Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was accused of sexual battery. Recent reporting suggests the alleged victim dropped the allegations after inactivity and “big football town” pressure from the Tallahassee Police Dept. The story, if true, is disturbing. Though, it’s important to remember this is a drop in a much larger bucket with football. The only thing unusual is the man accused happens to be the Heisman front-runner.
Rape, of any sort, is under-reported. RAINN estimates there are 237,868 sexual assaults per year, with 60 percent going unreported. A new National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey conducted by the CDC, using better questioning, estimates the true number per year to be around 1.27 million. Reasons are varied. A criminal process that begins with an invasive medical procedure, an investigative phase that forces a victim to relive her attack and a trial that may force her to defend her sexuality in public clearly plays a role.
Beyond being under-reported, rape is hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. The majority of cases involve a known assailant and no direct witnesses. The accused can claim the sex act was consensual. He said vs. she said may not lead to charges, let alone convictions. Even with direct evidence, the case is not a slam dunk. Using the more conservative RAINN figures, 97 percent of sexual assailants serve no jail time.
Prosecuting a rape is already delicate and torturous. Football amplifies that process. Prosecutors bring forward cases they can win. When the accused is a football player, the case becomes open to tremendous scrutiny, on a local or national level. Pro bono legal representation is not an amateurism violation. So football player X often ends up with aggressive, powerful defense attorney Y who happens to be an alum. Consciously or subconsciously, the balance gets tipped in favor of the athlete.
Football increases the burden on alleged victims as well. Stonewalling, inaction, character assassination, diminishing the crime itself and threatening texts after an alleged attack by a Notre Dame football player led Lizzy Seeberg to take her own life. Her experience reportedly led at least one Notre Dame student not to report an alleged rape by another player. This is not just a major college football problem. We saw a similar problems in high school football in Maryville, Missouri and Steubenville, Ohio. Looking at the statistics, we can presume the aforementioned cases and others at Missouri, Montana or Vanderbilt are mere iceberg tips.
The undercurrent of sexual assault, if the newer numbers are correct, has been unflagging, despite reductions in virtually every other type of violence, the advent of modern feminism and all forms of media attention. Football culture, at every level from high school onward, stops for nothing. Not rape. Not apparent long-term brain damage. Not even a player shooting his girlfriend, driving to the stadium parking lot and shooting himself in front of the team’s coach and general manager.
Where the two trends intersect something has broken. That’s before even getting into the broader cognitive dissonance about sexual assault that tolerates Mike Tyson and Kobe Bryant working the talk show circuit and Ben Roethlisberger’s name being read with anything but disgust.
Change is needed. Men reinforcing to other men that manliness is about more than scoring touchdowns and semen release may be a simple place to start.
[Photo via USA Today Sports]