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Sex and Football

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There is a strange and disturbing association between sex and football in our country. Perhaps, it’s because football is an American sport of which we are uniquely proud, but we also must examine whether it provides unique protections to its players. Also happening in a few other industries, rampant cases of sexual assault are often ignored or excused. However, at both the professional and collegiate level, star athletes often receive a pass despite allegations of perpetrating heinous sexual crimes against women.

In 2011, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott put the Superbowl on the map as the largest single prosecuted incident of human trafficking in the US. However, the jury is still out on the accuracy of this statement. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) has used the occasion to push for the passage of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which imposes harsher penalties for those found guilty of selling or purchasing humans. New York and New Jersey have taken special precautions to reduce the amount of humans trafficked in relation to this weekend’s Superbowl game. Whether or not the incidences of trafficking are higher at the Superbowl, it is important for this issue to receive increased attention.

Recently, former kicker for the University of Michigan, Brendan Gibbons, was expelled, and he was arrested for the an alleged assault dating back to 2009. Yet, the University lauded him as a game-changing super star. Taylor Lewan, one of Michigan’s All-American athletes was alleged to have threatened to rape the victim again if she pressed charges. Gibson’s was not expelled until 2014, after his eligibility to play football had expired. Read the full story.

Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers and two-time Superbowl champion, was accused of multiple sexual assaults in different states by different women at different times. He had to sit the bench for six games. He is still widely celebrated for his successes on the field.

No matter the sanctions and no matter the accusations, fans and franchises alike defend their players at nauseam claiming there is not enough proof to jeopardize a man’s precious football career. There is no way to know for sure, her word against his. Our general public thinks that 50% of all rape accusations are false. The actual number? Somewhere between two and eight percent. This means that more than 90% of all alleged rapes actually happened and are not desperate attempts at fame or fortune. And with those odds you don’t need to be good at math to crunch the numbers on Roethlisberger.

These incidents are becoming frequent in occurrence among football players. Michael Crabtree, 49ers wide receiver, was questioned in a sexual assault investigation two weeks ago just as the team’s season ended in a playoff loss to the Seahawks. What does this say about our values as a nation?

Maria Shriver’s latest report on the status of American women features a piece by Sister Joan Chittister who says,

“”In our own country, rapes in the military and rapes on college campuses go unpunished because “boys will be boys,” and winning wars and football games are more important than protecting the integrity of the women who are the victims of rape.” Read full article.

What is this allegiance we pledge to football over the freedoms and safety of American citizens? How can we not only ignore these crimes but celebrate and highly reward those who commit them? And what is that teaching our daughters about their value in our society?

So, this Superbowl Sunday as you watch the game think twice about whats happening off the field. Enjoy the commercials with a grain of salt remembering the harsh and lasting impact the objectification of those models and actresses have on young boys and girls. When the blimp gives you a bird’s eye view of the stadium, try to spot the women being forced to sell their bodies in the parking lot. While you watch the Seahawks, think of Jarriel King, former Seahawk who was dismissed from the team in 2012 after a sexual assault who now plays for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football league. When you watch the Broncos, think of Perrish Cox, former Bronco who actually impregnated the woman who accused him of raping her, though he was like so many others, acquitted of the charges.

There’s no way to put ourselves in the skin of someone who has been raped, to walk a mile in their shoes, or to know their pain. But, we could start by taking their word for it and by holding perpetrators accountable regardless of their athleticism. Then, maybe our daughters and future daughters won’t have to know that pain either.

Written by Brittany Sandefur

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Brittany Sandefur received her BA and MSW at the University of Michigan and currently works at a domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy agency in North Carolina. Particularly interested in non-profit resource development, Sandefur works to support underserved and especially indigenous communities in their efforts toward crisis intervention, health and wellness, community empowerment, and social justice.

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There should be more billboards like this. I am in Ohio and as a student I do A LOT of research on this issue. Ohio is a hub and it is literally in my backyard.