool kids.” They have the power to stand up for themselves and to be compassionate towards others. They will.

I hope Yeardley Love’s family and friends can find some closure in this. And, more importantly, I hope they can find some kind of peace in this judgment.

What’s become of the George Huguelys from high school?

If you’re reading this for some reason, you’re probably wondering why I have such a fixation on the George Huguely V case. Because it’s about more than an alleged murder. It’s about class, privilege, wealth, entitlement and all the things that go with it.

In each of my three years in high school (our school was 10th, 11th and 12th grade), I knew at least three dozen George Huguelys.

From the Washington Post, May 23, 2010:

Huguely was a child of divorce but knew few other deprivations. He spent some of his teenage years in a million-dollar yellow brick home on a 1.5-acre corner lot in Potomac, where a boar’s head hung over the fireplace … 

The family invested in racehorses and a 1,000-unit apartment complex. Some family members had lifetime memberships at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase and the Annapolis and Corinthian yacht clubs. … 

Huguely hosted friends at his family’s five-bedroom beach house on North Carolina’s Outer Banks and on his father’s 40-foot yacht, the Reel Deal. The elder Huguely often took lacrosse players on fishing trips and was a regular presence in Charlottesville and at team parties.

“I view them in the same way,” one former player said. “Mr. Huguely was the same as George.”

And from Washingtonian Magazine, June 1, 2011:

Huguely excelled on the athletic field. He was quarterback on the football team and started his senior year. But the most exalted game at the sports-focused school is lacrosse. Huguely became a star, which ensured him a place at the top of the teenage social order and potentially an invitation to play lacrosse at a top college.

“The kids on the lacrosse team drove big SUVs, they hung out together on weekends, they drank a lot,” says a Landon graduate who didn’t play lacrosse but was part of the crowd. “They got the girls.”

“He was a pretty playful kid,” says a lacrosse teammate. “He was not a great student, but he didn’t care. He was more interested in having fun.”

Says another classmate who played basketball with him: “George had the wealth and entitlement, he was an elite athlete, and he could party hard. You could also see there was a temper there.

Each class at my high school had at least a dozen George Huguelys, Of each group of George Huguelys each year, I’d venture to say that approximately two of them were decent people.  But for some reason, those two guys still went with the flow. I even asked one of them years later, “You were such a good guy. Why did you hang around with such jackasses?”

Looking back, I feel sorry for those two guys from each group. They had a choice.

***

I wonder what kind of adults the George Huguelys from my high school have become. Are they respected in their communities and among their peers? Are they leaders? Are they good husbands and parents? Do they have an independent sense of compassion for others?

I’ve found that a few of them have matured and become good people and caring parents. A few of them, I consider them friends.

We had our reunion not too long ago, and the organizers created a Facebook page where we could write notes on the virtual wall to each other, about the reunion and how to help with planning. One of our very own George Huguelys left two notes:

The first, regarding a reunion we did not have:

The reunion that we had was awesome for 10 year. Wasn’t that great! (sarcasm). How about everyone bothering our class president (**** ****) to get something going?

The second, mocking someone who couldn’t make it to the reunion:

Oh, good, I’ll bet ***** ******* can plan it just so he can see all of his friends again.

Another, from one of the other George Huguelys:

HOWEVER…. Flying back east from March 4th – March 10th for da “unofficial” 10 year College reunion & 15 year High School Homecoming Shenanagins Celebration….. gonna be hitting up ALL of ye old stompin’ grounds in MD>DC>VA…. it’d be super-fun if we could get a bunch of the local kids out for a “Pre-Reunion Happy Hour” !??!?!? = )

Feel free to hit me up if yer around & down for shotgunnin’ some Natty BoH’s !!!!!!!!

Some things don’t change, do they?

Here we go again, BU

So. A few days after Boston University announces it’s adding men’s lacrosse as a varsity sport …

… Max Nicastro, a junior on the BU hockey team, gets arrested on sexual assault charges and is suspended indefinitely. It’s the second such arrest this season of a BU hockey player. Nicastro joins Corey Trivino in that hall of shame.

And Nicastro’s arrest comes less than a week after the championship game of the Beanpot, when Terriers, Boston College, Northeastern and Harvard wore white ribbon stickers on their helmets, as part of a campaign against violence towards women.

Now, really, do you think Max Nicastro was listening? Or was aware? Or, when he allegedly committed the assault he’s charged with, was he just too drunk to make the “right” decision?

(If you’ve been paying attention to the George Huguely V case, this is pretty much the defense’s argument in favor of Huguely, a former Virginia men’s lacrosse player who is being tried in the death of Yeardley Love.)

Is Boston University’s hockey program sliding down the same slope that Virginia lacrosse and Penn State football tumbled down: harboring and enabling a culture of despicable behavior?

Is the collective behavior of Nicastro and Trivino, as well as a handful of suspensions and arrests over the past three seasons, indicative of  the culture – and what’s permissible, acceptable and/or overlooked – in a program?

Or will fans stick to the belief that winning, ultimately, will simply make up for all these problems?

This is too many

Here’s some food for thought: some information on domestic violence among teenagers and college students that I found while combing through today’s coverage of the George Huguely V trial:

  • About one in three high school students have been or will be involved in an abusive relationship.
  • Forty percent of teenage girls ages 14 to 17 say they know someone their age that has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend.
  • In one study, from 30 to 50 percent of female high school students reported having already experienced teen dating violence.
  • Teen dating violence most often takes place in the home of one of the partners.
  • In 1995, 7 percent of all murder victims were young women who were killed by their boyfriends.
  • One in five or 20 percent of dating couples report some type of violence in their relationship.
  • One of five college females will experience some form of dating violence.
  • A survey of 500 young women, ages 15 to 24, found that 60 percent were currently involved in an ongoing abusive relationship and all participants had experienced violence in a dating relationship.
  • It is estimated that between 20% to 52% of high school and college age dating couples have engaged in physical abuse.

(source: Bureau of Justice Special Report: Intimate Partner Violence, May 2000)

These numbers confound me and overwhelm me. And they sadden me. This is too many …

George Huguely V is being tried for first-degree murder in the death of Yeardley Love, and the trial is raising questions and, more importantly, dialogue regarding domestic violence among high school and college-aged students. It’s something that doesn’t seem to come up, or if it does, it’s an awkward dialogue. And any situation involving domestic violence begs the question: “Is it possible to ask for help?”

Lea Calvani, who works at a Charlottesville, Va., help center and shelter for victims of domestic violence, told a Virginia television station this:

“Statistically it takes a woman 7 and a half to 12 times to leave her partner before she leaves for good. I think that one as a general community, I think we always have kind of the assumption well she should just leave the relationship and unfortunately it’s really not that simple.”

If you’re a victim, are you trapped? No. Absolutely not. Even if you’ve dismissed your boyfriend or girlfriend’s physical threats or you’ve found a way to justify the abuse, there’s a means to breaking the cycle.

But what do you do if you witness it? Do you take it seriously if your friend’s boyfriend hits her? Or if your best friend’s girlfriend sends him a text message threatening to kill him? Do you attempt to run interference? Do you take a picture or shoot video with your cell phone camera for proof? Do you forward that text to someone else? Do you call the police?

Do you – gasp! – cause a scene?

At the risk of patronization … maybe you should. Because there’s no reason to continue to enable that kind of behavior and to condone the attitude that this is all OK. Because it’s not.

Frankly, if this would have happened to a girl I went to high school or college with – or to a boy – I hope to a higher power that one of them would have had the courage to tell the world.

Or did they ever?