Thursday, May 26, 2016

Change It.

Baylor Univeristy head football coach Art Briles was fired on Thursday, amid a scandal whose details are becoming more horrifying than they already were as further information becomes public. The recently-released key findings pdf of the Pepper Hamilton report details an institutional culture that repeatedly ignored, marginalized, and/or directly threatened victims of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence while shielding and covering up for those responsible, many of them football players.  According to reports from a variety of outlets including ESPN, Deadspin, and SBNation, this behavior extended to every conceivable level, from Briles to AD Ian McCaw to Baylor President Kenneth Starr to the Waco Police Department.  (McCaw and Starr have been penalized but not dismissed from the university at the time of this writing.)  All of this, sadly, sounds very familiar in the context of sports, sexual and domestic violence, and misogyny at large. 

Purely talking about college football in recent memory, we have similar cases involving Jameis Winston at FSU and (still-waiting-for-the-other-shoe) Peyton Manning and other athletes at Tennessee.  As for pro athletes, we need look no further than Ben Rothlisberger, Aroldis Chapman, Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, and Kobe Bryant.

A few words on the latter two: We just watched Kobe play a farewell-tour season in which he was showered in accolades and boatloads of florid prose were heaped upon his accomplishments on the court.  Scant mention was ever made during all this of what happened in Eagle, Colorado.  When Hardy was released by the Panthers, pundits speculating on where he might resume his career talked in terms of "bad optics" or "a public relations problem", ignoring entirely the fact that the real problem was a man who more or less skated on his inability to behave like a human being.

All of these people, from Baylor to Bryant, have a few salient things in common. 1. They're men.  2. They were accused of sexual assault or domestic violence against women. 3. Their status as notable athletes allowed them, through varying channels and to varying degrees, to circumvent the consequences of their alleged actions. 

Young women were subjected to awful, tragic, life-altering events.  They were then systematically shamed and ignored by the various academic and league institutions and law enforcement agencies ostensibly designed to protect them.  These are the most visceral examples, but far from the only ones.  This is the worst of it, but far from the totality of heinousness that women endure in sports. 

Consider the recent ESPNW PSA in which men read aloud and on camera some of the truly despicable invective hurled at female sports media personalities on Twitter.  Or you could look to Seattle, Washington, where a recent city council vote led to a similar rash of garbage aimed at the councilwomen who voted against the building of a new arena designed to lure an NBA or NHL team to the city.

Look, too, at the US Women's Soccer Team having to boycott matches because they were not afforded safe, decent playing surfaces.  Look at them having to wage a legal battle for an equal pay scale. 

The names and specifics change, but it's always the same dismal cycle, time and time again.  Male athletes do unspeakable things to the women around them and go scot-free because they are staggering revenue generators for their schools, teams, leagues, etc.  Female athletes and female sports journalists are harassed, threatened, demeaned, marginalized and belittled; denied equal respect, remuneration, and acclaim, constantly in a 24/7 churn of institutional prejudice and misogynistic social-media bile.

All of this, the assaults and violence, the harassment and marginalization, stems from a single abomination in our society: the ethos that says "women are less."  Less capable.  Less deserving of our admiration and respect.  Less knowledgeable.  Less than human.  Obviously, this is sickeningly pervasive in all aspects of our lives, but nowhere does this fundamental problem scream more loudly than in sports. 

This is all clearly utter fucking crap, so here are a few things I would like to see happen:

1. If you're a lawyer or government official reading this: I know there's a whole mess of Constitutional and legal wrangling here, but: we need the Laws of the Land amended in such a way that violent crimes committed by men against women can be prosecuted as hate crimes.  Because often, that's exactly what they are.  We also need a legal system that functions as intended and doesn't NOT slap cuffs on someone just because he had 100 rushing yards or tossed up a triple double last week.

2. If you're a male reading this: police your friends.  Derisive comments, jokes, et al aimed at women are symptomatic of the deeper issue here, and we can start changing that mentality only if we speak up.  So please, explain to those around you who say those kinds of things, who think and feel that way, why they're wrong.  Tell them, in no uncertain terms, to knock that shit off.  If they can alter their behavior and perceptions, that's a start.  If they won't listen, they are garbage excuses for human beings and you should punt them into the sun at your earliest convenience.   

3. If you're a parent reading this: parent your sons.  Teach them why damn near everything they are being told to think and feel regarding women by the media and society is, to varying degrees, completely wrong.  Teach them to be not only respectful, but active in supporting and encouraging the girls and women in their lives.  Teach them to value everyone equally, and to never do anything that would lessen that value. 

4. If you're reading this: engage positively with women in sports.  Check out a WNBA or women's college hoops game, and I promise you'll enjoy the experience.  The NCAA Women's College World Series is starting soon, and if your alma mater isn't in the field, there are a bunch of really enjoyable teams out there, so pick a bandwagon and hop on.  Follow the NWSL, or get into women's hockey.  Read female sports columnists and listen to their podcasts and commentary in other outlets.  If you agree with their positions and takes and think they're doing good work, let them know.  There is a wealth of fantastic stuff out there in the sports world revolving around women, and you should seek it out, partly because it's a proactive way to help, but mostly because it's really excellent shit and if you're not getting in on it then you're missing out.  

5. Most of all, just stop.  Stop and think about how awful, how pervasive and persistent all of this is. 

Then, do your best, as much and as often as you can, to change it. 

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