You hear it whenever they rape or attack someone: These are just a few bad apples. Earlier this month in Nanaimo three grade 12 football players at John Barsby school attacked a grade 9 student to the point of unconsciousness. Rumour has it they were not expelled, but were given, as is always the case with these entitled student athletes, a slap on the wrist. I believe that these three students are not just bad apples, but are actually products of a school sports system that creates a culture of entitlement and privilege that places some students above not only other students, but also many of the adults in the school. These adults end up overlooking transgressions committed by athletes and actively facilitate further transgressions.
To get a better idea of just how deep this two-tiered culture runs I am going to look at a few stories that have been in the news recently that deal with acts of rape and assault committed by elite collegiate athletes and how the athletic culture creates a system where authorities purposefully overlook these transgressions.. Critics will argue my examples are all taken from American post-secondary institutions, but to that I say all the better as this is the culmination of the disgusting sports culture. The ultimate stick dangled in front of students who play sports in high school: Life will be good for you here, but you will be a king if you ever get to the NCAA.
In 1998 four football players (well two football players and two recruits) gang raped Brenda Tracy. When coach Mike Riley was asked for comment he stated these rapists were “really good guys who made a bad choice”. Mike Riley’s dismissal of rape and rapists has not hurt his career; Mike Riley is now the coach of the University of Nebraska football team. Riley attempted to vindicate himself nearly twenty years after the fact by allowing Tracy to speak with his latest gang of thugs and rapists, but I would be interested in the response Riley and the University of Nebraska would have if a similar attacked occurred this year, say right before a big championship game.
Next let’s look at the recent events at Baylor University. A report by law firm Pepper and Hamilton, hired to conduct an independent investigation after reporting around the criminality of football players began to emerge, found years of Baylor football staff conducting amateur investigations that “improperly discredited complainants and denied them the right to a fair, impartial and informed investigation”. The actions of the educated elite running Baylor (Ken Starr), people with experience at the highest levels of government, demonstrate just how blinded by the cult of football many adults have become. Sexual violence committed by football players against regular students at Baylor was glossed over. Football players were not disciplined if a complaint was made, but authorities at Baylor tried to ensure that no reports were ever actually made.
Finally, I am going to step away from the traditional preserve of rapists and their enablers, football, and look at the important, but often overlooked sport of collegiate swimming. The digital frenzy surrounding Brock Turner’s slap on the wrist for his “20 minutes of action” (and that is such a despicable word as it was not action, it was rape) has largely died down. There are still many ways to unpack this injustice as part of larger pattern, so I hope analysis will continue (the difference in sentencing between classes, between races, or how rape is discredited in western justice). One point of analysis I feel is due for greater consideration is how judge Aaron Persky took Turner’s swimming achievements into account when sentencing Turner. Persky, it must be noted, was the captain of the illustrious lacrosse team at Stanford. Some have argued that the similarity in backgrounds between the accused and the judge, made the judge more lenient. If Persky was judging a black gang member caught raping a white woman on the campus of Stanford, would he have been as conciliatory?
The horrible attack by three Grade 12 students upon a single Grade 9 student at Barsby and the response of authorities to this attack is indicative of a pattern. For some bizarre reason student athletes get away with what you and I do not. If in Grade 12 they can assault students younger than them with no repercussions, what happens to them in college? What choices do they make there? As I have shown by looking at three cases in the news over the last month, what happens is the continuation of adults overlooking more and more dangerous criminality. A solution is available of course, but the solution, ending competitive sports in high schools and universities, would garner a tremendous amount of resistance from those supporting the status quo. Just remember, however,those that support the status quo, are likely those that will dismiss rape and violence all in the name of winning.