How one of Syracuse's most popular teams took a stand against domestic violence

Members of the Syracuse University men's lacrosse team practice Friday, May 26, 2006, in preparation for their match with Virginia in the semifinals of the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Division I semifinals Saturday, at Lincoln financial Field in Philadelphia.  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Members of the Syracuse University men's lacrosse team practice (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

It's pretty amazing that it's 2021 and we are still seeing stories of Division I coaches and athletic administrations that are choosing their own interests over simply doing the right thing.

And it's not just confined to the money-making sports like football and men's basketball, though at Syracuse lacrosse is on par with those sports in terms of popularity and the men's team has had far more national success.

Five team captains and members of the Syracuse men's lacrosse team recently threatened to walk out if attackman Chase Scanlan was reinstated from an indefinite suspension, which came after an allegation of domestic abuse.

Via multiple reports, the captains — defensive midfielder Peter Dearth, midfielders Brendan Curry and Jamie Trimboli, attackman Stephen Rehfuss and goaltender Drake Porter — along with the rest of the Orange's players made it clear that if Scanlan came back to practice with the team, they would leave.

Longtime Syracuse coach John Desko had placed Scanlan, the team's leading goal-scorer, on indefinite suspension last month; the move came two days after Scanlan was allegedly involved in a domestic violence incident on the night of April 17, with the university's department of public safety called to an apartment on Syracuse's South Campus student housing area.

Scanlan wasn't charged by university officials, but the city's police department and the Onondaga County district attorney have opened an investigation, which as of this writing is still open. The district attorney, William Fitzpatrick, has confirmed a female victim and that a photograph of a sizable portion of broken wall taken by public safety officers is part of the evidence.

Despite the ongoing investigation into what most of us see as a serious allegation, Desko waited barely a week before he decided to reinstate Scanlan. The sophomore had missed one game, a win over rival Virginia.

But the rest of the Orange weren't having it. They conveyed that they would walk out of practice on April 27, the day Scanlan was set to return, and demanded a meeting with athletic director John Wildhack, which happened on April 29.

It's rare to see student athletes take such a stand, especially considering that at 6-4 on the season after the win over Virginia that Scanlan missed, the team was still iffy for a berth in the NCAA tournament, which is an annual rite for Syracuse men's lacrosse.

The players, who had their 2020 season cut short and many of whom are facing their last days with the team as seniors, could have sat silent, knowing that on the field at least, having Scanlan is a benefit.

The stereotype of men’s lacrosse players and the atmosphere within the sport aren‘t favorable ones; though it originated with Native American communities hundreds of years ago, the modern game has long been the domain of upper-class white kids on the East Coast, played at exclusive prep schools, by players who drink alcohol and do drugs at higher rates than athletes in other NCAA sports.

This year’s Syracuse roster certainly fits that demographic mold: on a roster of over 50 players, a handful are non-white, many coming from places like The Hun School of Princeton and Calvert Hall.

The kinds of kids we usually think of as entitled, who care about glory and their lax bros above all else.

But it was these players at Syracuse, not the head coach or athletic director, who did the right thing. It was the players who have made it clear that they don't want Scanlan around, that they want no part of featuring a player who has been accused of domestic violence.

Maybe they remembered Yeardley Love, the Virginia women's lacrosse player killed by her lacrosse-playing boyfriend, George Huguely, in a drunken rage in 2010, or maybe they weren't aware. Either way, they drew the line that partner violence won't be tolerated among members of the team, sending a strong message to other students on campus.

The so-called adults, the ones who are supposed to be showing young people that sometimes doing what's right and doing what's popular or best for your own interests aren't the same thing, have been largely silent and offering little in the way of clarity, information or accountability. Desko read a prepared statement when meeting with media but has said little else.

One would think that even from an optics perspective Syracuse would have done better: as drip after damning drip about the incredibly toxic atmosphere within Louisiana State's athletics department comes to light, how can school officials not err on the side of upholding Scanlan's suspension until the criminal investigation is completed?

At the moment Desko's reinstatement stands, but Scanlan has been practicing away from the rest of the team and did not travel to Notre Dame, where Syracuse was drubbed 22-8 on Saturday.

The truth is, Syracuse has underperformed under Desko for several years. The Orange won back-to-back national championships in 2008-09, but in the six tournaments since losing to Duke in the title game in 2013, Syracuse has been one-and-done at the NCAAs three times and won the first round and lost in the second the other three years.

Maybe he sees writing on the wall for himself, and that his 20-plus years as head coach of what was once the most dominant program in the sport may be coming to an end. Maybe he believes Syracuse lost a great opportunity in 2020, when it began 5-0 before COVID shut everything down and feels things slipping away.

Desko seemingly put winning, and by extension his own status, ahead of taking a stand and shutting down a top player who's been accused of abusing a woman.

Some things should be more important. Some things are more important.

A lesson the Orange players are teaching their so-called teachers.

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