It wasn’t the entire Tufts men’s lacrosse team that suddenly went stupid one Friday night last September. But more than two dozen rambunctious, lame-brained team members mixed themselves a devilish cocktail of alcohol and ignorance, then topped it off with a couple of bitter olives of painful, public sexual harassment and racism.
Now the entire team will pay the price, while the school acts to repair its image.
Following a months-long investigation, Tufts officials on Wednesday suspended 27 members of the lacrosse team for the lewd and ugly behavior they engaged in during a Tufts-Smith women’s volleyball game that took place on Friday evening, Sept. 21, inside Cousens Gym on the Medford campus.
Each of the offending lacrosse players will be benched for two games of the upcoming season, and some of them could face additional penalties, all relating to the racist and sexist remarks they heckled down from the gym’s balcony that night, their remarks directed at the female athletes of both schools.
According to one eyewitness, the harassment lasted upward of one hour, the young men ratcheting up their bile and loutishness immediately after an unidentified man, believed to be a Tufts athletic official, asked them to stop heckling the Smith athletes by name. The appropriate response, of course, would have been for a Tufts employee or security member to toss the troublemakers — a good number of whom wore Tufts lacrosse apparel to the festive occasion — straight out of the building upon their first offending utterance. File one more time under: “opportunity, lost.’’
Rose Barrett, a junior religion major from Reading who was at the game that night, wrote an op-ed piece for the Sept. 25 Tufts Daily in which she quoted some of the crude remarks.
None of them were particularly creative, nor the least bit humorous, unless perhaps you’ve immersed yourself fully in a misguided pack mentality. Or you are, say, a Tufts undergraduate studying Misogyny and Related Hates 101. Or it’s simply a Friday night, you have the privilege of being a student-athlete at one of the country’s finest universities, and you believe that being a bloviating, drunken boor, aiming to cripple the esteem and dignity of the women down there on the floor below you, is the best way to celebrate that privilege. In public. For a near-capacity crowd to hear in those quiet moments before a serve or during a timeout.
Man, oh, man, mom and dad must be so proud of their big sons on campus.
“Lecherous laughter and high-fives followed each shout,’’ Barrett wrote in her op-ed.
Barrett, who was already in the balcony when the lacrosse players entered the building with the match well under way, became a mix of emotions as the mean-spirited cacophony played out. Disappointed. Hurt. Afraid. Angry.
“I wanted to say something to them right then,’’ she said during a phone interview. “I wish I had. But that’s a very difficult situation. I was scared. A lot of people were scared. I thought when they were asked to stop calling [the women] by name it would stop. But it only got uglier.’’
Eventually, be it 45-60 minutes later, recalled Barrett, the young men left of their own volition.
“At one point,’’ she said, “one of them just got up and yelled, ‘Let’s get out of here!’ The match was still close, so that gave me the impression that they weren’t there to support friends, or the school. They were there to create problems.’’
Oh, that they did. Barrett’s op-ed piece that Tuesday initiated talk around campus and in the school’s administrative offices. Then came a complaint filed by a Tufts student with the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity, triggering the lengthy and costly investigation. The offending laxmen caused a lot problems and cost for a lot of people, especially themselves.
John Barker, the dean of undergraduate and graduate students, and athletic director Bill Gehling co-authored a letter to the editor of The Tufts Daily on Wednesday night, detailing the investigation’s findings and the disciplinary measures.
“We want to stress that the behavior documented in the OEO investigation would be unthinkable in a classroom or a residence hall,’’ they wrote, “and it is equally unacceptable at a sporting event. There is no scenario within collegiate team sports that would support the use of race or gender as the basis for jeering, heckling or taunting members of a team.’’
Upon the conclusion of the investigation, Tufts sent emissaries, including Tufts president Anthony Monaco, to Smith to apologize to school officials, including the coach. Potential additional disciplinary action remains pending for some of the lacrosse players. In the meantime, all lacrosse team members in the gym that night have been asked to write letters of apology to both the Tufts and Smith coaches and their teams.
Barker, according to The Tufts Daily, noted that some of the lacrosse players in Cousens Gym, “also engaged in inappropriate behaviors involving alcohol, such as underage drinking, providing alcohol to minors, attending a sports event while intoxicated and consuming alcohol at the volleyball match.’’ Prodigious. As drinking goes, the laxmen hit for the cycle.
Barrett, who hopes one day to work in education policy, or perhaps as an education administrator, believes the investigation was thorough and the discipline thus far appropriate. She emphasized that the incident is atypical of her experience at Tufts.
“This is really an extreme example,’’ said Barrett, who lives on campus. “In no way does this represent the behavior of the Tufts student body as a whole. But I do think it’s important to examine it within the culture that exists and ask ourselves, ‘Is there something within the culture that causes this to happen?’ It’s a bigger question, obviously, and I think it needs more discussion.’’
It needs a lot more discussion, on every campus, at all levels of athletics and administration. And most of all, it needs to be discussed at the center of the sports culture itself, particularly among many young male athletes in this country who are intoxicated by their talents, driven by their misguided/inflated egos, and enabled by coaches, musical bands, scholarships, and embedded institutional beliefs that it’s cool to be a jerk and that it’s sport to turn victims into victories.
Volleyball was the game Sept. 21 at Cousens Gym, and everybody left a loser.