Earlier this week, I saw the following in the Wall Street Journal:

Baylor Alumni Urge School to Rethink Firing of Art Briles

Football coach was ‘suspended indefinitely with intent to terminate’ amid controversy over school’s handling of sexual assaults on campus

Then yesterday, we see this on ESPN:

Briles accuses Baylor of wrongful termination: Fired coach Art Briles says Baylor using him as scapegoat

I am disgusted and I can’t stay quiet anymore.

Up until now, my voice has been so passive about both the Baylor Football and Stanford sexual assault cases. I have resorted to what most people do these days — retweeting or reposting what others have said about it. Sometimes I think, “Who cares what I think? Just post about racing and kids.” Yet, as a mother, a woman, a researcher of both sport and media, and as a human, I feel the need to say something.

I am so tired of athletes getting special treatment in our society. This goes from free passes on their rude behavior to free passes from breaking the law. To make matters worse, it is beyond sad how easily we forget about the victims while casting our focus on the violators, the athletes, and their respective institutions. We are so quick to move on to the next news cycle while these women, men, and children have to endure emotional and physical pain. It’s no surprise when statistics show how few rapes and assaults are reported, as our society “Scarlet Letters” the victims and pushes aside their rape kits and testimonies.

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For years, we have stories upon stories about both coaches and athletes who have harmed others but have seen little to no punishment. This includes physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse.

OJ Simpson.

Jameis Winston.

Kobe Bryant.

Ray Rice.

Duke Lacrosse.

Brock Turner.

Baylor University Football.

And soon to be several more unless we address some serious things.

We look past their actions because we have created a society were athletes are popular, profitable, and idolized. Those characteristics sometimes mean more in our society than what is right. The women affected by these men are the quiet victims while media focuses on the men and how the charges and/or punishments (if any) will influence their professional careers. There’s chatter about what these women did to agitate the men or how the women were just seeking attention. Automatically, the victims are not the focus, but rather temptresses for famous superstars that grown adults view as and as idols. These athletes can do no wrong in the eyes of their fans. When fans adore them (along with their institutions) enough and theory (such as parasocial interaction theory) will tell you that their transgressions will be forgiven and forgotten. Give the team enough wins, revenue, and media coverage – and society will pardon you.

The lawyer for the Duke Lacrosse players tried to pull the “Well she was a hooker” card. Kobe’s lawyer suggested, “She wanted it.” Then Ray Rice’s wife was asked by the Baltimore Raven’s staff to apologize for her behavior. LAPD visited OJ’s home 8 times for domestic violence. The 9th time was for the murder of his wife. Winston’s accuser was hushed by the Jacksonville Police Department. Baylor University raked in millions of dollars and shuttled it into football while simultaneously disregarding that some of their players sexually assaults fellow students – the ultimate “institutional failure.”

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Luckily (if I should even say that), Brock Turner’s victim was placed in the biggest spotlight with her response to the unbelievable lack of punishment for Turner. I feel like rape victims are starting to, in some small way, gain some voice in the public forum. Yet, there is still a “don’t go there” mentality with rape, as the rhetoric behind most coverage is normalizing the behaviors from men while blaming the women. I’m glad the victim in Stanford was brought to the front page of the story. I am glad we are now forced to talk about rape and the pain it causes women. I am glad our society is recognizing the outrageous actions by the judge in the Turner case, who just happened to have been a Stanford graduate himself.

On the website, Force: Upsetting the Rape Culture, the suggestion of how everyday media validates and perpetuates rape in our society is featured:

Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as “just the way things are.”

Consensual sex is just sex. No need to categorize it or place a label on it. Anything other than that is rape. Our society doesn’t need to shy away from the topic but rather face it dead on. No one deserves to be raped, no one deserves to be dissected by public opinion. Rape should not be normalized. We cannot tolerate the special treatment of those who are famous just because they are famous. If they do wrong then they deserve the same punishment.

In 2013, I wrote about the Steubenville rape case where a group of football players raped a girl, videotaped it and then posted it online, and then were sympathized in the media. I said:

Our society has a problem with worshiping the wrong people – we look towards the “popular kids,” the athletes, the stars in our world as those who are worthy of attention. We view them as untouchable, and in turn they often learn to view themselves as being immune to the consequences of their actions. These boys are a perfect example of this phenomena: how our media will frame its narrative to empathize with those who have broken the law. Anyone who knows the girl personally couldn’t imagine such a possibility. And many who know the convicted boys have to be ashamed of their cruel actions.

Media has such power to frame both topics and individuals how they see fit – how they believe what the majority wants. Sports are THE institutions in America, where we spend our time and energy rooting for teams that we find important and integral to our lives.

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Athletes are not more entitled than anyone else. Victims of assault and rape have a hard enough time being heard in the halls of a police station, so we cannot also mute them in our world. I wish for a time when women, men and children aren’t afraid to speak the truth, aren’t afraid of being punished by a university athletic department or a professional sport team for standing up to abusers. Yet, that assumes that our world will stop placing so much importance on athletes and sports. We all saw fandom double down during the scandals for both Penn State and Baylor University – grown adults more concerned with the reputation of their alma mater than the well being of its current students. Take off the jersey. Put on perspective.

Don’t get me wrong, I love sports – I have my PhD in Sport Communication because I adore studying and understanding the social impact and influence of sports. We cannot live in a culture where athletes are conditioned to believe that they are entitled to behave however they want. We cannot live in a culture where “those in power” are protected in order to save reputations or revenue. We cannot live in a world where citizens prioritize blind faith of fandom over the well-being of others. Period.

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