Football is tightly woven into the fabric of American society and culture. Fans paint their faces for games, fly flags outside of their homes, and get tattoos after their teams win championships. The devotion of some fans to their teams can only be compared to religion.
College football teams, especially ones at high profile schools, have played in front of historically large crowds, allowed students to receive scholarships and have had the opportunity for students to be involved in their communities. They are also the beneficiaries of academic and social leniency because they are prominent athletes.
ESPN’s Outside the Lines found that male college athletes were three times more likely than other students to be accused of sexual assault and violence. The data found that on average, “6.3% of Title IX complaints against student … included an athlete as the person accused of wrongdoing … they represent, on average, just 1.7% of total student enrollment at the universities.”
There is a lot that needs to change in order to stop violence and assaults on college campuses. Groups like Male Athletes Against Violence (MAAV) at the University of Maine are trying to construct a system where male athletes hold each other accountable for their words and actions. They want to frame violence and assault as a men’s issue, not just a women’s issue.
Athletic departments across the nation like Baylor, Notre Dame, University of Tennessee and Penn State have all attempted to cover-up sexual assault allegations against their athletes. These institutions, along with the NCAA, are putting students at risk every day. These athletes are not only forgiven of their wrongdoings but are still allowed to keep their scholarships and continue to participate in athletics for their school. In most cases, athletes are not punished at all or are suspended for only a handful of games.
Some of these men are even rewarded by being able to play professional sports and earn their degrees. Athletes like Tyreek Hill, who was arrested for domestic assault and battery while playing football at Oklahoma State and was later drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs, are playing at the highest level.
Sports, like football, reward a culture based on aggression and the physical domination of one person over another. Athletes are rewarded for being the biggest, baddest, hardest-hitting person on the field. It can be hard for some athletes to turn off their aggression when they walk off of the field, but this is no excuse for their actions.
MAAV in its mission statement said that “change will come when we challenge the social norms and institutions that actively or implicitly condone and promote violence. MAAV is an effort to involve men so that we can begin to understand that violence is very much a ‘man’s issue.’
It is up to these athletic and academic institutions to protect their students and hold their athletes accountable for their actions. They can no longer cover-up their misconduct. But it is also up to the men on these teams to hold their peers accountable for their actions and create an environment where women are not objectified, taunted or assaulted.
More universities should invest in programs like MAAV, ones that work to reverse decades of damage done. By including and educating athletes in this process of change, more work can be done to impact the culture inside of the locker room. By creating an environment free from toxic masculinity norms and promoting healthy and positive interactions, athletes can begin to change the statistics surrounding sexual assault.