It isn’t often that the world of Oxford sport makes it into the giddy heights of journalism (and I used the term loosely) offered by such high integrity organizations like the Daily Mail. But, as ever, it’s not our exceptional talent that is making the headlines but the supposedly lurid social side of our sporting culture. Anyone who has read this section before (so the editors and myself) will know that the myths and legends of “initiations” and “crew dates” have been well documented by numerous reporters so how is it that yet again, a run-of-the-mill social event, in the form of the Lacrosse team initiations, has been blown well out of proportion?
If you read the reports that have surfaced, first in another of Oxford’s student publications and then, ridiculously, in the national media, it is patently obvious that this whole thing is a storm in a teacup. We are told (in appropriately disgusted tones) that the new members of the team were “ordered” to perform bizarre and perhaps slightly gross tasks in front of the rest of the team. Surely this can’t be true? New members of a group being initiated at, of all places, initiations? Even if this were the case, it is not a particularly outrageous statement to say that this is a good thing. Without going into too much depth, these are the occasions where you learn what your teammates are really like, and help foster a relationship between players that is vital for performance out on the field. Also, it helps to remember that the older members of the team have already been through similar weird and wonderful experiences when they first joined; it isn’t sadistic bullying, baseless debauchery or just out-right insanity but a tradition with some fairly reasonable points of origin.
So what about the tasteless theme of the event; isn’t that an indication of the sordid moral character of the students of Oxford? In short, no. To call the theme a cutting social critique would probably be a stretch but it was nothing so scandalous as to be worth noting in the press. In the last week alone, the population of Oxford have been dressing to impress for Halloween with some people’s bop costumes being teenage pregnant mothers (under the “Nightmare” theme) and some even worse; need we revisit the various “blacking-up” scandals of the last year?
Let’s be honest, there is absolutely nothing out of the social ordinary in what the women’s lacrosse team got up to during their initiations. At no point were any endangered species hunted, killed and eaten; no foreign dignitaries were abducted and subjected to treatment that barely complies with the Geneva Convention and nobody ended up in prison. Compared to a night out in Newcastle, this seems like a pretty successful evening. Maybe it’s the anesthetic effect of living within the so-called “Oxford bubble” but I really struggle to see how this is anything above and beyond most other events of a similar kind that occur here throughout the year and how it could be viewed as anything other than a bit of fun as a few students who spend the majority of their time striving for perfection in their sporting field also use it as an excuse to let their hair down.
In fact, the only morally reprehensible action to come out of this whole thing is that of the papers who have used it as sensationalist press. For the student papers, it’s nothing but pandering to the almost completely invalid stereotypes of Oxford students at leisure on a slow news day where they could find nothing of merit to report upon. For the national papers, it’s nothing more than cynical journalism which will draw self-satisfied condemnation from certain demographics of their readership who will undoubtedly exclaim “it’s a far cry from the protests and intellectual debate of my student years”. Furthermore, the willingness of both parties to serve up the captain of the team by name (something that I won’t do here for that exact reason) on a silver platter of unfounded criticism shows both a complete lack of understanding as to how these events are organized and run and, more importantly, a lack of professionalism which is disturbing. As journalists, we undoubtedly have a right to highlight scandal where it occurs and “point the finger” but also a duty to ensure we have the facts right first. The cruelest thing that has occurred to the new team members in this scenario is that of convincing them to play lacrosse, which is brutal by anyone’s standards.