Men behaving badly?
Now you want to talk about men behaving badly?
Have you been paying attention to the sports world for, oh, the past 40 years?
For every Dustin Hoffman or Al Franken out there, I can give you 25 athletes who have been accused or convicted of treating women like garbage. But the national outrage over sexual harassment in the entertainment, media and political worlds, and the staying power of that fury, unfortunately hasn’t occurred in the sports world.
I’m not sure what that says. That we expect bad behavior from athletes? Or, worse, that we allow it in some passive, unspoken way? Whatever the case, there has never been a sustained uproar about players who behave as if women were put on earth to satisfy their every need.
It’s hard to go a day without an athlete being accused of acting badly, often toward women. On Tuesday, a woman accused University of Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson of sexual assault and asked for a protective order. If the past is any guide, there will be the usual week or so of coverage and then the usual silence as we move on to the next story. Or, the discussion will turn to whether Anderson will be allowed to play in the national semifinal playoff game Jan. 1.
Silence hasn’t been the case everywhere else the past few months. Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, Garrison Keillor, Louis C.K. and James Levine all have been accused of sexual harassment, and their names remain front and center publicly. Time Magazine’s just-released Person of the Year is, collectively, the people who broke their silence and called out alleged abusers. In many of these cases, the accusers were workplace subordinates. The accused are people with power imposing themselves on women and men who often didn’t want to speak up and lose their jobs.
Is that the difference here? That it’s not a workplace issue in sports, not women fearing for their livelihoods? I’d argue that it’s all cut from the same coarse cloth. In this case, it’s extremely popular, physically strong athletes imposing their bodies on women who don’t want to speak out and be subjected to possible public scorn. If the paying customers seem to be shrugging when athletes get into trouble again and again, what’s in it for a woman to say, “Me, too’’?
Look at some of the athletes who have been either accused or convicted of sexual assault: Darren Sharper. Jameis Winston. Robinho. Ben Roethlisberger. Tony Ayala Jr. Mel Hall. Chad Curtis. What’s the link here? Probably that you had to be reminded about them and their troubles. Their stories came and went.
We Americans continue to put star athletes on lofty pedestals. We ascribe all sorts of wonderful character traits to them that we have no idea they possess. They do some charity work at the behest of their teams, and we make them out to be Mother Teresa. They lose a loved one to cancer or gunfire, and we write the story as if they’re the only people who ever went through such a terrible thing – and with such bravery!
If we are so quick to turn them into examples of all that is good about the human race, it might follow that we would be so quick to forgive them their sins.
Maybe that’s why so few employees of professional sports teams have accused coaches or players of sexual harassment in the workplace. When is the last time you heard of a female executive assistant, trainer, nutritionist, accountant, public-relations official or marketing specialist for an NFL team publicly accuse a player, coach or general manager of harassment? Seems odd, doesn’t it?
Then again, maybe not. Women have received the same message throughout the years: The athlete usually wins in the end.
Boxer Mike Tyson was convicted of raping an 18-year-old beauty pageant contestant, spent three years in prison and went on to appear in TV shows, movies and a one-man show that made it to Broadway. Who says there’s not a second act for rapists in America? It always helps to be a former heavyweight champion.
Peyton Manning was accused of sexual harassment in 1996 by a former University of Tennessee athletic trainer who said the quarterback put his genitals in her face while she was examining his foot. Peyton Manning! America’s salesman, still appearing on your TV to hawk anything from pizza to insurance! The woman left the school as part of a financial settlement, and Manning continues to deny the accusation. Few people seem to care either way what happened. Many can hum the Nationwide jingle upon command, however.
There isn’t much of an outcry about a culture rife with people who prey on women. And we haven’t even broached the topic of athletes and domestic violence. The NFL has a mob of players who have beaten their girlfriends and wives.
There’s no doubt that some athletes have been wrongly accused of sexual assault. But the sheer volume of the accusations speaks of a real problem. If only anyone were listening.