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A jersey is no excuse

Article: Maclaine Chadwick — The Fulcrum (University of Ottawa)

Are athletes given preferential treatment?

It’s okay everyone, he’s an athlete. /Arthur Ward
It’s okay everyone, he’s an athlete. /Arthur Ward

OTTAWA (CUP) — It’s no secret that high school, college, and university athletes are beloved and admired in their respective communities, and this is especially true in the U.S.; but all too often their status shields them from facing responsibilities or consequences that they sometimes deserve.
A recent example: CNN’s Poppy Harlow said of the convicted rapists in the Steubenville rape trial, “these two young men who had such promising futures – star football players, very good students – literally watched as they believed their life fell apart.”

Seeing the words in text doesn’t truly illustrate the point I’m trying to make, because Harlow’s words simply seem true. The lives of these two young men will never be the same, and their futures will be greatly affected. They will struggle to find jobs, develop relationships, and generally be accepted by society. However, let us not forget that this is because they raped someone.

Harlow’s statement was delivered in a way that implied sympathy for the offenders. Whether or not she was simply reflecting the tone of the footage provided to viewers has been debated (the footage shows the young men apologizing to the victim’s family and collapsing into their parents’ arms), but the clip is missing something critical – sympathy for the victim.

American football culture likens its young athletes to gods in their communities. They are praised by their neighbours, admired and envied by peers, and encouraged to act like macho men. It’s just like what we see in movies and on TV – when it comes to hierarchy, jocks are on top.
Considering that many athletes are defended by their classmates, regardless of their actions, it’s no wonder many of them develop a sense of entitlement.

A sarcastic humour video created two years ago by satirical news source parody The Onion has recently resurfaced in light of the media response to the Steubenville trial. The video tells the story of Jacob, a basketball player who is presented as an inspiration for overcoming “the trauma of committing a terrible rape.”

“He’s got a quick first step, a good outside shot, doesn’t get down on himself after a bad play or when he gets accused of rape,” explains the fictional basketball coach.

A fake booster club president states that “[Jacob] averaged 22 points a game as a freshman; no amount of raping is going to change that.”

The video may draw a dark chuckle, but it’s eerily similar to CNN’s commentary of the Steubenville rapists. The boys’ coach, Reno Saccoccia, allegedly knew the rape occurred and has been accused of trying to defend them or cover it up. Of course, Steubenville isn’t the only example.
Who could forget when Joe Paterno, head coach of the Pennsylvania State football team, was fired for essentially looking the other way when his assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was committing the sexual assaults he would later be convicted for?

I don’t want to imply that all male athletes are rapists – of course they aren’t, although studies show that there is an overrepresentation of college athletes in sexual assault charges – but the fact that there is a population who would defend rapists on the basis that they are an athlete is problematic.

Sports and sporting events are absolutely a source of entertainment, and just like we may admire a singer or actor for their performance, athletes are placed on a pedestal for us to fawn over.
Some of them may be considered heroes, but some of them also make criminal decisions that ruin the lives of others, and all of them are role models  – whether they like it or not.
No amount of padding or MVP status should be enough to protect any jock from the consequences of their negative actions.

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