Gender-based violence: An athletic problem
Last weekend, while perusing the daily sports news, I stumbled across a harrowing story. Chris Boyd, a 21-year-old wide receiver for the Vanderbilt University Commodores, had been indicted for allegedly trying to help four teammates cover up a rape.
The more I read about the case, the more the details seemed eerily familiar: Male athletes, a young female and an alleged sexual assault. After considering this for bit, two questions came to mind. First, are athletes disproportionately responsible for violent crimes against women? Second, if they are, why?
While the first question is easily answered yes, finding an answer to the second question is more difficult. I would argue that society’s tendency to objectify women plays a major role.
Athletes, more than any other social group, are taught that thinking of women as objects is acceptable. Not only for sports, but also for society as a whole, this is becoming a problem.
Before delving into a discussion of why athletes may be more inclined to carry out violent acts against women, it is necessary to consider some numbers. According to the well-regarded Bendict/Crosset Study, athletes commit nearly 20 percentof sexual assaults reported on college campuses. Athletes are also responsible for 35 percent of domestic violence incidents on campus. While reading these numbers, keep in mind that athletes represent 3.3 percent of the general student population.
Although it is impossible to pin down a single contributing factor for the statistics discussed above, I can’t help but think that society’s tendency to objectify women plays a role.
Advertisements consistently depict women as sexual objects. Almost every beer commercial, for instance, has a scantily clad woman and she’s certainly not there to make intellectual contributions.
Similarly, video games, movies, and television sitcoms have a tendency to objectify females. In our culture, sex sells, and like it or not, there is not a more marketable sexual object than a woman’s body.
While female objectification touches all facets of our population, athletes are especially affected. Placed on a social pedestal beginning at a young age, male athletes who have multiple partners are referred to as “studs.” Cheerleaders become feathers in athletes’ caps as societal influences lurk in the background and validate the entire process.
By the time some athletes reach the college or pro level, the idea that women are objects has become firmly ingrained in their minds. When this happens, sexual assaults and domestic violence occur. After all, striking an object is no big deal, right?
Ultimately, violent acts by athletes against women, such as those that allegedly happened at Vanderbilt, are unacceptable. To eliminate such incidents, players, coaches, fans and society as a whole must take a stand. Women must be valued, female objectification must cease and certain aspects of the athletic culture, as it currently exists, must be overhauled.
Unless this occurs, we will continue to read about crimes like those that allegedly took place at Vanderbilt University. We will continue to be appalled by such thoughtless acts. We will continue to be stabbed by a societal structure and an athletic culture that fosters such brutality.