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Guest Viewpoint: Creating dialogue on assault in sports

This piece reflects the views of the author, Ryan Mishap, and not those of Emerald Media Group. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected]

As an Oregon football fan, one of the things that bothered me most about last season didn’t happen on the field. What bothered me was the silence from the coaches after Torrodney Prevot and then Eddie Heard were suspended for allegedly hitting women; the silence about Tristen Wallace and Darrian Franklin, both under investigation for sexual assault. This silence from the coaches is a common ploy, right out of the institutional playbook when it comes to violence against women, as Jessica Luther explores in her book, Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape. Mark Helfrich didn’t have to discuss specific incidences or violate anyone’s due process — I just wanted him to say that violence against women won’t be tolerated.  

Willie Taggart hadn’t been on the job for a month before he declared violence against women to be “unacceptable.”As Taggart said in an interview with Oregonlive, “We’re going to respect women, first and foremost, at all times. There’s no way around that.”  

“If you can’t live up to [the rules], you won’t be here,” Taggart declared.

According to a Jan. 9 article on Oregonlive.com, Taggart is apparently backing up his words as Heard, Wallace and Franklin are not just suspended, but no longer with the program. I thank the new coach for speaking up and drawing a line in the sand.

That I’m thanking him for such a basic ethical stance shows how badly rape culture permeates sports in our society. We don’t talk about male violence against women, rape and the sports culture that creates male athletes who feel entitled to women’s bodies. We need to talk about it, though. There’s the dismissal of ten football players from the University of Minnesota, some of whom were directly accused of assault and others whose involvement was uncertain. There’s Joe Mixon of the University of Oklahoma breaking a woman’s jaw and still playing. Who can forget Stanford swimmer Brock Turner assaulting an unconscious woman and only getting three months in jail?  A recent study by the University of Oregon’s own Jennifer Freyd found that one in ten women will be sexually assaulted while attending the UO. This goes beyond athletics.

We need to talk about it, but it takes more than words to change a male-dominated culture that views women as sexual objects instead of people.

The second half of Luther’s book outlines ways coaches and colleges can change the way they deal with sexual assault and violence, as well as prevent it from happening in the first place. This makes the book a must-read.

As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also writes in his recent book, Writings on the Wall, “Any tolerance of sexual assault teaches … students that women are somehow less deserving of protection than men in society, that sexual aggression by men is perfectly okay, and that even if we huff and puff about how it isn’t okay (wink, wink), nothing much will be done about it. It’s not enough to provide panic buttons around campus or train female students how to be alert to predators, we must attack the bros-before-hos mentality … ” In other words, it is up to men to take responsibility for stopping rape and violence against women.

Ryan Mishap is a member of Men Against Rape Culture, writes the punk zine Mishap, will see you Jan. 20 at the Oregon/Colorado basketball game, and can be contacted at [email protected]

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