College athletics are mighty agenda-setters on campus. Not only do they inspire the allegiance of past, present and future students, they contribute heavily to the university’s bottom line.
If only more sports operations and their athletes wanted to set the standard for preventing sexual violence against women. Not just edging over the low bar of prosecutable criminal behavior, but taking the lead in championing the safety of all students.
Sadly, when athletes decide to take a stand these days, they too often do so to perpetuate the ridiculous notion that they are the victims.
The University of Minnesota football team, which will play today in the Holiday Bowl, is the latest of these clueless, if not downright callous, brotherhoods.
The Golden Gophers threatened a boycott earlier this month to protest the suspension of 10 players caught in a sexual assault inquiry. Because football trumps all — even misguided loyalty — the team returned to practice after two days.
This tragedy began in September, when a female student accused several players of sexual assault. While the case did not meet the burden of criminal proof, the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action recommended discipline against the 10 for violating student conduct standards. The athletics department wisely followed up with suspensions, pending university hearings and an appeals process.
The graphic details in the police investigation are sickeningly familiar: a night of drinking and foggy memories, sex with one player that the survivor says “may have been consensual” followed by subsequent encounters with others that were not, some of it caught on video.
The Minnesota players, who failed to even mention the issue of sexual assault in their initial boycott, apparently thought that because their teammates wound up without a felony charge, all was well. But the school’s conduct code prohibits harming fellow students in any way or making them feel uncomfortable.
Just as remarks about sexual assault and Title IX will rightfully punctuate the broadcast of Minnesota’s Holiday Bowl appearance, expect the same a week later when the University of Oklahoma plays in the Sugar Bowl.
Oklahoma joins Minnesota in the hall of shameful behavior after the recent release of a 2014 video that shows star running back Joe Mixon punching a female student.
The incident isn’t new: Mixon was charged with a misdemeanor at the time; the university suspended him for one season. His violent behavior that July night is undisputed, given the knocked-unconscious student’s broken bones and witness accounts.
But the video makes it even more difficult to fathom how school President David Boren and coach Bob Stoops thought a one-year ban and opportunity to stay at Oklahoma was sufficient.
No doubt the NCAA can make its rules and consequences tougher and more consistent. But meaningful change is more likely if it comes from the players themselves, guided by virtuous coaches and right-minded administrations — and supported by fans, alumni and donors.
Amid the end-of-year ritual of college bowl games, it’s difficult to imagine such an attitude change. All the more reason to lift up this message: Real winners put the well being of women first.
Change is possible
“If you were to ask an individual if this type of behavior is acceptable, they would say, ‘Absolutely not.’ But when they see 120 of their brothers, their teammates, standing behind it, they’re going to say yes. We need more people to step out of that and do the right thing.”
— Annie Clark, executive director of End Rape on Campus
The Minnesota players’ boycott “was really a good view of how that culture bonds together around something. Unfortunately, it was around something negative and around something destructive. Now imagine what would happen if they would have banded together over something positive.”
— Kathy Redmond, founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes