The NCAA, Sports Media, Priorities, And Rape

[Content note: suicide and, as the title suggests, rape]

Over the last three weeks or so, roughly 90% (by my estimation) of all coverage of college football was about this: “Source: Manziel questioned by NCAA.” The Heisman-winning sophomore quarterback for Texas A&M, Johnny Manziel, was under investigation by the NCAA for possibly selling his autograph:

The real issue, though, is the question Doyel alluded to: whether Manziel or any other college athlete has the right to have any control over the value of his name. The NCAA investigation, which is far from a certain success, stems from Manziel’s alleged violation of Bylaw, which prohibits athletes from making money for promoting or endorsing commercial products or services. In effect, it keeps them from monetizing their name or their status as a college athlete, whether through signing autographs or starting their own businesses or in any other way.

It’s no exaggeration to say this was the biggest college football story going into this season. And it may well be the biggest story throughout the entire season. CBS has a “Johnny Cam” now, apparently. Sports media latched onto this, sank their claws deep, and will hold on until they have extracted every last drop of blood from this story.

Fair enough. Manziel’s play on the field and attitude off the field made him the most high-profile player last year. He was the first freshman to ever win the Heisman. He led a team that has traditionally been middling into the toughest college football conference – the SEC – and shocked everybody by beating the number one team in all the land.

The implications of what it means for someone like Manziel to go up against the NCAA and its rules on players who make money off their sport while still in college could be huge down the road. Manziel was featured in the Heisman trophy pose on the cover of TIME with the words “It’s Time To Pay College Athletes” next to him.

So this is me saying LOUDLY AND CLEARLY that I understand how important this story *could* be moving forward. What I’m about to write in no way negates that understanding on my part. But…

In April 2012, a woman was (allegedly) raped by three members of the Navy football team at their off-campus house. They are currently on trial for the crime.

In June 2013, an undergrad woman at Vanderbilt was (allegedly) raped by four members of the Vanderbilt football team in her dorm room. They have been indicted as has a fifth member for helping to cover-up the crime.

Those are recent, on-going incidents. Here are some that are “closed” cases:

  • In December 2012, two University of Texas players (allegedly) raped a woman in San Antonio while in town for their bowl game. Neither was charged.
  • In August 2010, a Notre Dame football player (allegedly) raped Lizzy Seeberg, a 19-year-old undergrad at neighboring St. Mary’s College:

    The day after the attack, Seeberg reported the assault in a handwritten statement to campus police. In the days that followed, a friend of the player sent her text messages, including one that warned, “Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea,” according to National Catholic Reporter. Seeberg killed herself Sept. 10 of that year.

    No one was ever charged.

  • In December 2010, a woman was (allegedly) raped by four University of Montana football players, possibly after they spiked her drink. Police said there wasn’t enough evidence to press charges.
  • Colorado in 2001.
  • Arizona in 2003.
  • California in 2006.

Before I get in trouble for only picking on football:

  • at least three Morehouse College basketball players charged in connection with a rape (May 2013)
  • Wichita State basketball player (allegedly) raped a woman (April 2013)
  • California University of Pennsylvania basketball player (allegedly) raped a fellow student after a party at her apartment (Mar 2013)
  • Missouri University basketball player (allegedly) raped a woman (Aug 2012)
  • Oklahoma State basketball player was convicted of sexual battery and rape by instrumentation against two women at a house party (Dec 2010)
  • Three Arkansas basketball players (allegedly) raped an 18-year-old woman (2009)

The Vanderbilt story broke just before the Manziel one did. As Buzzfeed recently reported:

The players in question were swiftly dismissed or suspended, and the case has gotten relatively little attention despite the elite Southern university’s enormous local prominence and its football team’s status as an up-and-coming member of the country’s highest-profile conference.

And the Washington Post has covered the Navy trial as a condemnation of “Naval Academy culture.”

According to wikipedia, the NCAA is “a nonprofit association of 1,281 institutions, conferences, organizations and individuals that organizes the athletic programs of many colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.” Then according to the NCAA’s own website where it justifies the sanctions against Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky revelations, it has the right to punish athletes and athletic programs for its members’ failure to maintain ethical conduct.

[UPDATE: Now that I have sat with this post over night, I want to clarify a point. I don’t think the answer here is for the NCAA to be punishing every team where a player commits sexual assault (when multiple members gang rape a woman…well, that’s a different scenario). But it’s undeniable that the NCAA has reach and has the power to start and/or change conversations, push programming, encourage (demand?) programs bring in experts on sexual assault and bystander actions, etc.

The NCAA seems mainly interested in maintaining some false idea about the purity of college players by endlessly monitoring student athletes ability/desire to take money from outside sources. And there are reasons that the NCAA cares so much about that: THEY make money off the athletes.

Sexual assault prevention probably isn’t part of their business model.]

So here we are.

When a player possibly makes money off the fame he got for playing some of the best college football in the land, the NCAA reacts swiftly (if not harshly) and the sports media writes roughly 400 posts about it daily for weeks on end.

When two on-going cases of possible gang rape involving members of high-profile university football teams: crickets and/or shrugs. And these cases within months of the end of the infamous and horrific Steubenville, Ohio case that ended in two high school football players being found guilty of rape.

We should be having a conversation about paying collegiate athletes.

But we also REALLY need to be having a conversation about the intersection of sports and sexual violence. Steubenville was not the end of it, it was a symptom of it, a microcosm of this problem (and the larger problem of sexual assault in this country, where 1 out of 6 women will be a victim of sexual assault in her life).

Is that too much to ask?

It often feels like the answer from the NCAA and the sports media alike is “yes.”

A final note: this past weekend on ESPN’s College Game Day at Michigan, a man stood behind the camera holding up a sign that read “Hi Lizzy Seeberg,” the victim in the Notre Dame incident mentioned above. There was no context for that sign at the time of it appearing on screen and it was a tasteless exploitive move, when a word like “remember” or “RIP” would have been more appropriate and respectful of the dead woman. Always there are people who think that the possibility of starting a conversation outweighs respecting the victim. So, if that’s your take on that, we’ll just have to disagree. BUT…

@RadarPSU on Twitter said this:

“Sadly that is the most coverage that story has gotten on ESPN.” And honestly, that’s the damn truth and that’s a disgusting reality.

(h/t to @FeministaJones on the poster at College Game Day)

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