Thursday, March 28, 2013

Coverage of rape needs context

In light of the the cases that connect sports to rape culture, progressive sportswriter Dave Zirin proposed in his recent article that professional leagues such as the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA  should address the prevailing violence against women. Zirin proposed that the leagues should educate athletes in order to "reshape a jock culture that treats women like they are the spoils of athletic supremacy."

Considering the recent media coverage around the Steubenville case that focused on how the young men's careers would be ruined as a result of the ruling rather than pointing to the issue of how violence against women is normalized in our culture, Zirin is right to call for education.

Education, indeed, needs to happen in multiple spheres. Professional male sports is certainly one, an important one as Zirin contends, because "no other institution reaches more men and no other institution plays a greater role in teaching boys how to define their own manhood and masculinity."

In a culture that teaches women how not to be raped rather than teaching men not to rape, it is essential to turn the conversation around.

But cultural ideologies around rape need some context to be effectively disputed. 

A chart provided by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) indicates that less than 10% of rapes get prosecuted. RAINN also reported that on college campuses less then 5% of rapes or attempted rapes get reported.

Universities, especially larger universities, tend to have resource centers students can turn to for support. Institutions also implement policies and regulations that enable students to report crimes while remaining confidential. But the policies and resource centers can only do so much when women continue to be blamed for a) being sexually assaulted, b) reporting the crime, c) the implications on the rapists' lives. We have seen that from the media coverage of Steubenville and we have seen that from the media coverage of the UNC student who stated that her reporting of an alleged sexual assault was mishandled by the university.

I agree with Zirin that we need to be attentive to how sports and rape culture intersect. And I agree with Zirin when he writes that "it's time for sports to pick a side and take their share of accountability for the toxicity in our culture that normalizes rape." But, normalization of rape occurs outside of the athletic context as well and, thus, it should be addressed as a larger social issue.

So while Zirin's idea to educate professional athletes, and thereby also raise awareness about rape culture, would be beneficial, it cannot occur in isolation from other layers of society. Reversing the discourse through the education of boys is essential, but it takes time.

There are things that can be done now. And I believe the media can play an important role in making things better now by providing the "big picture" statistics, by recognizing the patterns we see over and over again when it comes to coverage of rape cases.

What the media can do is to situate these incidents within a larger context to explain that these cases are not about one boy's or two boys' lives--and their "promising careers" as CNN put it. These incidents are about a huge problem that affects thousands of people who become victims of sexual assault.

Sexual assault receives coverage when it becomes an issue tied to athletes, but sexual assault is not a sports issue. We need to work on reversing the blaming the victim rhetoric and on demystifying the male athlete, but we also need to recognize that the stories we hear about in the media are only a small small percentage of the sexual assaults that actually occur.

The media can help here: To report what continues to be unreported.

-- Dunja Antunovic

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Criticism of Silberman's NFL combine efforts misplaced

Lauren Silberman’s pitiful effort during a recent NFL regional scouting combine tryout sparked strong criticism about how Silberman hurt women’s attempts to be taken seriously in football and reignited conversations about how women cannot compete with men in athletics. 

I will tackle each point separately.

Katie Hnida, the first woman to score a point in a Division I football game, told USA Today: “Her performance does not have to do with her gender, it has to do with her experience and her preparation. Unfortunately, what's going to happen now is she's going to be looked at (as inferior) because she was female.” 

Silberman did not know how to properly set a football on a kicking tee or how to approach an NFL-style kickoff. 

Why would Silberman be allowed to participate in such an event?

When she did kick, her two attempts traveled a combined 30 yards. Silberman did later withdraw from the combine citing injury. 

Kinkhabwala wrote Silberman “disrespected the 37 other kickers in New Jersey on Sunday who've spent lifetimes honing their craft.”

This is a strong criticism, but the fault does not lie with Silberman, but with the NFL. 

Mike Garafolo’s article in USA Today said, “Though the league reserves the right to deny a registration, it apparently made no attempt to determine whether Silberman had a chance to put forth a good effort. Now, other young women likely will have an even tougher path to gender equality on the football field.”

These sentences appeared about 14 paragraphs in to his article. This should have been placed much higher. The fault lies totally with the NFL, not Silberman.

From all accounts, Silberman showed no skills that would have justified her inclusion into the combine; therefore there is no mystery as to why her tryout was a debacle.

The league allowed an unqualified individual attempt a difficult task, and lo and behold, the unqualified person failed miserably. The only reason Silberman’s terrible showing made national news is because of her gender. Kinkhabwala wrote, “… to be wholly fair, Silberman isn't the only applicant to be outclassed at one of these combines.”

Why have we not heard about the other failures?

Moving to the second part of this post, recall the claim that women cannot compete with men athletically.

This is claim is almost always true if we look at the sports that are touted in the United States – basketball, baseball, hockey and football. Yes, we can extend this to myriad other sports. However, this critique is incomplete.

We have to examine the political factors surrounding sports in general. For brevity’s sake, I will examine the pathway of control.

First, some simple questions: Who created many of today’s visible sports? Men.

Second, if one group creates a system, is it logical to presume that this group would build a system that accentuates the things it does well? Yes.

Building on these premises, it is not fair to place women into men’s ideas of sports. How could they ever succeed when the games are essentially rigged against them?

Why doesn’t anybody ask could men outshine women in sports created by and designed for women? Perhaps this question needs to be asked the next time there are discussions about the athletic abilities of men and women.

-- Steve Bien-Aimé

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Student-athletes and privacy laws

Most sports reporters likely will never be confused for seasoned lawyers, but a new research paper suggests journalists might have to become better acquainted with the law.

Sada Reed, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina, examined legal cases and law review articles regarding the privacy of collegiate student-athletes. This past weekend Reed told a gathering of scholars at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s Southeast Colloquium that a paucity of cases and articles exist on this issue.
Why is this a cause for concern? While state and federal governments are creating laws to protect the privacy of students, some schools might attempt to use the laws to deny information requests.

One of these tricky laws is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which restricts the information colleges can share about students. If a school is found to run afoul of the act, it can lose its federal funding.
Interpretations of the act have led to legal challenges. For example, a University of Maryland basketball player violated NCAA rules regarding the payment of parking tickets in the 1990s. The university’s student newspaper, The Diamondback, requested access to the parking tickets; the university denied the request citing FERPA. After a court battle, The Diamondback won the case because parking tickets were not considered part of students’ educational records.

Reed, who worked as a sports editor and reporter before beginning her doctoral studies, also discussed the rights of student-athletes, especially when it comes to surveillance of their activities. She told the audience that courts have ruled “student-athletes have a diminished expectation of privacy.” This is likely because of their quasi-celebrity nature of student-athletes.
The diminished expectation decision has big implications for things such as drug testing and potentially down the line allowing states to make compelling cases for “preventing specific online activities” for student-athletes.

-- Steve Bien-Aimé