Over the last decade, the University of Minnesota athletics department has received numerous complaints about sexual violence, including former athletics director Norwood Teague’s sexual harassment of colleagues and reporters and multiple incidents of male student-athletes taking turns raping an intoxicated young woman. Basketball player Reggie Lynch is the latest male student-athlete to have made headlines for violating the athletics department’s sexual misconduct code. I have had enough.
I was introduced to this disastrous cocktail of hypermasculinity, rape culture and entitlement during my first semester as a University of Minnesota soccer player. My friend reported that a fellow student-athlete had taken her into a bedroom while she was intoxicated, and she couldn’t remember what happened after that. She felt scared and violated, but no one reported the incident because we did not understand that what had happened was rape nor that it was illegal. While this was the first act of sexually violent behavior I heard about perpetrated in my athletic community, it was far from the last.
Sexual violence perpetration by male student-athletes is not a problem unique to the University of Minnesota. Researchers have evidence Division I male student-athletes commit more sexual violence than their non-varsity peers. Alcohol use, belief in traditional gender roles and rape myth acceptance have all been linked to increasing the likelihood of committing sexual violence, but these behaviors and beliefs are not limited to student-athletes. So why does this difference exist?
Male student-athletes have incredible power and social status on campus. Many people want to hang out with them, and some of those people want to have sex with them. However, the athletics department is not doing a sufficient job of teaching our student-athletes the difference between rape and consent or holding them accountable when they choose to commit acts of violence.
Most Division I student-athletes do not perpetrate sexual violence, and none are inevitably predators. They, like everyone else, learn from their culture, mentors and peers. What if we spent a fraction of the athletic budget on creating a comprehensive sexual violence prevention program for student-athletes including education, bystander training and clear policies? Perhaps, with this sort of training, the young student-athletes who “gang-raped" the intoxicated young woman, or those who assaulted my friend, would have understood that a person cannot consent if they are incapacitated or passed out. Maybe the University's Board of Regents wouldn’t have hired an athletic director with a history of sexual harassment (Teague) or a football coach with no understanding of rape (Claeys). With this training, perhaps I would have better understood how to support my friend.
This letter has been lightly edited for clarity and style.
Jamie Cheever is a former University of Minnesota soccer player and track and field athlete. She is currently a social work graduate student at the University and is a professional runner.