By Emily Mathis
I like sports as much as the next person. Well, okay so I most likely won’t watch football on Sunday unless I’m at my parent’s house, but come the big exciting championship, I am there. And as anyone who knows me can attest as long as it’s hockey, I’m there. However, I have noticed a disturbing trend recently of male athletes who are accused of sexual assault or domestic violence. Not only are they getting away with it, but the media and a lot of sports fans turn the tables around and use victim-blaming as the main defense.
As much as it saddens me to bring this up, since my family is Spartans all the way, the worst case of this “free pass” for athletes lately happened at Michigan State University. According to reports, two male basketball players sexually assaulted a young woman at a party. The article states that even though one of the two players agreed with the victim’s account of what happened, no chargers are being issued.
This is not the first instance of athletes not getting charged or just receiving a “slap on the wrist”. This past year Ben Roethlisberger, the winning quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was accused of rape. After the allegations, which were never prosecuted due to negligent investigating, Roethlisberger received a six game suspension that was taken down to a four game suspension for “good behavior.” In addition to the lack of seriousness afforded to the situation, Nike and others came to his defense.
Why is it that these athletes are able to get away with crimes that should be prosecuted? If it’s not victim-blaming techniques, the police don’t take the allegations seriously and don’t treat the players like other men, or for some reason the county or state’s attorneys decide there is “not enough evidence” to file charges.
In the case of the MSU players, I am really confused why no action is being taken. When one of the players corroborates the victim’s charges, shouldn’t that be a red flag that maybe a crime actually did take place? And why wasn’t Roethlisberger’s case handled better? Maybe it’s like some of the other examples of sexual assault cases not being handled properly. But maybe it’s more than that.
Perhaps our society does give sports figures a “free pass”. I think that it’s a combination of sexual assault allegations not being handled the way they should and the fact that there is somewhat of a “boys will be boys” mentality when it comes to athletes. It seems that sometimes in our society there is a tendency to overlook bad behavior from star athletes precisely because people want to keep them in the winning column and you can’t do that if they are getting arrested or worse actually serving time in jail.
In addition to many people not wanting athletes to have to deal with the consequences of their actions, there seems to be the continuing problem of victim-blaming. There is the type of victim-blaming that is evident in the MSU allegations: they were at a party, the girl had been drinking, she went upstairs with them, etc, so obviously no crime could have been committed. These are classic victim-blaming mentalities. But what struck me about the Roethlisberger case and other high profile sexual assault cases, like the Kobe Bryant case, is that it seems there is a different type of victim-blaming that occurs and that is this idea that any girl would obviously want to have sex with a famous athlete and therefore these girls must being lying so they can get publicity and/or money. It would seem that it is too hard to imagine that a beloved figure like a quarterback for a Super Bowl winning team would actually rape women. But some people forget rape is not about sex or desire; it’s about power. So just because someone like Roethlisberger or Bryant probably has a lot of opportunity to have sex with a lot of women, it doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of rape.
As with so many aspects of how our society deals with sexual assault, this tendency for overlooking valid information as it pertains to athletes has got to stop. I am by no means saying that all athletes are perpetrating crimes and that none of them receive punishment. I am saying that it seems like if the crime in question is sexual assault, it tends to go unpunished. It seems like the struggle for understanding of what sexual assault and rape is still continues, not only in society, but in our law enforcement communities as well. But most importantly it seems some men need to understand that women need to be respected not violated.