A Quick note: So here’s my rant on the situation with the Gopher football team. It’s not brief, it’s not as coherent as I would like, and if you’re thinking, “nah, I don’t want to read all that”, I get it. But then all I ask- if you are a man- is that you at least watch the embedded video at the bottom. At minimum, take that 18 minutes.
Once again, sports, celebrity, and money keep us from having the conversation we need to
have. I love sports, and when it comes to sports I put my local teams above all others, and as a born and bred Minneapolis kid and University of Minnesota alumnus, I have always loved and cheered for the Men’s Basketball team and Football from my alma mater. In my lifetime both of them have been mostly bad with glimpses of mediocrity and riddled with scandal, but I have decided that they will remain my teams and I will keep waiting and hoping for the day when one of these programs turns the corner. It’s been a bit like Narnia: Always winter but never Christmas.
I say all that to say that I am not simply some sports hater, looking for a reason to tear down athletes. I am an avid sports fan, and I love my Gophers. But here we are again, letting our addiction to sports (and in particular men’s sports) overshadow a crucial conversation that keeps getting buried because we are unwilling to adequately go after the destructive, misogynist, and abhorrent culture of sexual assault in sports. And the display the Gopher football team put on yesterday is exhibit A (or perhaps in Minnesota history exhibit Q or Z) in this abject failure. College football players having their way with an intoxicated women for 90 minutes disappears in these poor “kids” “right” to “due process” to play in a bowl game.
Here’s how this works: A woman drinks way too much alcohol. She then finds herself in an apartment with football players engaging in sexual activity. Unsure of what exactly happened after it’s over, she calls the police. Over time the authorities decide they don’t have enough evidence to charge anybody with any kind of sexual crime.
Later the University does its own investigation and decides there is enough to suspend 10
players. Because there were no legal charges filed previously, these 10 players are now made the victims because they are denied playing in a bowl game. The team calls a players-only meeting in which they pull off a strategic stunt of boycotting all football activities until their teammates are reinstated. Not only that, the team has the audacity to start a Twitter campaign to support using the hashtag #WeHadEnough. Wow.
The players thought it was over. Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, and they think it’s over. They’re outraged when it resurfaces for them, while it is likely replayed every day of this woman’s life in her mind, and they don’t give a crap about that. Wham. Bam. Thank you. Ma’am.
With this stunt, we are no longer talking about the destructive culture of sexual assault in
sports. We are talking about whether these 10 players were treated fairly. I went out on Twitter to throw my two cents into this conversation to get the conversation back on this disgusting, decades old culture in sports. What happened?
In no way do I have any meaningful presence on Twitter with my paltry 275 followers, but I did receive 19 retweets and 80+ likes, as well as a series of responses of those challenging me on just one of a handful of tweets. The gender divide was staggering. The 80+ likes and 19 retweets were almost entirely female, and the challengers on that and other tweets were all sports-loving males who continually brought the conversation back to the fact that no charges were filed and this woman back tracked a little: “No rape or sexual assault! Only regret”, was the overarching sentiment.
Well, guys, women seem to feel differently. Maybe it’s time we let women be the primary voice into what sexual assault actually is. How about we let them decide. It’s a scary proposition isn’t it? Because it means that a woman who “regrets” may be able to get us into trouble for something we feel we didn’t do. Exactly. Because as men, we have no idea what’s actually happening (with the exception of those men who have also been sexually assaulted by men). And what it might just do is get us to think twice about whether she really “wants it” or not. It might slow us down in our sexual escapades. It might actually force us to stop taking advantage of women’s “yeses”, because if we let women decide when assault has taken place, if we actually empower rather than silence the victim, maybe we’ll start actually getting into trouble for this abhorrent behavior and systematically perpetuated culture.
In this case, the victim has been blamed again. A group of large, strong men take advantage of an intoxicated young woman and the men are now victims and the woman has all but disappeared from the conversation. If she is mentioned, it is merely as a young woman who made an unwise choice. Meanwhile the Gopher Football coach, Tracy Claeys has “never been more proud of his kids.”
The culture of sexual abuse of women in sports is systemically perpetuated, once again.
What it comes down to is this. We know, without a doubt, male athletes take advantage of women. From Mickey Mantle to Magic Johnson to Kirby Puckett to Johnny Manziel, athletes have used their physical prowess, alcohol, and status to take advantage of women for decades, and nobody is willing to do anything meaningful about it. When these actions get exposed, we twist the conversation to merely a legal one wherein we make the perpetrators the victims: “That poor athlete whose name has been smeared because of some money grabbing, attention seeking, slutty woman.” That’s essentially what we’re saying.
We have to remember that what the law does is reduce things down to the lowest common denominator. The law is designed to tell you what the very lowest degree of acceptable behavior is. When we reduce these matters down to merely what the law decides, what is truly right and wrong goes out the window. Tracy Claeys has never been more proud of his kids than when they rise up and defend their teammates who gang banged an intoxicated women because they merely didn’t break the law. Character, a base sense of right and wrong, respect, self control, being a real man of integrity- none of this matters, none of this is something to proud of because… well… football.
It is time for this issue to be the number one issue in sports, all the way from Junior High to the pros. We need a radical shift in how we talk about this. We need to recognize that we men have a problem, a serious problem, and it’s on us to fix. It needs to be dealt with beyond sports-world, but for now I’m focusing there. We need to listen, learn, and change the conversation. We need to put our pathetic egos and machismo aside, we need shut up, and we need to let women lead us here. We need to come to a moment of crisis about what we have been doing, perpetuating, and sustaining for too long. Let’s get the conversation off of these whiny, entitled football players who think they have been so “wronged”, and look at the ways in which they are not wronged but wrong.
It’s time for men to start holding men accountable. I dream of a day when this info gets out and teammates don’t pull whiny stunts to protect their teammates, but they come to the coach and say, “you need to suspend the guys for what they did”. We have a problem, men. And it’s up to us to fix it. It’s our problem. And shame on us for letting the base level of the law and our addiction to sportsballs be the bar by which we judge ourselves on these matters. Shame on us.