Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fake Passes and Rapes: Athlete Entitlement Culture in the University

Today, Adam Weistein published a post titled "Jameis Winston Isn't the Only Problem Here: An FSU Teacher's Lament," in which he discussed how high-profile college sports are creating an atmosphere that fosters intimidation, cheating, and irresponsible behavior. And while I can't support his careless use of Islamic extremists as a metaphor for college sports culture, I can empathize with the struggles FSU teachers have faced when dealing with high profile athletic teams. I, too, have dealt with them firsthand, both as a student and as a professor.

The Almost Rape

As a college student, I was an athlete. That means I socialized with other athletes from other teams. In particular, as freshman, I took a liking to one of the older baseball players, and I decided to go to one of his baseball player house parties...

I bet you think you know where this story is going, but it's not... Nope, Baseball Guy didn't touch me inappropriately at all. He was actually a very nice guy. He wasn't drinking much, and I wasn't drinking at all, and we had fun talking over the loud music until we retired to his bedroom to cozy up a little. We did nothing more than kiss.

But then things took a turn... It was chilly out that night, and I was wrapped under layers of blankets. Baseball Guy and his baseball player housemates were hosting a few potential recruits, and so the party had been about showing them a good time. I had met a few, and they seemed like good kids. Baseball Guy wanted to check on them before he passed out, but seeing as I was cold and tired, he left me in bed while he went downstairs. I was pretty much asleep when I awoke to someone climbing over the top of me. I assumed it was Baseball Guy, but when I came out of my sleep daze, I saw that it wasn't Baseball Guy at all. It was one of the recruits! I was pinned under the blankets, still in a bit of a fog, and couldn't react. Confused and terrified, I laid there frozen and wide-eyed.

Lucky for me, Baseball Guy opened the door just in time and sent the recruit running in fear when he bellowed for him to get off of me. I can tell you that the kid's intention was NOT innocent, and he probably assumed I was drunk and passed out and an easy target. He also assumed that he was entitled because he was supposed to be shown a good time, a common trend in college athletics. He probably also thought that because he was drunk his actions would be excused... and he was probably right.

"Boys will be boys" would have been what I would have been told the next day by university athletic officials and university administrators. Had someone on the baseball team told him he was being a scumbag, beyond just being yelled at to get off of me, or told him they didn't want him on the team, it could have had a real impact. But as I've learned, male athletes, in particular, especially those in contact sports, are told "be aggressive. Take what you want. You're the star. It's yours."

Not drinking didn't save me at all, which is usually what rape-apologists, especially those siding with "poor athletes under a lot of stress" would say-- "if she hadn't been such a drunk slut, she wouldn't have been in that situation." But even if I was wasted, it wouldn't have given him a right to treatment as his personal entertainment. This kid just thought he was entitled to take what he wanted and there would be no consequences because he was a prospective athlete, someone who might make the school some money, and he knew it. The players knew they had to show him a good time if they wanted to bring his talent to their team. Reprimanding him or telling him "don't go after that girl" would have dampened his fun and affected his decision to come to the university. Happily, I never saw him again, so I assume he chose another school.

I'm fairly certain the incident was never spoken about again, which means he probably still thinks it's ok and probably raped some other girl at some other point before or after or both.

Summer Schooled

My almost-rape is, of course, an extreme case, and there are lots of very nice male student-athletes. However, the entitlement problem that leads to things like rape and assault start with little occurrences, like the ones I faced while teaching summer courses at a DI university. 

Coaches would make unreasonable requests on behalf of their players, like asking for final grades the same day finals were turned in. Or give me the "isn't there something we can do?" when players weren't doing well. Players would assume they could slack all semester and then pass. I failed a student whose excuse was "but I didn't know anything was due" for all the assignments that he had missed the entire semester. I was also asked, after submitting final grades, if there was "anyway to make up the work I missed" by several athletes, who had simply failed to do work at all. They were shocked they failed. I was even more shocked that they were shocked.

Lucky for me, I had a strong supervisor, who had my back when I stuck to failing athletes or having to put their eligibility in jeopardy. But the pressure to give these students leeway was immense. Basically, these athletes were told that they were exceptions to the rules of higher education. Someone would "take care of it" if they messed up.

Of course, when things don't go their way, these athletes become aggressive and throw temper tantrums because they've been taught that intimidation is the way to succeed. They'd try to guilt me into passing them, making me feel like I was letting the whole university down by preventing them from playing. They've been told the university needs THEM, not that they need the university. 

Imagine being told this your whole life: do what you want because someone else will make sure you're successful no matter what. What things might you have done if actions had no consequences, if someone else would always be to blame? It might have started with cheating on exams, but I'm fairly sure it would grow worse as you got away with more and more harmful activity.

Remember the Job Description

We call them student-athletes, but we treat these talented players them like athletes who just happen to take a few classes. If we don't prioritize academics over athletics, or at least make them equal, and give these student-athletes the tools to succeed as normal human beings, seeing as most of them will never go pro, we are inviting horrific events-- rapes, beatings, hazings, cheating, etc. It's not a far stretch. 

But even when the horrors are more subtle, like someone plagiarizing a paper, we are simply failing these students by removing their sense of personal responsibility. These students will most likely struggle to be successful once the "golden years" pass if we fail to teach them how to negotiate their time, how to spring back from personal failures outside the sports arena, how to make amends when they have done wrong, and how to empathize with other human beings. 

If we shift the culture and move towards holding athletes responsible, what we will ultimately find is not failing sports programs, but programs with student-athletes who are truly role models for others, who inspire people with their actions on and off the field and who know how to succeed beyond the field. We will start to create leaders, people who have persevered through tough mental and physical practice and are able to help others do the same, rather than those who take advantage of "the others' weaknesses." And those would be people I would want to play with.