Have you ever noticed when a high school or college athlete, particularly if a basketball and football player, is charged with sexual assault that articles in the media (online and traditional) make a point to lead with the fact the perpetrator is an athlete? Just a few days ago, the following case was breaking news in the Los Angeles region:
Why is this case the type we see making headlines? Do sexual assault cases involving athletes matter more? If a rapist is not an athlete, is the attack less traumatic or tragic for the survivor?
Does thinking basketball players or football players are more likely to be rapists help everyone feel “Safer” because they can more readily identify the “bad people”? Then individuals can make the mistake of thinking, “As long as I stay away from ‘those people’, I can’t be sexually assaulted.”
If in addition to reporting cases involving athletes, the media also featured cases that were occurring every day throughout the country in which no high profile individual was involved, society would be forced to discuss how often the crime is occurring. People could no longer mislead themselves into thinking, “That can happen to me as long as I . . .” As a country, we would be forced to have a deeper conversation on the cultural influences that lead to sexual violence.
SYMPATHY FOR THE ATHLETE
When people think the charges could impact the football player or basketball player’s athletic career, you often see SYMPATHY invoked for the accused perpetrators . In the above mentioned article, the reporter refers to how the one athlete was being recruited to Division I schools. Look in the “Comments” section below the article and you’ll see how many people use that fact to imply the survivors are only accusing the athletes because they want revenge against their playing careers. We’ve seen this defense of the athlete occur over and over again: Mike Tyson, Kobe Bryant, Ben Roethliesberger, and in the Steubenville, OH case this past year.
When does your sport matter? When your specific team has a track record of enabling predators and/or encouraging such behavior. Then you have a real connection between the crime and the team the perpetrator is a member of.
Are we saying the media and news outlets should not be discussing these cases? Just the opposite. Every time the media discusses the importance of respect, consent, and reducing sexual violence, we have an opportunity to help more people. We actually want more cases reported in the media – including cases that do not involve “high profile” athletes and/or sports.
The next time you read an article that mentions the perpetrator was a football or basketball player, remove that title and ask yourself if anything changes in how serious the crime being reported is to you, the reader.
Post your thoughts in the “COMMENTS” section below.