Rape Culture and Sports

28 Oct

View from Venus column, October 18th, by Abby Finkelman. This is the column I am least satisfied with, because it really needed more examples, and numbers, and I simply didn’t have the space to give them. Still, I hope it provokes some thought. It is also, as always, available on the Chronicle website.

Sports and the Culture of Rape

If you want to harass, assault, or rape a woman, I suggest being an athlete. Not only will people be inclined to believe you when you deny it, they’ll help out by calling your accuser a slut, insisting that she must have wanted it, and possibly sending her death threats.You don’t have to be big time. Just a local star will do. Like the high school cheerleader in Texas who was kicked off the squad after refusing to cheer the name of the boy who raped her. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed her lawsuit as “frivolous” and is requiring her to pay the school’s $45,000 in legal fees. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Lisa Olson won her suit against the NFL after she was harassed by New England Patriots players. But I’m guessing the $65,000 the team and players were fined was cold comfort to her after the award-winning sports journalist had to leave the Boston Herald and move to Sydney because of the death threats, slashed tires, and burglarized apartment. Yes: a woman was sexually harassed while doing her job, and when she told the public about it the response was to send her death threats.

That was in 1990. In 2010, Inés Sainz, a reporter for Mexico’s TV Azteca was harassed in the locker room of the New York Jets. Sainz is, well, a very attractive woman. And she dresses, well, the way very attractive women are encouraged to dress. And so when NFL players ogled her and made lewd comments, she was blamed. Her looks and her clothing were the story. When I quickly Googled her, the first hit was Wikipedia. And the second was from bleacherreport.com, a piece titled “20 Most Distracting Sideline Reporters Ever,” featuring a slideshow of “some of the most distractingly hot sideline reporting ladies ever”.

I just wrote a paragraph about Kobe Bryant, and then deleted it, because I don’t want to get sued for libel. So I won’t comment on whether or not I think it’s likely that the woman who accused him of rape dropped her case because of the things people were saying about her in the press (that she was a gold digging famewhore, for instance), and because of the death threats she was receiving, and because she didn’t like having her character and mental health dragged through the mud on television (not that it matters if she has lots of sex or is bipolar). And since I’m not calling him a rapist, I won’t say that it’s rape culture that allows this to happen.

That’s an extra layer of problematic, there. Ranks close around these stars–the University of Washington football team in 2000 is a good example; they covered up numerous crimes by numerous athletes, including a violent rape, because, the head coach said said “[w]e don’t give up on a player because he makes one mistake”–and even accusing them of rape requires money, because they don’t just have fans willing to slash your tires. They have legal teams.

I don’t know what it is about sports that encourages the tropes of rape culture. It affects other sorts of celebrities (Roman Polanski comes to mind), but sports culture and rape culture are deeply linked. I suspect it’s a combination of the team effect, rabid fans, and a generally “macho” atmosphere, and lawsuits (if you can afford them) aren’t going to change any of that. What will is simple, really. The fans, the players, and the management just have to decide that women’s rights–human rights–are more important than winning.


3 Responses to “Rape Culture and Sports”

  1. surexpress October 28, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    This is a troubling issue. I hate that athletes can be ruled innocent of their crimes because they are popular and all. Women are supposed to be respected by us men, not disregarded.

    • csrwomensinitiative October 28, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

      It’s so great to hear responses like this. Really important for men who aren’t jerks to speak out–not just to tell other men it’s wrong, but to remind women that you guys don’t all suck!



  1. Backlash, and sweeping it under the rug « Women's Initiative - October 28, 2011

    […] been reading The View from Venus for the past four weeks, you know that I wrote four columns about rape culture this month. For the most part, the response to them has been positive. Except for […]

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