In a particularly dumb iteration of an age-old trend, news outlets cannot seem to get over the fact that a Yale student was expelled and kicked off the Yale basketball team for sexual misconduct right before the NCAA tournament, emphasis right before the NCAA tournament.
In a Mashable article published Tuesday titled “The Mess at Yale: Historic March Madness Berth Clouded by Sex Assault Saga,” the controversy surrounding team captain Jack Montague’s expulsion for sexual misconduct is portrayed as a kind of ominous fog monster threatening to swallow up the entire sport of basketball in her disgusting maw.
From the first few paragraphs:
Ivy League mystique, a historic basketball achievement and a messy sex scandal all combine to make Yale perhaps the nation’s most intriguing team entering March Madness.
Jack Montague, the basketball team captain, was expelled mid-season following sexual misconduct allegations levied by a fellow student, according to his attorney. He vehemently denies the allegations. Montague’s former teammates publicly supported him — then apologized for doing so. Now he’s suing the university.
And, oh — amid it all, Yale is making its first March Madness appearance since 1962.
This article pointedly experiences Montague’s expulsion not in the context of the alleged misconduct for which he was expelled, but in the “tempered” happiness of his former teammates, who could not fully enjoy their big win against Columbia without their friend and leader.
Most significant, though, is this:
So is Jack Montague the latest example of athletic entitlement run amok? Or has he been wrongly accused, forced to watch from the sideline while his teammates live their March Madness dream without him?
The only answer I can think of is “hold the fuck on a sec.”
Note that this pair of questions implicitly proposes that there is a 50/50 chance that the accusations against Montague are false. It’s commonly accepted that, while false sexual assault accusations do happen, they only occur between 2 and 8 percent of the time. As writer Rebecca Solnit has put it, “The implication that women as a category are unreliable and that false rape charges are the real issue is used to silence individual women and to avoid discussing sexual violence, and to make out men as the principal victims.” Solnit compares this to the right wing’s obsession with voter fraud, “a crime so rare in the United States that it appears to have had no significant impact on election outcomes in a very long time.”
While there’s still a limited amount of information available on the circumstances behind Montague’s expulsion, at this point, we can comfortably assume, based on Montague’s lawyer’s own use of the euphemistic term “not-consensual sex” and on Yale’s records, that he was expelled on charges of sexual assault. We do not know what happened, but to infer that there’s anything more that a remote—i.e. statistically congruent—possibility that Montague’s denial will prove true is to value his word and his educational experience over his accuser’s. Remember that 38.8 percent of Yale undergraduate women and 25 percent of all Yale undergraduates have experienced sexual assault; reporting is up, but still rare. It may be 2016, but men and women still don’t exist on an even playing field, especially on a college campus.
Mashable was by no means the only outlet to use this framing, and certainly not the only outlet to use the bizarre statement from Montague’s lawyer—which used the term “whipping boy” to describe Montague; claimed that Montague was never accused of rape but then that he was found to have had “unconsented-to sex”; implied that it was wrong for a Title IX coordinator to file a complaint on behalf of a victim (it’s not); and claimed that “it defies logic and common sense that a woman would seek to re-connect” with her abuser, when Emma Sulkowicz, Kesha, Owen Labrie’s victim, and countless others have shown these actions to be trauma-based and routine—as a reliable structural base for an entire article.
The Associated Press recently circulated a short article claiming that the “Yale Case Adds Criticism of How Schools Investigate Rape,” citing only the criticism offered by Jack Montague’s lawyer and statistics from “the advocacy group Boys and Men in Education.” In a Business Insider article about Montague’s expulsion, the sole student quoted was a friend of Montague, who “believes that committee is biased against students accused of wrongdoing.” (Why he would be qualified to offer that opinion is unclear.) Genius editor Leah Finnegan (formerly of Gawker) has pointed out that the New York Times was also fond of framing the accusations against Montague as having “overshadowed” a sports event; the article in question has an NCAA bracket embedded in the center.
Similarly, Newsweek reported an article heavily featuring Jack Montague’s sympathetic best friend, appearing to believe that the routine tendency to view sexual assault accusations primarily from the perspective of the accused is a novel approach (this is not an unusual tack for Newsweek). Montague’s friend, Blake Thomson, is quoted as saying things like: “[W]here is the respect for due process? Where is the consideration for how this is going to affect Jack for the rest of his life?”
Like the Mashable article, this one included several theatrical references to Montague’s lost sports career (“He then vanished without explanation, never to don the navy blue and white colors of the Elis again.”); it also emphasizes the rise of sexual violence complaints rather than the actual (high) prevalence of sexual violence itself. Newsweek highlighted a principal grievance of the original Title IX movement as “the absence of hot showers” for Yale’s female rowing team, and, like others, seems to take issue with the fact that college sexual assault adjudication does not look like a criminal trial, a common complaint that makes no sense from a legal standpoint and would exacerbate the civil rights violations that these proceedings are meant to ameliorate.
The end of the Newsweek article, referring to the messages supporting sexual violence survivors that were written at a campus “chalk-in,” looks like this:
The sun shone brightly on the courtyard outside Sterling Memorial Library on Friday. The chalked messages were almost all faded as the rain, wind and sunlight did their work. When Yale students return from spring break, they will all have disappeared. Many students will have moved on to contemplating finals, graduation, and summer internships. The stigma that is attached to Jack Montague will last far longer.
“I’m disappointed in the adults at this institution,” says Thomson, sounding not unlike another former Yale athlete. “I’m not going to be graduating with my head held high.”
When the Yale Daily News first started reporting this story, all anyone could confirm was that the men’s basketball team was very publicly wearing shirts bearing recently “withdrawn” captain Jack Montague’s terrible nickname, and that there were posters on Yale’s campus demanding the men’s basketball team “stop supporting rapists.” The news of his expulsion, and the (limited) explanation behind it, came much later.
This was—and to a certain degree remains—a difficult thing to write about in a way that doesn’t appear to skew in favor of the accused, because so much of the available information comes from his lawyer, his friends, his coach; the disciplinary hearing documents remain sealed, and the alleged victim remains anonymous, for reasons that are easy to guess. My own article about the posters’ arrival on campus was not popular with some students at Yale, one of whom told me that my lack of editorializing (something I could not do at that point without courting legal action) was overly cautious and read as sympathetic to the players.
Sports writers are, for the most part, not going to resist dramatically juxtaposing Yale’s once-in-a-lifetime N.C.A.A. shot with Montague’s expulsion and subsequent lawsuit. The real problem begins when that juxtaposition is given more value than the reported reason for Montague’s expulsion—when a sexual misconduct ruling is subtly framed as the disruption of a more important thing, i.e. sports—and the problem swells when the expulsion of a basketball player elicits more hysterical outrage than the idea that he might have raped someone.
Image via Associated Press.