Em-URGE-ing Voices

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It’s Long Past Time to Stop Favoring Athletics Over Justice

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February 25, 2016

[Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault]

Bodda getta, bodda getta, bodda getta, bah!

Rah, rah, rah! Sis-boom-bah!

Weagle, weagle, war damn eagle!

Kick ‘em in the butt, big blue!

If you don’t understand what any of that meant, don’t worry. It’s an Auburn University thing. I go to a school that loves football and tradition just as much as—okay, probably a little more than—the education of its students. This doesn’t bother me, because I love sports and I love the traditions that go with them (throwing my hat onto the ice at a hockey game is on my bucket list). What does bother me is when college athletics are valued over the safety of other students.

It seems that every few months, another university is coming under fire for sweeping sexual assault allegations against their athletes under the rug. The latest school in the news is the University of Tennessee (UT). This is especially concerning because this is 2016 Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning’s alma mater, who is also on the list of the accused, and has been for a long time.

The allegations are horrifying and not just confined to the football team. “Five women say they were assaulted by football players; one says she was assaulted by a basketball player; one says she was assaulted by non-athletes at a party thrown by a football player; and another says she transferred because she feared retribution for aiding a friend who reported being raped by a football player, according to the lawsuit.” While the university claims they have done all they can to aid the victims, it seems that the opposite is true.

“University of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones told one of his players he “betrayed the team” after the wide receiver helped a woman who said she was raped by two other football players.” This is not, in fact, doing what you can to help the victims. This is not only sickening because it shows just how little the victims are respected in situations of sexual assault; it also shows how twisted the values can get when it comes to college sports. Most of the athletes I know would do nearly anything to avoid being called a traitor to their team, because their team is their family. Telling a player that helping a rape victim is betrayal is a form of manipulation that should never be used.

It goes deeper than this; there are layers upon layers of this scandal to be unpacked. Von Pearson, a wide receiver, was accused of sexually assaulting a fellow student. Rather than investigate, “the updated lawsuit claims the school temporarily lifted his suspension so he could take final exams in order to be eligible for the following season.” The important thing to the University of Tennessee administration was not handling the sexual assault in an appropriate manner; no, they needed to make sure that he could play the next season. After all, if it hasn’t been made clear enough by now, nothing is more important to a university than its sports teams.

Remember how I mentioned Peyton Manning earlier? Here’s where this all gets even more fucked up. In the 1990s, when Manning was the quarterback for UT, he acted in an inappropriate sexual manner towards trainer, Jamie Ann Naughright. While this incident was ‘settled’ (the settlement resulted in Naughright leaving her job), Manning has been mentioned in the newest lawsuit. The university is not too pleased with this. “The University of Tennessee asked a federal judge Tuesday to strike a paragraph mentioning Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning from a lawsuit alleging the school violated federal laws against sex discrimination and fostered “a hostile sexual environment and culture.” The school argues that because the Manning case was settled nearly two decades ago, it is not currently relevant. The attorney representing five of the accusers explained that it is necessary and relevant, because it provides “a backdrop to the institutional issues.” I fully agree with him.

I want to be clear that I am not in any way targeting the University of Tennessee specifically, because I know that this is a wide-sweeping issue that occurs across the nation. This is just the most recent occurrence of college athletic programs curving the judicial system when it comes to sexual assault; if I had written this a year or so ago, I would have focused on Florida State University. If I’d written this in 2013, I would have focused on the University of North Carolina. If I’d written this in 2012, I would’ve focused on the United States Naval Academy (I’ve made my point, right?). There is absolutely a toxic environment surrounding college athletic programs when it comes to sexual assault, and this is not an issue that is going to be solved overnight, or even in the immediate future, unfortunately.

One thing we can do is know our rights. I urge and encourage everybody to read up on and share the facts about Title IX, because when we know the law is supposed to be on our side, it can mean a world of difference.



Image by Joel Kramer via: Flickr

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