On "Sports Culture" And The Fear Of Male Athletes

I'm fairly certain that Sally Jenkins had good intentions when writing her recent Washington Post piece, titled "Should Women Live In Fear Of Male Athletes?" The trouble is, Jenkins is asking the wrong questions.

Bringing up three prominent examples of male athletes charged with rape and even murder, (Ben Rothlisberger, Lawrence Taylor, and George Huguely) Jenkins asks: "Should women fear athletes? Is there something in our sports culture that condones these assaults?" She then goes on to question the "culture" of sports, noting that in lacrosse player Huguely, for example, who is accused of murdering female lacrosse player Yeardley Love, shared several qualities with his fellow University of Virginia lax players, namely "physical swagger, heavy drinking and fraternal silence."

The article is a bit frustrating, in that Jenkins is clearly trying to point out that the women involved in all of these cases were not only victimized by their attackers, but by bystanders who turned a blind eye as part of some kind of bro-code. Jenkins points out that even though Love was a lacrosse player, she did not receive the "protection" her attacker received from fellow lacrosse players, who were willing to ignore Huguely's record of violent behavior at Love's expense. She also points out that athletes are often given special privileges by others, in that they are "rewarded" for their physical prowess by being allowed to get away with "binge drinking, women-as-trophies, the hubris resulting from exaggerated entitlement and years of being let off the hook." And though Jenkins is attempting to expose "sports culture" as a dangerous one, she seems to have simplified the issue by overlooking a larger problem: rape culture in general, and how this behavior is not just relegated to successful athletes. Jenkins attempts to fight back against this culture by asking "what has happened to kindness" and "what has happened to sexuality?"

But instead of expecting to dismantle rape culture by asking athletes to consider being kind and respectful, or asking if women should live in fear of said athletes, we should be asking WHY we consistently allow this type of culture to exist, why we turn to warning women about male behaviors instead of reprimanding men for allowing those behaviors to exist in the first place. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Jenkins' article is that she writes about rape culture as if it's a new phenomenon and not something that has been going on for decades, if not centuries. Presenting "sports" culture as something that women should fear instead of something that EVERYONE should be attempting to dismantle doesn't really do anyone any favors, as it presents the problem as an inevitability and an institution that isn't going anywhere anytime soon: something to be wary of, as opposed to something to be angry and proactive about. It's not about asking if women should be afraid; it's about asking WHY we've gotten to the point where they feel they have to be.

Should Women Live In Fear Of Male Athletes? [WashingtonPost]