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Rape Culture in Professional Sports

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Rape culture in professional sports is the idea in which society sends messages that confuse sex with rape, blame the victim, and make violence against women sexually appealing. In order to examine rape culture in professional sports, we must first define rape culture. Rape culture is a term which originated in women's studies and feminist theory, describing a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or tolerate sexual violence against women (Wikipedia). This includes behaviors associates with victim blaming and reducing a person to just a sexual being.

Sports are largely recognized to be the most noticeable cultural exhibit of a masculine culture (McKay, Messner, & Sabo, 149). Athletes are praised for their strength, speed, stamina, intelligence and courage. When comes to male hierarchy, athletes are at the top because they possess so many highly desired traits. Coaches and parents believe that sports prepare boys for adulthood by rewarding them for domination, hiding fears and separating them from women (McKay et al., 149). Society prepares boys to be successful athletes by utilizing violence. Take those qualities and add in the fact that professional athletes spend a huge amount of time on the road and in hotels, the players' celebrity status attracts a steady stream of opportunities for consensual sex (Benedit 29).

The association between athletes and sexual assault is more pronounced among "revenue-generating" sports (Koss, Gaines 1993) and that contact sports (football, hockey and basketball)


account for a majority of reported assaults against women. Studies in this area have not taken into account, male attitudes towards women, class or nonathletic peer groups that may shape their sporting experience (McKay et al., 152). Athletes are trained to be violent through sport and some of that violent is evident outside of the sport. Athletes appear to be more likely to use force to pressure women into unwanted sex and women victimized by force are more likely to report the crime. Athletic teams are breeding grounds for rape (Warshaw, 1988).

In the summer of 2010, Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers was in Lake Tahoe for a celebrity golf tournament. While staying at a casino hotel he flirted with a female host there, it is unknown if she flirted with him voluntarily but because of Roethlisberger's status he assumed it was her job to flirt with him. This is a form of rape culture, the idea that men make choices about what a woman does with her sexuality and in return this strengthens the idea the men can control a woman's body (Friedman 2009). The following evening the woman was lured to Roethlisberger's room to fix his television, as she went to leave the room, Roethlisberger blocked her from leaving and raped her. When she reported the incident to Guy Hyder, head of security at Harrahs, he declined to investigate and supposedly told her she was "overreacting" and "that most girls would be happy to have sex with someone like Ben Roethlisberger" (Friedman 2009). The woman was threatened to keep the incident quiet in order to keep the client happy. When people in authority refuse to take a rape charge seriously, there are no consequences for the rapist; this is another example of rape culture. After the incident, the woman was hospitalized for depression because of the incident itself and the harassment she received from the authorities. Authorities use their power to scare victims rather than helping them get justice, as a result it intimidates victims from coming forward as there are


no consequences for the rapists (Friedman 2009). Add yet another element of rape culture to this, sports television news ESPN instructed their employees not to report the Roethlisberger news because no criminal complaint had been filed. ESPN felt that the story did not meet their standard of reporting but in reality they were protecting their access to a star athlete instead of doing their jobs as journalists. When the media won't talk about rape and the sexual exploitation of women, the public doesn't think that it happens and once again the rapists face no consequences. Activist and writer Jaclyn Friedman writes:

"As this woman's case proceeds, her body, her actions, her mental state, motives,

And her history will be put on public trial in a way that would never happen if

she were accusing someone of kidnapping or attempted murder. That's rape

culture. When women are too afraid of being re-victimized by the courts and

the media to come forward, and when the public gets the message that the

women who accuse men are lying or did something to deserve it, the cycle continues"(Friedman 2009)

Even though there is only one assumed rapist is this situation, there are many more people who participate from the authorities to media. They are all part of rape culture.

Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant and his trial for rape offers a strong example about how the culture sends messages that test the definition of consensual sex. After his criminal case had been dismissed with prejudice, Bryant released a public statement stating in part: "Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did." ("Rape case against Bryant dismissed", 2004) According to Bryant's own statement, he raped the woman. From this statement, Bryant is basically admitting that looking back at the time of intercourse it was not consensual for her. Yet, at the time Bryant viewed it as was sex and not rape. Bryant was uneducated about what is rape and what is sex, and that gender, celebrity, class and race are all


issues in this situation (Edwards & Headrick, 2008). It is important to consider Bryant's education as a man in society; the way the society treats athletes as celebrities; or what he learned about sex in the very masculine environment of professional sports. It is important not to ignore the racial dynamics of this situation and the ways in which accusations of rape have historically



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