College athletics is filled with exhilarating moments. It is where passionate athletes lay it all on the line for their respective universities in front of crazed fans that crave bragging rights against any opponent that steps on their turf. Emotion is at its purest form as participants experience climatic joy and agony with victory and defeat. It is drama at its best.
Spectacles like the Final Four, the Frozen Four, the Women’s College World Series and the College Football playoff evoke attention for weeks at a time, with fans watching teams vie for championship glory. It is rewarding and suspenseful, bringing the best and the worst in everyone invested.
While college sports are fun and exciting, there is another element that is often overlooked by many. Proper conduct is monitored in multiple areas in life, whether it is corporate responsibility in business or education and its code of ethics. It is telling to see how upper management handles controversy. These situations reveal the dark part of collegiate sports, when winning, momentum, recruiting and brand are more important than doing the right thing. It is dangerous when a program’s image is protected over innocent people.
The University of Tennessee football program is coming off a 9-4; however, several reports have surfaced concerning sexual assault allegations on the Tennessee campus. Reports of sexual assault go back 20 years when Peyton Manning was a volunteer. Eight women are suing the university for sexual assault in a Title IX case. According to U.S. Department of Justice, Title IX is a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. Athletes are accused of violating the federal law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.
When former Tennessee football player Drae Bowles transported a victim to meet an ambulance after being sexually assaulted, head coach Butch Jones called him a traitor for betraying his team, according to the Title IX lawsuit. The former player was confronted and beaten up by one of his teammates for his alleged betrayal. Jones and others in the athletic department profusely denied these allegations and did everything possible to protect the image of the university’s program.
Whether these accusations are true or not, a cultural issue still remains: this type of behavior demonstrates that the program matters more than the people hurt by these acts. During a press conference, Jones vehemently rejected the premise that Tennessee’s culture was shoddy. He continued to affirm that his name would be cleared from any wrongdoing. There was no apology statement for those victimized, no empathy for his former player and only the head coach vindicated himself in the media.
The issue with college athletic programs lies in the fact that winning and reputation hold more value than ethics. Such indictments may hamper recruiting, so officials fight to preserve a squeaky clean image in order to maintain healthy relationships with potential signees. Victims of sexual assault pale in importance when the program’s image is in question, making those in upper management appear egotistic and indifferent about real issues that occur on college campuses.
Athletes are celebrities on campus and officials want to keep it that way. This means players get preferential treatment and have a sense of entitlement, which leads to toxic relationships with others. While boosters and coaches feed into this mentality, victims have to suffer the effects.
Among Division I schools, the number of sexual assaults reported by victims ages 17-24 increase by 28 percent on game days, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. When recruits look closely at how programs handle issues like sexual abuse, they can recognize the core value of those in charge. It is risky to support a program where profit is more important than people.
Women 18 to 24 who are enrolled in college are three times more likely than women in general to suffer from sexual violence, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. And according to the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, athletes commit one in three college sexual assaults. Some may argue that athletes are often framed and targeted by others in order to receive monetary gain. It seems rational to think athletes are easy targets and could be misled by opportunists, who use players to further their own agendas, but these statistics are weighty and are more significant than a win-loss record in a trivial game.
The athletic program’s status is the prime objective in many athletic departments. By protecting their athletes and prioritizing recruiting, athletic programs are neglecting a fraction of the student body who suffer from these traumatic events. In some cases, the culprits are shielded and coddled at the victim’s expense.
Stopping sexual assault has to be top priority for athletic officials around the country, which means that many athletic programs should focus more of their energy on investigating these issues instead of neglecting their civil responsibility to address them quickly. When athletic departments profit greatly from their athletes, they will look to eliminate anything that may negatively affect their image, including criminal behavior.
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