Football Culture: Who is really to blame?

Jomilla Newsom

Jomilla Newsom

Can someone please help me understand the football culture because quite frankly I just don’t get it?

They blamed domestic violence on the “football culture” after video came out of Ray Rice punching and dragging his then girlfriend and now the same excuse is being brought up when it comes to the recent rape case at Vanderbilt.

During the trial, a lawyer for one of the defendants, Cory Batey, attributed his client’s behavior to the university’s culture of hard drinking and easy hookups. On the witness stand, Mr. Batey said he had been too drunk to remember what happened.

“That argument infuriated a lot of Vanderbilt students,” said Tyler Bishop, the editor in chief of the student newspaper. “Party culture is very big here,” and many people want to defend it.

The prosecutor in the case, Thomas Thurman, said in an interview on Thursday that alcohol was just one of the excuses the football players had fallen back on.

“These young men appeared to think they were entitled because they were athletes and rules didn’t apply,” he said.

Thurman is right. A lot of student athletes do feel like they can get away with anything because most of the time, they can!

What we see time and time again is that athletes routinely go deliberately unpunished, and remain protected by the very institutions that ought to be pursuing their cases and holding the appropriate parties responsible. A recent joint Sports Illustrated and CBS News report alleges that in the 2010 college preseason “only two schools in the top 25 did regular background checks on their recruits,” making it clear that this problem is just as much about major universities’ willingness to accept criminals on the basis of their athletic skill as it is about some natural criminality that’s supposedly promoted by the violent and impulsive nature of football itself.

This is not to say that incidences such as the one dealing with Vandy are not about rape culture or the normalization of violence against women; these are huge factors in the sexual assault problem that is facing colleges throughout the country.

And not just in college, it starts in high school. Even though I attended an academic high school without a football team, I still saw how favored student athletes were when it came to our basketball team. Athletes would get special treatment when it came to anything. Bad grades, absences, tardiness…even getting caught in the auditorium with their pants down.

But I don’t blame the athletes; I blame those in charge. This re-victimization is real—but “football culture” is not the perpetrator or the abuser. By confusing the connection between “football culture” and sexual assault, we are failing to point a finger at the greedy motives and stunning incompetence of these institutions—because while the sport of football doesn’t magically create rapists, these universities and leagues somehow manage to magically make allegations of rape disappear. If the players see they can do whatever they want and get away with it they will continue doing it. Nothing will change until the administration makes it change. We cannot continue to look over and forget about the bad that athletes do just because we don’t want to interrupt our precious games.

I am sure there are many positive aspects to the “football culture” and I know it doesn’t exist at every school because I didn’t see it in my college. I think the status, rankings and popularity of the teams play a role in it. For a school like Vanderbilt where the games are always packed and televised, the football players can’t help but feel like local celebrities. And the main ones making them feel that way are the administration and people in charge.

Whenever a university allows a rapist to go free, whether he is an athlete or just another undergraduate, that institution is continuing a legacy of malpractice with inherently gendered consequences—the idea that a woman’s voice is not reliable, that her body is expendable, and that her safety and experience as a student and a human being is not valued by the very institution that she is paying to attend.

I am tired of hearing the “culture” being brought up whenever a football player gets caught doing something immoral. Occurrences like this make you question how often these types of things happen and get unnoticed. Thank God for cameras because without them the public would be completely blind to what really happens off the field or court. With cases like this, at least we have some kind of insight.

We need to stop it before it starts. It’s all too easy to trace this criminal misogyny from its roots in high school football stadiums, to high-powered universities and then to the National Football League.

I may not understand the football culture but I do know something needs to change…and fast.