There’s so much to sort out in the University of Minnesota’s newest athletic scandal, but suffice it to say that most will come away missing the forest for the trees. Many will retreat to their respective corners.
Women will blame men. White folks who are so inclined will view this as just another case of Black folks, more specifically Black athletes, acting badly. Some Black folks will call out White people for having a double standard. And everyone will have some truth.
However, the larger truth is that this stems from something deeper, the very heart of U.S. society. Its culture is anti-woman, sexist, misogynist and patriarchal. Proof of that can be seen in efforts to blame the victim in this case. Don’t be tempted; no one has a right to violate anyone’s person no matter their mental or emotional state or state of sobriety.
Unfortunately though, the U of M football team was right to demand that their accused teammates have due process, which is a cornerstone of any real democracy. Their almost unconditional support, however, implied that they also supported the misconduct of their accused teammates. While most of the players get it, I suspect some of them still don’t get it or care that a woman was victimized.
Some players and others pointed to the failure of the police and the Hennepin County prosecutor’s office to bring charges as proof of the athletes’ innocence. In actuality it means little; it just means the police and some among their favorite prey (young Black men) have something in common: a disdain for the rights of women.
In fact, the police department is a bastion of male machismo and misogyny and as a rule doesn’t take rape victims seriously. Until recently, their first inclination was to blame the victim and/or put them on trial so to speak. Much like cases involving police violence against citizens, prosecutors seldom prosecute rape cases.
Strangely, the local big business newspaper of record, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, got it right when it editorialized that “the decision not to arrest or prosecute does not mean the players were absolved.” Oddly, this is the same newspaper that consistently browbeats working-class folks, especially Black folks, into accepting prosecutors’ decisions not to prosecute in cases of police violence as the fair operation of law and therefore the end of it, defendant absolved.
The University of Minnesota’s administration has been trying to appear as the defender of women’s rights and has tossed the word “values” around as if they are guided by principles and morals rather than the profit motive. Values? What values? If values were their utmost concern they would have simply suspended the football players for the season, which of course would have meant a possible losing season and no lucrative million-dollar bowl game at the end of it.
Without question, the 10 football players are indeed guilty of breaking the rules of conduct laid down by the university’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office. Those who had sex with their fellow student without her permission are guilty of rape, and those who cheered it on are guilty of breaking the university’s rules of conduct and the rules of simple decency and respect as well, and thus should suffer the consequences.
The players should have known that you can’t have sex with someone who is inebriated. There is no such thing as consent under those circumstances, even if the victim shouts their undying love for the acts they perform. And there is no such thing as group sex with a stranger. To think so is to live in a fantasy world, which is most likely where this ill-fated idea originated. Group sex has to be agreed upon beforehand.
The young men appear to be confused by the severity of their punishment and by society’s mixed messages. They have been told that they are entitled (except they weren’t entitled to have their way with a White girl). They have heard contrary messages: Women ain’t crap, but if you act on this idea, taking it to its logical conclusion, you will be punished.
The U.S. culture denigrates women. The young men listen to music that constantly refers to women as ancillary beings, and Bs, and hoes, or potential porn stars.
Women are still not compensated with equal pay for equal work. There are still glass ceilings for women. The woman who ran for president as the Democratic Party candidate, Hillary Clinton, was constantly referred to as that “B,” and the president-elect was recorded saying it was okay to grab women by the crotch.
So what needs to happen to curtail this kind of behavior? We need to create a society that speaks with one voice. Womanists, feminists and others are going to have to stop pretending that we are going to get rid of misogyny, sexism and patriarchy without addressing it at its root. This disrespect for women is deeply rooted in the social and political and economic systems of capitalism, which uses it to further divide and rule.
Pull up these roots and we will have a chance to live in a world decidedly pro-human and thus pro-woman.
Justice, then peace.
Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.