Here we are again, talking about a Harvard sports team.
In this case, the 2014 Harvard Men’s Cross Country team kept a “crude and sexualized document” about a women’s team. The current team was placed on probation after an investigation had found them to be “truthful and forthright.”
This story is nearly identical to the one I wrote about, here, in which the Harvard Men’s Soccer team kept a spreadsheet of sexually objectifying remarks about the women’s team. Their season was canceled when they were not forthcoming.
So, is Harvard special? Is there something about the school or its male attendees that make them feel entitled to behave in this manner? Or, is this sort of thing going on at campuses everywhere? Do other programs know about circumstances like this and write them off as “locker room talk” and “boys will be boys?”
There is much evidence to suggest the latter is likely more accurate than anyone wants to admit.
Let’s talk about Brock Turner for a moment. What about this story led anyone to believe that he and everyone around him were shocked, literally shocked, that his behavior was unacceptable? His father called it “20 minutes of action” and was clearly more concerned that his son no longer enjoyed a good ribeye than the fact that he had sexually assaulted a woman behind a dumpster. The judge sentenced him to 6 months—and he actually walked out of jail in three—to avoid “adverse collateral consequences.” Turner blamed peer pressure, alcohol, and promiscuity. Repeatedly.
Let’s talk about Baylor for a moment. Football coach Art Briles, Athletic Director Ian McCaw and, University President Kenneth Starr all left Baylor in disgrace after the University discovered they knew about alleged sexual assault, including at least one gang rape allegedly perpetrated by members of the football team, and failed to report these incidents to the police. McCaw was recently hired by Liberty University, whose President Jerry Falwell, Jr. said, “Ian’s success really speaks for itself. You look at what Baylor was able to do during his tenure, it fits perfectly with where we see our sports programs going.” One wonders how ignoring sexual assault allegations “fits in” to an evangelical university, but apparently Falwell is only concerned with his ability to run a financially lucrative football program.
These are not isolated incidents. They are part and parcel of a larger problem.
The National Coalition Against Violent Athletes compiled and published the following statistics:
- A 3-year study shows that while male student-athletes comprise 3.3% of the population, they represent 19% of sexual assault perpetrators and 35% of domestic violence perpetrators. (Benedict/Crosset Study)
- One-third of college sexual assaults are committed by athletes. (Benedict/Crosset Study)
- In 1995, while only 8.5% of the general population was charged with assault, 36.8% of athletes were charged with assault. (Benedict/Crosset Study)
- The general population has a conviction rate of 80%. The conviction rate of an athlete is 38%. (Benedict/Crosset Study)
- A new incident of athlete crime emerges once every two days – that does NOT include crimes that were unreported in the media. (NCAVA)
- 20% of college football recruits in the Top 25 Division I teams have criminal records.
- A college rapist will have raped seven times before being caught.
A study published in June in the journal Violence Against Women found similar results. In this study, 54% of college athletes surveyed admitted to at least one “sexually coercive” act, compared to 38% of the non-athlete group. Athletes (~10% v. ~1% of non-athletes) were more likely to use force and threats in sexual coercion, responding affirmatively to statements such as “I used force (like hitting, holding down, or a weapon) to make my partner have oral or anal sex.”
This study also investigated the attitudes of respondents toward women and their likelihood to believe common rape myths, such as the idea that women accuse men rape as revenge. Again, athletes were more likely to have lower opinions of women and to embrace myths about rape.
Another interesting aspect of this study is that it investigated recreational or intramural athletes, not just intercollegiate ones, as previous studies have generally not done. These recreational athletes aren’t on the college team for whatever reason, but nevertheless many have long histories of playing team sports. The investigators suspected that the attitudes and behaviors of the intercollegiate and intramural athletes would be similar and their research bore this out; there was no statistically significant differences between the two groups. They did find statistically significant differences between the athletes and their non-athletic peers, however.
To be fair, this is a very limited study, only 379 total students enrolled at a single school. There are many ways to examine and interpret this data, including this one, which concludes that 54% is overstated, assuming that there are overlap among affirmative respondents, and places the figure between 10 and 37%.
Still, that’s alarming. It speaks to a greater problem: for reasons yet to be fully uncovered, athletes are more likely than their peers to commit sexual assault, and participation in team sports appears to play some role in the attitudes that lead to sexual assault behavior.
Whatever the reasons, one thing is clear. It is imperative that we begin incorporating conversations on rape, consent, gender equality, and respect into athletic programs at every level.
Education is the answer. You wouldn’t wait to teach your child to read until he got to college. We can’t leave these other critical skills until then, either.
Photo credit: Getty Images