In 2003, the Baylor University men’s basketball coach, Dave Bliss, wanted to manipulate the details of the murder of one of his players. (Read that again: “manipulate the details of the murder of one of his players.”) The dead young man, Patrick Dennehy, had a lot of cash on hand (that Bliss had given him against NCAA rules) and was not on scholarship (Bliss was paying that, too), so the coach wanted assistant coaches say the player was a drug dealer and that is why Dennehy was flush with money.
The player had been murdered by one of his own teammates. Bliss corralled his assistant coaches and laid out a plan: Dennehy was a drug dealer, no money came from the coaching staff, lie to investigators, get away with it.
One of the assistants, Abar Rouse, had a crisis of conscience, recorded the meeting and the truth came out. That was brave… and had consequences: Rouse never coached again and now works for a federal prison in Texas. (*Bliss got a coaching job in 2015 at Southwest Christian University. He resigned when a documentary on the scandal aired on Showtime in 2017.)
I thought it was the worst college sports scandal, the grossest breach of ethics we would see in college sports. I thought it was the saddest thing I could think of from people charged with the development and education of young adults.
Less than a decade later, I was proven to be wrong.
Jerry Sandusky smacked society across the face when a grand jury report revealed his decades of child rape and molestation. The prestige and aura of Penn State football clouded Sandusky’s crimes. The walls of the mighty athletic department had protected a former coach instead of vulnerable children, most of whom were in awe of that prestige and aura.
Nothing could get lower than the rape of little boys, right? This was rock bottom.
Until it wasn’t… How about the rape epidemic in the Baylor football team (52 rapes in four years!?)
And the bar has been lowered yet again.
Larry Nassar -- USA Gymnastics physician and team doctor/clinician at Michigan State University -- molested and assaulted more than 150 girls. (He is getting his, too, including this today.)
While Nassar may be the base of a brutal iceberg, the chilly waters of East Lansing, Michigan, have frozen a lot of vileness into the culture of Spartans Athletics, including rape accusations allegedly committed by basketball and football players and covered up by coaches and administrators.
Those kinds of icebergs take generations to form.
They require commitment, devotion, loyalty. People’s careers and lives are woven into them. They become a culture that protects the brand instead of the lives and well-being of real people. They become slogans instead realities. (“We Are Penn State!” “Go Sparty!”)
The walls around those cultures aren’t coming down. They don’t become more transparent. Rather, when threatened by a wayward miscreant (Bliss, Sandusky, Nassar), the walls around those cultures get higher and thicker.
And, let’s be honest… there are bad people out there and ugly things will happen.
But, if they happen in the darkness that high, thick walls create, a bad person transforms into a monster. If they happen in the shine of aura, prestige and slogans, they turn into epidemics.
Ultimately, that isn’t simply the responsibility of a university president, or an athletic director (though they do hold their share of responsibility.) It is the responsibility of a community, of an alumni and fan base, of all the people – directly connected or spiritually connected – to the creation of the iceberg.
This morning, I read this piece from Deadspin’s Lauren Theisen. It is a response to sports column from the Lansing State Journal – a column that is part of the community complicity that is inevitable in these disgusting breaches of trust. The response is dead-on.
The columnist, Graham Couch, is clearly a homer. And, that’s OK when it comes to game plans, and referees. It’s not OK when it comes to a culture that incubates rapists and liars.
Am I going too far? Read the comments and you tell me…
The university president isn’t berating Theisen. The athletic director isn’t blasting the process. Rather, it is the fans and alumni who are defending the iceberg.
It is a community with misplaced loyalty and distorted values that can’t see through the darkness to protect the vulnerabilities of real people.
And, if you think this is exclusive to college sports, you are wrong.
Last night, a handful of my colleagues – women and men - and I got together in a social gathering, had some alcoholic beverages and talked. It only took about 10 minutes before we hit the #metoo conversation.
One fellow professor said she was surprised I hadn’t posted a story of sexual harassment given my years in the sports media business.
