Burke Bindbeutel, University of Missouri School of Law
Last Sunday night I felt an urge to see Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers crushed by opposing linebackers. This was not because I am an Indianapolis Colts fan (I am not). No, I wanted the beefy quarterback to be Theismannized because his off-the-field conduct has earned him two accusations of sexual assault. Roethlisberger continues to receive the adulation of the Pittsburgh faithful despite behavior that puts less talented men behind bars.
Last year, right in my hometown, the Missouri Tigers suspended their team captain indefinitely due to a sex crime allegation. He was eventually convicted. Could it be that there is a necessary link between football and sexual violence?
I don’t think so, but that doesn’t keep me from worrying about the permissive culture surrounding student-athletes. Ex-NCAA President Walter Byars called it a “neoplantation mentality”: the strongest and fastest are culled into football programs, pushed to win at any cost, then are cut out of the tremendous profits that schools reap from their toil. Keeping the exploited athletes happy has, at some football programs, meant indulging their appetites for sex.
The University of Missouri sits in a football-crazed college town, which this month will celebrate its 100th Homecoming game. Football Saturdays are the biggest parties all year and the most visible representation of our school. How can our community ensure that we don’t wind up with another Lizzy Seberg, the Notre Dame freshman who killed herself after telling campus police that a football player had attacked her?
We discussed the intersection of football and gender violence at our most recent Mizzou LSRJ meeting. There seemed to be a nexus that presented us with an awareness-raising opportunity. But we agreed that a sound strategy is crucial. Effective campus activism doesn’t preach to the choir, and it avoids the “killjoy” label. When students and alumni gather to celebrate and watch a ballgame, it’s likely that they don’t care to be reminded about their role in condoning or condemning “rape culture.”
But on the other hand, the prevalence of cases of football players committing sex crimes compels us to act. Before the season is out, Mizzou LSRJ will do our best to infect football fandom with a zero-tolerance attitude toward sexual violence. We are brainstorming creative, provocative and inclusive ways to convey this message, and we would love your input!
mulawlsrj at missouri dot edu