Women’s soccer haze | Even with World Cup rush, sex always gets headlines

You’ve all seen the pictures by now, but here is the original headline.

Evanston, Illinois | We had intended to let this one lie, but a recent posting from Newsweek columnist Mark Starr on the hazing scandal affecting the Northwestern University women’s soccer team made us reconsider. The actions of the players depicted on a vigilante-style website intended to document misbehavior among athletes cross all boundaries of decency. The blindfolding, titillation, and excessive drinking stirred in us the same vague fear we remember from watching bizarre “secret society” rituals in our own college past.

Other hazing events among female college athletes have come to the fore: members of Catholic University women’s lacrosse team carousing with a male stripper, binge drinking among Fairleigh Dickinson’s women’s softball team and, as recently as 1 June, allegations of underage drinking at a hazing event for the University of Albany (N.Y.) women’s lacrosse team. Survey responses from nearly 1,100 female athletes in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association report that 49 percent have experienced alcohol-related, physical or mental hazing. The latter includes “singing or dancing, practical jokes and being stranded or ‘kidnapped.’ ”

Nevertheless, we find in the “girls gone wild” approach taken by Starr and other commentators (such as the Fox News demagogue Bill O’Reilly) stronger testimony to the fascination among the male-dominated media with the sexuality of women athletes than a show of genuine concern. Starr says that illusions of virtue created by the U.S. team that won the 1999 Women’s World Cup have been shattered.

For me, like many in America, that summer proved to be one of love. The women on that unforgettable American team were not only winners, but exemplars of all the virtues that we once associated with sports. I spent months covering that team and felt privileged to share the experience close up. I have no doubt those ladies could be, on occasion, rowdy and even crude. But they didn’t develop a selfless team ethic—a one for all, all for one credo—through exercises in bondage and group French kissing. …

[T]here is almost nothing that distinguishes this Northwestern affair from the seamy and demeaning antics of the Duke men’s lacrosse team at their team fiesta—except, of course, that at Duke it escalated into allegations of criminal behavior.

This is a fatal linkage, comparing an event at which women athletes debased themselves and their sport with an alleged incident in which men selected a victim to terrorize. The women at Northwestern are self-made victims. Starr’s recognition that Duke’s lacrosse players may have committed a crime—an extremely serious one—seems tacked on. (Thus far, the two teams have suffered the same punishment, with their playing privileges temporarily revoked.)

The similarities between the two incidents lie in the institutions themselves. Duke and Northwestern share vast resources, prominence, high academic reputations and historically poor gridiron-football teams. More important, despite protests to the contrary, they are both deeply invested in the high-stakes, corrosive, symbiotic relationship between elite sport and higher education.

Page 1 of 4 | Next page