Athletes and the Culture of Rape
America’s obsession with athleticism and sports culture facilitates in perpetuating a society in which rape is normalized. This was especially evident in the recent Steubenville trial in which two football players raped an intoxicated 16-year-old girl at a house party. Throughout the ordeal, the girl (Jane Doe) was not aware that she was violated until a viral video was broadcasted online. The disturbing video showed a former Steubenville student laughing wildly while making lewd comments about the victim being “dead” and “so raped.” In addition to the video, there were several nude photos of the young girl circulating online. Despite the degradation, humiliation and inconceivable pain (psychological and physical) that the young girl experienced, many individuals found sympathy for the convicted football players. Phrases such as “lost potential” and “good students” were continuously echoed throughout the trial proceedings. As well, shortly after the guilty verdict was revealed, a CNN reporter made headlines for stating that “it was incredibly emotional, incredibly difficult” to watch the court proceedings. What was so daunting was that there was so much sympathy expressed towards the offenders, that the true victim of the crime (Jane Doe) was at times undermined and even blamed for ruining the athlete’s lives. It has become apparent that a re-victimization of the rape victim has occurred, as she received backlash for reporting her abuse to authorities. In an online survey conducted by Tellwut.com, 1853 participants were asked whether they felt that the news presented the convicted football players as victims. The results revealed that 32% of participants felt that the news often portrayed the football players as victims. The results also revealed that 11% of participants sometimes noticed that there was positive support for the football players; 14% did not find that the news supported the football players while 18% were undecided. The remainder of the participants (23%) chose not to vote. It is certainly disconcerting when the media source you are watching is sympathizing with convicted rapists because they are “star athletes.” Not only does this highlight America’s obsession with sports, but is also normalizes a culture of rape. In fact, there are cases in which athletes are accused of rape, but will often go unpunished. And many believed that the Steubenville rape case was initially being covered up before it got to trial. Clearly, rape “ain’t no big deal” if you’re an athlete. Interestingly, it appears that we have a tendency to decide whom we feel should be forgiven and who should be punished. For instance, many people are aware that rape is wrong; however, if the rapist is a star athlete in college, or a talented high school quarterback, many people are a little bit more forgiving towards the perpetrator. Excuses begin to form and statements are made that undermine the grievous situation of the victim. Consider the recent interview where the former President of the Steubenville’s NAACP Royal Mayo criticized the rape victim for attending the party and getting drunk. Even more insulting, Mayo blamed the victim for the whole ordeal and even referred to the young girl as the “alleged victim;” which implies that she willingly consented to having sex. Mayo’s statements demonstrated that he felt that the victim was not credible and should not have reported the boys for raping her; which perpetuates a culture of rape in which the victim is silenced. In order to find out whether Tellwutter’s viewed rape as a growing societal issue, Tellwut conducted an online survey. The survey results revealed that 54% of participants felt that rape culture is a large problem in today’s society, while 16% did not view rape culture as a growing concern in society. Nonetheless, it’s hard to deny that it is incredibly disturbing that a young woman can be objectified, sexually exploited, dehumanized and degraded, yet there remain many individuals that seem to direct concern towards the “lost potential” of the perpetrators rather than the victim. This suggests that women’s bodies are merely objects or play toys that can be violated for the enjoyment of male pleasure. This is highly problematic and unacceptable from a society that condemns sexual abuse yet advocates for human rights. Therefore, it is imperative that as a society we ensure that a victim of rape is not undermined nor blamed for their situation. Women should not have to be further victimized by their community. There should be no videos made, or individuals making demeaning remarks that undermine the situation of the victim. We need to realize that as a society, women’s bodies need to be valued and protected. The hope is that once we acknowledge that rape is a growing issue, we will get closer to dismantling a culture of rape that seeks to stifle victims of rape.