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Can Big-Time College Sports Ever Change the Sexual Assault Culture with so Much Money on the Line?

The U.S. yet again heard about the confluence of high-profile college athletics and sexual assault when warrants were issued for three football players for Michigan State University (MSU) on June 6, 2017. News of NCAA players being accused or convicted of sexual assaults is no longer shocking to many Americans—we see these reports on a regular basis from schools across the country. What should be shocking, however, is the apparent lack of action on the part of schools to take concrete action to curb the culture of sexual assault by athletes.

Some people claim that the NCAA or colleges with major sports programs primarily aim to protect players from allegations. This is likely not always true, however, as the focus of these programs is not necessarily on the individual players. Instead, the priority of big-time college sports programs is usually money, as college football and basketball programs are part of a largely corporate machine that emphasizes profits above all else. Sexual assault allegations can threaten a particular team’s reputation, which can affect the support—largely financial—of its fan base.

The author of the 2016 book, “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape,” noted in an interview that:

“They don’t care about the [victims of] violence, they don’t care about that harm. But they also don’t care about the players. You know, like maybe a coach on some sort of an individual level has a relationship with these guys. But there’s a system to protect them so that they can stay on the field so everyone can keep making money.”

It has been widely observed that money is a major obstacle to implementing important changes in the culture of NCAA Division I sports. However, it is important to recognize that some schools are taking initiatives to try to address the problem and prevent their athletes from engaging in such illegal and harmful behaviors.

Attempts to Change the MSU Sports Culture

The three most recent players to be arrested for sexual assault came from MSU, despite attempts by the football coaches and athletic department to spread education and prevention awareness regarding sexual assault.

According to the news reports, all three football players were immediately dismissed from the team and representatives from the school’s athletics department made statements in which they did not come to the defense of the players. Instead, the head football coach stated he was angry because he believed the players had the necessary education to know this behavior was unacceptable. Both the coach and the athletics director separately noted that “sexual assault has no place in our community.”

MSU is also a school that participates in the “It’s On Us” campaign, which was launched nationwide in 2014 and is funded by the Biden Foundation. Together with the Title IX coordinator, the athletics department, and other sponsors, MSU hosts major week-long events each semester to spread awareness about eliminating sexual assault on campus. However, despite all the proactive initiatives by the school and athletics department, student-athletes continue to perpetuate a culture of sexual assault.

NCAA Offers Prevention “Tool Kit”

Having initiatives at individual schools is not enough to curb sexual assault in college athletics. Instead, focus on safety should come from the very top—the NCAA itself. The NCAA does offer a “tool kit” to prevent sexual violence among college athletes. The stated goals of this tool kit include the following:

  • That all school administrators and athletic directors take a leadership role in changing the status quo of sexual assault cultures on campuses.
  • That athletic departments collaborate with numerous campus departments, Title IX coordinators, student groups, and more to spread a message about sexual assault prevention.
  • That schools and athletic departments maintain strict compliance with the Clery Act and Title IX and hold players fully accountable for their actions.
  • That student-athletes, coaches, and other athletic staff receive proper education.
  • That student-athletes are empowered to set an example on their own teams to make a difference.

Despite the NCAA’s message against sexual assault, at the end of the day, its primary focus is still on profits. Until all big-time sports schools across the country disregard the financial consequences and stand up against sexual violence committed by athletes, the sexual assault culture within college sports is likely to persist.

If you have any concerns about sexual assault or Title IX actions at your college or university, please do not hesitate to reach out to the committed Title IX attorneys at Duffy Law for help today. You can call us at 203-946-2000 or send us an email through our online contact form.

Felice Duffy

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Attorney At Duffy Law

Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.