Please forgive me for not writing a history blog today, I feel that the events with not just college football but athletics as a whole deserve their own blog post. Let me preface this by saying that I am and always will be a football fan, but damn, it is getting hard to still spend time and money on it. The country and sportswriters are reacting with righteous indignation at the revelations released yesterday by a certain institution in Waco (ironically enough, a Baptist one). But should we really be surprised? There are a myriad of causes which reach far beyond the borders of this particular college and indict not just the individuals involved in the latest scandal, but also the culture the media and sports fans have helped create. Please allow me to elaborate:
Once upon a time, journalists published hard hitting stories that helped, I don't know, bring down a president. Now, too many sportswriters are really nothing more than sports fans who can write. They support their local teams and are hesitant to dig into matters involving them or even ask tough questions. Consider how the local media in Houston soft peddles around the Texans and acts as their greatest cheerleaders. While some journalists have asked tough questions, too many are content with basking in the celebrity status of the athletes they cover. Yet now they act shocked that such things happened at a certain school. It has been happening at many schools and when word gets out, they won't cover it! Consider the allegations against JW at Florida school. Or CN. Or JM. The media tap dances around these issues because God forbid anyone say anything that might lead to a star player getting in trouble! I don't know how much of this is the NCAA quashing stories as that is something the NFL is good at.
Now, to be fair, writers for newspapers in small towns that happen to have major universities have a tough job. If they do ask tough questions of the university athletic department or dig too deeply into reports of wrongdoing, they risk having their access pulled. This effectively means they can't do their job. Of course, they also risk alienating readers which is something no newspaper wants especially in these days of internet browsing. So I admit it is a tough place to be. But for God's sake, when you engage in hero worship of athletes and teams rather than be journalists, you are part of the problem.
Fans want their teams to win. We help create the win at all costs mindset which allows such wanton disregard for the law and for basic decency to happen in the first place. Fans are giddy with delight when rival schools get busted (see the reactions of fans from a certain school in Fort Worth and how they have reacted to the incidents in Waco) but they excuse any misconduct when it happens on their own campuses. Consider the NFL as well. When the Cowboys brought in a known domestic abuser, the response from many of their fans was "well, he can help us win and he needs a second chance." Playing sports is a privilege. Men who abuse women or sexually assault them have no business ever stepping on the playing field again be it in high school, college, or the pros. So when we fans accept known abusers on our teams because they help us win, yes, we are part of the problem. And don't be so quick to point fingers at other schools or other teams as I'm sure many of them have their own skeletons in the closet, though perhaps not on the scale of what we've seen this week.
And this cuts across gender lines as well. It is an absolute travesty that the starting goalkeeper on the US Women's National team, a domestic abuser, was never disciplined by US Soccer and allowed to play in the World Cup. And now, she's advocating for equal pay. How about equal treatment with male domestic abusers? She gets a pass because she's female and the face of women's soccer in this country.
Administrators at universities want to protect the image of their university at all cost. This leads to the burying of all sorts of information, sexual assaults being one of them. Colleges operate more now as business than as institutions of higher learning. Whenever any serious incident happens on campus, the first instinct of the administrators is not to protect the victims but to protect the institution. Keep it out of the media and hope it blows over. Now, when you through big time college football money on top of it, the situation only magnifies. Recruiting for both athletes and non-athletes can be effected by crime statistics, etc. So if you don't want "the brand" to suffer, never let those things see the light of day. University police departments which answer to university administrators are just as complicit in this at times. Even the local police are sometimes complicit as well. Image sells.
The NFL also acts to protect its image at all costs, be it by covering up concussion research or domestic violence. Do you REALLY think the league never saw the Ray Rice video until it leaked online? Plus, they admitted they conducted their own investigation which means they at the very least should have known one existed. Willful ignorance is not a defense. Oddly enough the commissioner himself when punishing the Saints head coach for the bountygate scandal said that although there was no evidence the coach knew about what was happening, ignorance was no defense. Except when it is his ignorance protecting an important player from domestic violence. Just like universities, the NFL circles the wagons to protect its own image and its brand.
The Entitlement Culture
These things all combine to create a culture in which athletes see themselves as above the rules that apply to the rest of society. I saw it in the kids I coached at the junior high and my wife's high school athletes. It starts here, not in college. From day one, athletes who are essential pieces of their team are allowed to operate outside the boundaries which apply to regular students. Some are passed when they should have failed. Their conduct does not result in the same punishment which a regular student receives. While the vast majority of athletes do not engage in any misconduct, those they do come to feel they are special and that the world owes them something. They always get what they want. In high school, it may be a grade they don't deserve. In college, it may be a girl that doesn't want their attention. If it is a star player, some schools are willing to turn a blind eye to their actions. Or actively cover them up. This culture exists because we allow it to exist.
Ultimately, of course, the individual is responsible for his or her own conduct. But as people don't really hold themselves accountable, it is up to society, the leagues, or the schools to do it. And this is where we are failing.
This issue is one that is systemic and epidemic without our society. Athletes have been allowed to operate outside the rules. Colleges put revenue and championships ahead of basic human decency. We fans excuse misconduct by players on our team as long as they help us win. The media doesn't ask tough questions. College police departments (and in some cases local ones) don't fully investigate certain matters. This is not something that is specific to one university as I guarantee you that it has gone on and is currently going on at other places as well. This will not get any better until WE as a society makes it get better. Unless we, the ones with the spending money, stand up for what deep down we have to know is morally correct, we don't have the high ground to react with moral outrage. We have to change things ourselves because the institutions won't, absent a lot of pressure both public and political. That part is up to us. The ball is in our court now.
What will we do with it?