As responsible sports fans and caring humans, we can do more to fight sexual violence.
Every week there seems to be a new story about a professional athlete accused of sexual violence. You don’t need to look far to find multiple examples in the NBA, NFL, or NHL. You can read about fans’ responses here, here, and here. Despite these reactions and even broader public outcry, sports viewership remains high.
How do we reconcile our inconsistent responses to sexual violence? Can you hate the rapists but not the game? How can you enjoy sports without being a bystander on violence?
This isn’t about wading into ongoing investigations better left to the justice system than to the media, let alone the general public. And it’s not about boycotting the game all together. But as responsible sports fans and caring humans, we can do more to fight sexual violence. A few things to keep in mind this weekend as you are watching the game:
Demand that your favorite team takes real action on the issue. The NFL gave $3.5 million to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in the wake of its horrible decisions about various players’ punishments, along with additional support for domestic violence organizations and donated airtime for No More, a PSA campaign. Seems generous, right? Not when you consider that league brings home $1 billion in profits each year. Real action means giving until it hurts a little bit. It means taking action proactively, and not in response to a crisis.
And by the way, we don’t need more awareness campaigns, unless they are tied to specific actions or direct support. We need more research to understand sexual violence, deeper investment in the crisis service network that provides critical support to survivors, and broader educational tools and programs to educate men and women about sexual violence prevention, intervention, and response.
Don’t let offenders off the hook too easily. Need I remind you that the NFL puts punching your girlfriend in the face in the same category as deflating a few balls? And one tearful press conference does not mean someone is on a pathway to redemption. There are thousands upon thousands of talented players who aren’t sexual offenders waiting for their chance to join a professional sports team. Why not give them a chance?
Speak out against sexual violence in male spaces. When an offender comes onto the field, court, or ice, don’t give them a standing ovation. Turn your back. Boo. Hold up a sign that says, “Love my team. Hate sexual violence.” Convey your feelings via social media. Share information about sexual violence with your friends at bars or while watching sporting events. Impose a sexual violence penalty on your next Fantasy Football league. Make it cool to hate sexual violence.
Encourage more conversations about male survivors. You are far more likely to run into a male survivor than a perpetrator on the playing field. Some amazingly courageous players have shared their stories of trauma and abuse, but sharing stories like these shouldn’t require courage. We should all be ready, willing, and able to stand by male survivors, believe their stories, and support their pathways to healing and justice.
You don’t have to feel guilty for loving sports. But if you actively ignore sexual violence and cheer on rapists, then you are part of the problem when you could be part of the solution.
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