Here is why I did not post anything – I never really experienced sexual harassment at work. Not from colleagues, not from athletes or coaches, not from readers.
I had some people email or call me in the middle of the night when I was sure not to answer and suggest I “go back to the kitchen,” and that I didn’t know anything about sports because, naturally, I’m a woman.
A married baseball player once asked me out. I quickly retorted that his wife probably wouldn’t like that. He said she would come and I laughed it off. The player never mentioned it again and acted professionally and kindly to me thereafter.
Thanks to guys named Bryan, Sergio, Roger, Barry, Rich, Mark, Bill, Ron, Nick and the rest of the men I worked with, the horror stories that have befallen so many of my friends never came to me.
I never thought about getting out of a career I loved, or felt I wouldn’t get where I wanted to go because of sexual harassment.
I’m thankful for that. The workplace was good to me.
But, a man I thought was a friend raped me when we were in college. For years – and, honestly, even still a little bit today – I blamed myself for being in the position to let it happen. Like, if I had just been out of the closet, maybe it wouldn’t have happened... or so many other senseless "what ifs."
It didn’t define me. It didn’t wreck my life, or change how I thought about sex, or men, or my own sexuality. It was always just something that happened.
And then it happened to someone I love.
And then it happened to someone else I love.
And someone else I love.
And, the more I talked about it with friends, I learned that it was just something that happened to them, too, and to women they loved, as well.
A man in a trusted position sexually assaulted my wife. A married co-worker made a focused, direct and unwanted sexual advance on a friend. A young man raped one of my students when she woke up with him on top of her. I wish this was the end of a list… but, it is quite literally only the beginning.
We can make this political.
The President of the United States bragged about grabbing pussy and has been accused by several women – including his ex-wife – of sexual assault. Last year when the tape revealing his pussy-grabbing comment came out, we were reminded that a president a little further back had an affair with a young woman whose career, and life, he wrecked. Three women also accused him of sexual harassment.
A woman I know who is a bit older than I am rolled her eyes over all that when the pussy-grabbing news came out and told me, “THEY ALL DO IT,” as if to say it was OK because the behavior was so pervasive.
But, I can’t help but wonder…
They all do it?
All of them? Really?
The men I love and respect? They do it?
The men I worked with who were professional to me? Friends’ husbands, and brothers, and my own family members? They all do it?
By the sheer volume of stories I have read the past week, it seems to me that that woman was right – they all do it.
Of course, that isn’t the case.
They don’t all do it, but, many men do. Some men I love and respect do. Some men I worked with do. Some friends’ husbands and brothers, and my own family do.
But not all of them. Not all of them.
The thing is, if the ones who don’t rape, don’t harass, don’t use their power to coerce, don’t feel entitled still refuse to listen to what is being said right now, it feels like all of them.
And, if women can excuse that behavior because it feels like all men participate in this kind of malfeasance, then it feels like the problem of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment is one we all just have to endure.
This is not something that just happens. It is something we – as men and women – allow.
And, they all don’t do it. But, we need to hear the voices of those who don’t so they all don’t just blend together.
This is a Facebook post from Aug. 15, 2017 by Elon James White. I think it is poignant, uncomfortable and absolutely necessary to read. I hope my students, former students, colleagues, friends and family will take the time to read it.
In the wake of the tragedy and hate we've all witnessed in recent days it's very easy to tune out. I'd argue that for some of us it's key to our overall mental health. But there's a lot of you, and I'm specifically speaking of white folks, that are silent right now, literally as Nazis (this is not hyperbole, actual fucking Nazis) march in the streets and plan events throughout our nation.
I've read a lot of white folks expressing that they are not responsible for what we're seeing. That they never owned slaves, they aren't racist, and that they have nothing to feel guilty about because of a few bad people. I'm writing this to say "bullshit." Living in America you benefit daily from the systemic oppression of myriad peoples. It is an absolute fact that America was built on slave labor. The wealth it was able to accumulate couldn't have happened without the subjugation of the indigenous and enslaved.
Molly Yanity, Ph.D.