Getting comfortable with rape culture

I suppose I’m not done talking about this.

Today, Tuesday, a Minnesota television station released the University of Minnesota's 80-page report on the school's investigation into 12 football players in connection with an alleged sexual assault. The report details the basis for the discipline received by 10.

It also details a great deal more.

I made it to page eight. Then I became pretty sure I was going to throw up at my desk, and I had to stop.

That desk is in a building on the campus of my college, a place where I laughed and lived and made friends and memories. I attended football games there, like the girl in the report. I went to after parties, like the girl in the report. I sometimes drank too much and made questionable decisions, like the girl in the report.

Thank God, fate, blind luck, what have you, that’s where our similarities end. But it is not hard to picture a scenario in which they would continue – for me, for my child, for anyone in the exact wrong circumstances.

People, we have to do better. We just have to. Yes, we must encourage our girls to be careful about putting themselves in dangerous situations. But we must also teach our boys that girls, that human beings, are not something to be passed around. Someone’s poor judgment should not become someone else’s excuse.

The sports world I know and love has to do better, too. The discussion can’t just center on the players in question, on what rights of theirs may have been violated, on whether they should boycott a meaningless bowl game (the main purpose of which is to fill a TV slot for ESPN). Rape culture can’t just be a PC term tossed around to assuage anger. When evidence of it exists in such graphic detail, it must be acknowledged, and investigated, and addressed – and maybe, one day, prevented. 

I can't imagine any coach, any athletic director, any university president reading about how a football player and a recruit blocked a bathroom doorway, how they repeatedly tried to unzip the woman's clothing while cajoling her to help, how people crowded around and watched and at least three shot video, how text messages were exchanged and deleted, and thinking, "Oh, well. Good thing we cleared that up. Now, where's that Washington State scouting report?"

Whether what happened in that dorm room rises to a particular state's legal definition of rape, whatever factors prosecutors considered in deciding the case would be too difficult to pursue, is absofuckinglutely not the point. The fact that one of the men involved reportedly told police that he wished the woman didn't remember his name comes a little closer to it. 

I did get as far in the report as one letter to a student explaining that, after the investigation by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action into the September incident, he had been found to have “engaged in sexual misconduct by sexually assaulting and harassing another University of Minnesota student.” The letter “offered” the recipient the “sanction” of expulsion to “resolve this matter informally.”

The letter also said: “Reading this report may cause expected emotions or reactions. You may want to consider reading this letter and the EOAA report with a support person to help you process your reactions … “

I suspect that’s a boilerplate paragraph included in all such letters. All the same, how thoughtful.

As noted earlier, I can’t just turn on SportsCenter to escape this ugly reality. There, I might see the video of Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon punching a woman in the face. Or I might hear more talk about the new head coaching position landed by a man whose unsavory past includes a scandal involving recruiting “hostesses.” Or I might hear more about the latest wrongdoing at a school facing NCAA sanctions for, among other things, paying women to have sex with basketball recruits.

When such things have become normalized, we can’t be totally shocked when admitting to sexual assault does not disqualify someone from, say, becoming president of the United States. When such headlines do not enrage, when such news does not demand action and accountability, when the victims become background material in stories focused on the real priorities, we can’t be surprised when the next nauseating report scrolls across the bottom of our television screens.

By doing nothing, by shaking our heads and changing the channel, we are all asking for it to continue.