The Inescapable Assault by Athletics in America
You’re likely wondering why “athletics” isn’t further defined by college or professional ranks, and is being painted with a broad brush in this country. The answer is that misconduct undoubtedly permeates the earliest levels of youth and amateur sports, before moving to the highest ranks of college and professional competition, in which winning at all costs breeds a “See. No Say.” mentality and disproportionate material rewards. Period.
Notwithstanding the cruel irony that three of the collegiate level’s most high-profile scandals involving sexual assaults have occurred in the Big 10 conference, there leaves no doubt that coaches nationwide are quietly reflecting on their own programs, players and proclivities. The most recent, of course, emerging from The Ohio State University amid Head Football Coach Urban Meyer’s unforgivable lapse in judgment, not once, but certainly many times throughout his “illustrious” and lucrative coaching career.
As the facts continue to twist, and nepotism between Head Coach Meyer and his former assistant Zach Smith agonizingly persists, what we do know is that Urban Meyer lied. He lied to protect his reputation. He lied to protect his football program. He lied to protect his financial future. Notably absent from this post are the wins versus losses and millions in compensation now in jeopardy, as these pale in importance to the suffering of any victim of domestic violence.
The accountability doesn’t end with Coach Meyer, but with Ohio State’s [then] President E. Gordon Gee and Athletic Director Gene Smith, who knowingly hired Urban Meyer in 2012, despite leaving his two-time national championship University of Florida program with a record of 31 player arrests.
Thankfully, the #MeToo movement has validated the claims of the accusers and rebuked the actions of the accused of sexual assaults on girls and women. No better timing for convicted serial child molester Larry Nassar and now Urban Meyer. Of course, Coach Meyer is not accused of directly abusing a woman, yet I argue that he certainly is accountable for indirectly harming a woman pleading for help from several, including his own life partner, Shelley Meyer, and many in the “circle of trust” in The Ohio State University family that includes coaches and administrators.
Does “See Something. Say Something” apply only when reputations and compensation aren’t at stake? Or when one stands to lose more than than the victim already has, which is impossible to fathom?
What’s even more astonishing is the disclosure that more than one assistant coach’s wife was also aware of the cycle of abuse, yet silence was deafening to protect their personal well-being and the championship football program that provides career longevity and financial security.
You can bet that Michigan State’s head football and basketball coaches, Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo, are watching intently and breathing a joint sigh of relief [for now], as both programs have been fraught with sexual violence complaints that have fallen from the headlines.
Clearly, the actions of Larry Nassar have been well documented, and his hundreds of victims are stronger and more respected than ever before. But the institutional abuses didn’t end with Nassar’s 175-year prison sentence. Consider that since Dantonio’s tenure began in 2007, at least 16 MSU football players have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women. Meanwhile, never-before-publicized reports of sexual or violent incidents involving members of Izzo’s storied basketball program, includes one report filed against a former undergraduate student-assistant coach, who was allowed to continue coaching after he had been criminally charged for punching a female MSU student in the face at a bar in 2010. A few months later, after the Spartans qualified for the 2010 Final Four, the same assistant coach was accused of sexually assaulting a different female student. These revelations led to the abrupt resignation of MSU’s President Lou Anna Simon and early retirement of Athletic Director Mark Hollis, yet not one but both head coaches have retained their jobs.
Lastly, but equally noteworthy, is the recent acquisition of the Toronto Blue Jay’s Roberto Asuna by the defending World Series champion Houston Astros. Despite the Astros’ zero tolerance policy, Asuna’s success as a closer on the pitching mound overcame his 75-game suspension for domestic violence against a woman.
Incredibly, there will certainly be more lurid stories surfacing in the future from any number of high-profile athletics programs and franchises. We can only hope they are met with consistent and appropriate consequences that send a message that the level of success of an athletic team, coach or player is not commensurate to the level of discipline charged and maintained.
Cristina Walters is the CEO of She’s A Gamer and the host of a sports talk radio show in Southern California. Visit www.ShesAGamer.com to raise your game and sign-up for weekly e-news. Contact Cristina directly at email@example.com for content contribution or speaking inquiries.