Sports for Dummies: Athletes as abusers


Former NFL star Darren Sharper, center, and his attorneys Lisa Wayne, left, and Leonard B. Levine listen carefully to the details of a plea agreement that could send him to federal prison for nine years for the numerous sexual assault charges against him.

I may not understand it, you fellow sports dummies may not understand it, but athletes are held up as idols to the general population. They are the gold standard, the people others look up to and admire.

And yet, society has made it okay for them to behave abhorrently with few consequences.

Last week, Florida State University settled for almost a million dollars with a woman who accused a star football player of rape. The university and associated police department was slow to investigate any charges against him, procrastinating because of his athletic standings. The settlement included five years of mandatory sexual assault awareness trainings, and annual reports on these trainings, according to an article in the New York Times.

But that football player will never see a courtroom for this alleged crime. The prosecutor cited shortcomings in the investigation against him as the reason no case could be formed.

Athletes should not get this kind of treatment. They are idolized by an enormous community, and this influence should be used for good. A strong standing against sexual assault and domestic violence by sports leagues could go a long way toward changing a culture that attacks victims for coming forward.

We’ve all seen the story a dozen times, where a football player or other sports demagogue is accused of an assault, and that accusation is not taken seriously.

It happens in high school football, like the Steubenville rape case from 2012; it happens in college football, like the aforementioned Jameis Winston case; it happens in the NFL, like the Darren Sharper case.

Time and time again, athletes get away with horrifying acts of abuse. One article published in Vice outlined the multitude of cases showing exactly the same trend across levels, illustrating relationships between police and athletics and the blatant mishandling of reports. What in the world makes an athlete so culturally valuable that this is allowed to happen?

As a sports dummy, someone who truly doesn’t give a hoot about football, these athletes are just people to me. And the things we allow them to get away with are appalling.

A man’s ability to throw a football should never be considered more culturally important than a woman’s safety and sexual autonomy.

To that end, athletes should have the highest standards of behavior, and this should start at a college level. An athlete’s social standing should not change the level of investigation they receive. As massive community leaders, the NFL, NCAA, and high school athletic programs have a real opportunity to effect positive social change.

What happened with Jameis Winston, Darren Sharper, and the Steubenville team cannot continue. Universities and professional organizations need to step up to the plate and come down hard on sexual assault and domestic violence. By consistently failing to do so, they are communicating to a world of sports enthusiasts that this behavior is okay.

This double standard in investigation just because someone is famous and has a chance of a Super Bowl might be part of the reason a man thinks he’s justified in beating his girlfriend to death, or drugging a girl to rape her.

This has to stop.

Mike Leach has often said that violence against women is one of the ‘cardinal sins’ that will get a player kicked off the team. This has to be a hard and fast rule, and it needs to be held throughout the institution.

Rape or domestic violence against anybody should be a reason for automatic dismissal from any sports team, and these abusive athletes should not be held up as the victims. Their crumbling career is not a sad thing when they made the choice to abuse someone.

Clearly there are a lot of cultural problems going into the protections of these athletes. Investigation into athletes needs to be strong and detailed and dispassionate, and prosecution needs to be possible and pursued. A deep pocket and strong media personality should not stop the justice system.

Athletes, like all idols, have an obligation to the public to use their image for good, not to promote the acceptance of rape and abuse. Overseeing organizations like the NCAA, the NFL, and team coaches have an obligation to make sure their players are holding high behavioral standards and not promoting the idea that rape and domestic violence is something to be excused. Not for anyone, not under any circumstances.

No championship title is worth someone’s life.

Michelle Fredrickson is a senior science communication major from Issaquah. She can be contacted at 335-1140 or by [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of the Office of Student Media.