Another student death raises suspicions about college athletes

 

Not long before she was found beaten to death in her SUNY Brockport dorm room this weekend, 18-year-old Alexandra Kogut tweeted, "Should've known."

The first thing I wondered: What sport did her boyfriend play?

Yes, that is just terrible of me, a gross generalization unfair to the many lovely gentleman poets and other non-criminals whose athletic talents we value above all others. Those are certainly fighting words in this culture, where we are bored by news from the battlefield but lose it when the NFL refs go on strike. And I myself am tired of thinking that I know how these stories are going to end.

Still, here we are: Police have arrested Kogut's 21-year-old boyfriend, Clayton Whittemore, a star hockey player at their high school in New Hartford, N.Y., who authorities say confessed to killing her intentionally but pleaded not guilty to murder charges. Maybe we'll learn that police have it all wrong, that he didn't cause her death - by blunt trauma, another surprise - before state troopers caught up with him at a highway rest stop.

Meanwhile, however, we once again have a young athlete previously charged with disorderly conduct and public intoxication and now accused of beating his girlfriend to death in her bedroom. And we can't help but think of Yeardley Love, the slain University of Virginia student whose lacrosse-playing boyfriend, George Huguely V, was sentenced to 23 years just over a month ago.

One night in the spring of 2010, Huguely kicked in the 22-year-old Love's locked door and beat her head against the wall. He insisted to police that he left her bleeding but alive, "flopping like a fish." At his sentencing hearing, we heard all about what any number of people not only "should've known" but did:

One young woman testified that he had put his hands around her throat in a bar, furious that she had dared tell her father, his former lacrosse coach, that he had a drinking problem. That attack ended only when a bouncer pulled him off and threw him out, just as a previous attack on Love had ended only when a friend of hers pulled Huguely off of her at a party.

Another woman who had dated Huguely off and on told the court he had punched a tennis player she was walking with, and a lacrosse teammate of Huguely who had dated Love briefly recalled Huguely punching him as he slept. The judge in the case called the bar incident "a foreshadowing of what was coming." It was more like a flashing red light with a siren.

The statistics on violence on campus are nothing to whoop over, sports fans: According to the Denver-based National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, a three-year study showed that though male student-athletes were only 3.3 percent of the college population, they overperformed as predators, accounting for one in three sexual assaults on campus.

Of course, Whittemore is somebody's son, too, an accounting major attending Utica College close to home and struggling academically, if his Twitter feed is any indication. It records both considerable frustration - "If this doesn't work I swear to god . . ." - and tenderness - "Miss you too sweetheart'' - along with some messages to Kogut that in any other context might be seen as teasing: "sorry but someone has to'' and "I expect chocolate chip pancakes upon my arrival."

I never felt this way about sports stars before reporting on the handling of sexual assault cases at my own alma mater - and was certainly a lot more fun back when I could still cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame with a Golden Dome hat on my head. Even now, I hope the accused in this terrible new case proves my hard-earned biases wrong. And that more athletes who would never do any such thing pressure their teammates to stop confirming them.

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