Tuesday May 3rd, 2011

Journalism, they say, is the first draft of history. When a story breaks, the central figures tend to be one-dimensional, less characters than caricatures. Quick and easy themes develop. Like most drafts, when thickened with both time and research, the stories get more complex. Nuances emerge. Usually, the good aren't entirely good. The bad aren't entirely bad.

Today marks a year since Yeardley Love -- then a 22-year-old, fourth-year student about to graduate from the University of Virginia -- was beaten to death at her off-campus apartment. George Huguely, a former boyfriend, also a UVA fourth-year student, also a varsity lacrosse player, confessed to the crime and was charged with first-degree murder. The two principal figures made for a tidy study in contrasts. As her name immediately suggested, Love was by all accounts thoroughly endearing. Her friends and teammates and coaches spoke glowingly of her. So did her instructors. "She's the epitome of what we want our students to be," Meg Heubeck, of UVA's Center for Politics, said at the time. "That's the best way I can sum her up."

Huguely, on the other hand, cut the figure of an entitled bully whose violence was accelerated when he drank. As a freshman, he'd been charged with underage alcohol possession in Florida, where the family has a $2 million vacation home. The following year he was arrested for intoxication and resisting arrest outside a fraternity house at Washington & Lee University. After shouting obscenities and threats and scuffling with a female officer, he was finally subdued by Taser, though, remarkably, he had no recollection of the incident. The arresting officer told reporters: "He was by far the most rude, most hateful and most combative college kid I ever dealt with." (Huguely received a 60-day suspended sentence, six months probation, a fine, and was required to perform community service and attend substance abuse education. He was also required to disclose the arrest to the University of Virginia. He did not.) On another occasion he punched a sleeping teammate, whom he believed had kissed Love.

Yet after countless follow-up stories, and full rotation of the seasons later, there's been little to suggest that either profile was inaccurate. Not a lot of nuance has seeped in; not a lot of gray has shaded either character. Accounts of Love's essential goodness continue to pour forth. Friends and strangers still write to Yeardley's mother, Sharon, and sister, Lexie, offering recollections. There was the time Yeardley helped a senior citizen and walked away gushing, "I love old people!" And the time she counseled a first-year UVA athlete she barely knew but could tell was in need of a friend. Even better are the letters and e-mails, says Sharon. "They've given us a peek into Yeardley's life I didn't know about ... They remind us of the good she brought into this world."

And there was little to suggest that Huguely had been misportrayed, either. In the past year, even as emotions may have cooled, there has been a striking absence of friends and former teammates explaining how he had been "misunderstood" or how "there's a side others don't see" or that there were "extenuating circumstances." We're used to hearing of athletes committing anti-social acts and then clawing back some measure of sympathy. Not this guy.

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At least in some corners, Huguely became a proxy for all that is wrong with the Culture of Lacrosse. In the wake of Love's murder, ABC News titled a segment "Lacrosse: Sport of Bullies?" Deadspin was, characteristically, less subtle: "Are the White Boys of lacrosse predestined to be [expletives]?" it asked.

Yet here the first draft of history eventually softened. After the initial firestorm, this never turned into a referendum on an entire sport. "As a sport, as a community, we didn't get beat up nearly as bad as we did during the Duke scandal," a colleague who played lacrosse in college put it. "The anti-lacrosse [trope] didn't seem to last."

True enough. The fastest growing sport is still growing fast. This month, the NCAA tournament -- a terrifically underrated event -- will kick off and culminate Memorial Day weekend in Baltimore and draw record crowds. Credit USA Lacrosse for swift and shrewd damage control. Credit fans and observers, chastened surely in part from the Duke rush to judgment, for divorcing a bad actor from an entire sport.

But also credit the Love family. Never once did they malign the lacrosse or the culture. Never once did they ask how Dom Starsia, the UVA men's lacrosse coach, could have kept his job after the tragedy, given Huguely's well-documented history of violence and drunkenness. Earlier this week, when Starsia announced that he had kicking twins Shamel and Rhamel Bratton off the 2011 team for what were reportedly alcohol-related offenses -- a violation of rules adopted in the wake of Huguely -- the Loves did not comment.

In their actions, too, they made it clear that lacrosse is not to blame. Quite the contrary. Last fall, the Love family established the One Love Foundation, a nod to Yeardley's lacrosse uniform number. The donations flooded in. So it is that the lacrosse teams at Notre Dame Prep in Towson, Md., where Yeardley, Lexie and Sharon went to school -- will soon play their games on the Yeardley Reynolds Love Field. Soon an ACC lacrosse player will be given the inaugural Yeardley Love Unsung Hero Award. The foundation is also working to start a lacrosse program for underprivileged kids. (As a condition for admission, in keeping with Yeardley's fondness for the elderly, kids must volunteer to work with senior citizens in their neighborhood, shoveling snow or doing errands or just sitting and talking.)

When Yeardley's No. 1 jersey was retired last month, Sharon attended the ceremony. In her first wide-ranging interview since the tragedy, Sharon says one of the most touching moments of the past year came that day when the Penn State team, UVA's opponent that day, presented a check to the foundation. Another came when she learned that a girls' lacrosse team in Thailand had held an impromptu tournament to raise money.

*****

This, though, has been the family's M.O. They don't do bitterness at all. They've gotten through the year by staying busy, working full-time and moonlighting to make sure, as Sharon says, "Yeardley's legacy lives on." They've learned that there's nothing linear about grief. It doesn't diminish in proportion to time. The holidays were tough. So was Yeardley's birthday on July 17. But there are some days that, for no apparent reason, bring grief that's almost incapacitating. "There are days when we're devastated," says Lexie. "The emotions come out of nowhere ... and it hits you, This is real." They often get through these periods by talking to Yeardley, telling her jokes, asking her questions. Sharon will misplace her keys and ask Yeardley where they might be. Inevitably, they appear.

Neither Sharon nor Lexie has read media accounts or watched any television coverage. "It's irrelevant to us and doesn't change anything," says Sharon. "It drags you down, so why get into that?" They've both done a sort of emotional calculus: is this helping my grief? Is it honoring Yeardley? "It's a lot of what-would-Yards-do?" says Lexie. Adds Sharon: "Nothing good comes from not being positive."

They'll be challenged anew when Huguely's criminal trial begins in February. In addition to portraying him as profoundly drunk at the time -- thus casting doubt on the premeditation required for a first-degree murder conviction -- a team of high-priced defense lawyers is likely to do what no one has, and paint an unflattering picture of Love. Midway through a preliminary hearing last month in Charlottesville, Sharon left the courtroom before graphic details of Yeardley's murder were revealed.

Today, as the UVA men's and women's lacrosse teams wind down their regular seasons and prepare for the NCAA tournament, the Loves will commemorate the most unpleasant of anniversaries. The priest who presided over the funeral last year will conduct a service. A group of friends and family will repair to the Love home and eat a dinner of Yeardley's favorite foods: filet, crab cakes and mashed potatoes. Then they'll stay up late and share memories, stories and tissues in equal measure. A monster may have killed Yeardley Love, but her legacy lives.

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