The question has to be asked: Is it something about athletes? Something about entitled college athletes? Something about lacrosse?

George Huguely V, a 22-year-old University of Virginia lacrosse player, is charged with murdering his onetime girlfriend, Yeardley Love, herself a lacrosse player. Huguely, according to a police report, confessed to kicking in Love’s bedroom door, shaking her, and hitting her head against the wall.

I don’t think for a moment that lacrosse made him do it. But it’s fair to ask whether the special benefits accorded a star athlete on the nation’s No. 1-ranked team contributed to an eyes-averted attitude toward this young man’s problems. Because for all his charmed existence, Huguely seems to have had a wild, even dangerous, side that went unaddressed until too late.

A 2006 Washington Post story, referring to the elite, all-boy’s private high school that Huguely then attended, praised him as “Landon’s Top Prankster.” It quoted Huguely bragging about how he had filched the coach’s car keys, driven up to the practice and sat chatting in the driver’s seat until the coach realized what was up.

Another time, Huguely bet an assistant coach that the assistant’s fiancee would kiss him if he made a big play. “He walked off the field and said to the team, ‘What’s (her) number?'” the head coach recalled.

There’s no direct line from arrogance to violence, or from macho jock culture to brutality. But Huguely’s trajectory includes more disturbing data points. In Florida, where his family has a $2 million vacation home, he was charged in 2007 with underage possession of alcohol. The next year, police were summoned after Huguely got into a “very heated” argument with his father aboard their 40-foot fishing boat, dived into the ocean and tried to swim the quarter-mile to shore.

Most troubling, Huguely was arrested near a fraternity house at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va., in 2008 for public swearing, intoxication and resisting arrest. After being detained, Huguely “used colorful statements such as: ‘I’ll kill all you … I am not doing a damn thing you say … I want to talk to your supervisor now,'” according to a statement by the Lexington Police Department.

The arresting officer, R.L. Moss, said she had to use her Taser to subdue Huguely — although he did not remember that afterward. “He was by far the most rude, most hateful and most combative college kid I ever dealt with,” Moss told The New York Times.

Huguely received a 60-day suspended sentence, six months’ probation and a fine, and was required to perform community service and attend substance abuse education. You have to wonder: Would a poor dropout without access to a pricey lawyer have gotten a tougher sentence? Would a few weeks — a few days even — behind bars have done Huguely some good? Did someone ask: Is this a kid with an anger problem? University officials say they never learned about the incident.

And just a few months ago, The Washington Post reports, University of North Carolina lacrosse players intervened to separate Huguely from Love at a party on the Charlottesville campus.

Where were Huguely’s teammates during all of this? Where was his family?

College students drink, sometimes to excess. They act wild and do dumb things, athletes or not. They have tortured romances. Almost none of them kill their girlfriends. Those who do aren’t necessarily star athletes.

When I was in college, a fellow student, Bonnie Garland, was murdered by her estranged boyfriend, a recent Yale graduate who smashed her skull with a claw hammer in the bedroom of her Scarsdale, N.Y., home. The narrative in that tragedy was nearly the opposite of the Love murder: not privilege versus privilege but a boy from the barrio of Los Angeles who found himself out of place in the Ivy League.

There are many routes to doing crazy, terrible things. It would be facile to blame Huguely’s conduct on lacrosse, but it’s legitimate to wonder whether an atmosphere of entitlement and immunity from ordinary rules were contributing factors.

It’s impossible to read the Huguely story without thinking back to the Duke lacrosse case, where the rape charges seemed shoddy from the start — but the glimpse of boorish, alcohol-fueled lacrosse culture seems instructive. At Virginia, eight of 41 players on the lacrosse team have been charged with alcohol-related offenses.

As I wrote at the time of the Duke arrests, “These don’t sound like young men you’d want your daughter to date.”

Ruth Marcus’ e-mail address is marcusr(at symbol)

© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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