When the incident went public, everybody who followed college athletics was shocked. Not necessarily by the fact that a woman had been gang raped by a group of college athletes, but rather that these college athletes came from the almighty Duke University. Yes, the same Duke athletes that are supposed to represent what it means to be a “good” and “balanced” student-athlete. Remind you of anyone? No one could believe that the boys at Duke were capable of such a heinous act of violence. Many even claimed themselves to be the victims, exclaiming through witty and manipulative signs that the Duke players were the ones being wronged, while making veiled stabs at the legitimacy of the woman’s claim.
Regrettably, I found myself making some of the same comments, doubting how kids, presumably similar to me, could possibly do something so terrible. However, after some serious thinking, that’s when it hit me. This incident is really just the beginning of a disturbing trend, an insight into the troubled depths of college athletics that go much deeper than we can even imagine – or perhaps care to. Why have so many people dismissed this woman’s claims so quickly? Are they that incredible? Would the situation be the same if black men had allegedly raped a white woman? Ultimately, this isn’t about whether a woman was actually raped as much as it is about a black woman from a poor background being subjugated to the taunts and requests of 46 dominant white males. This is about a culture of power that exists within our society, a culture of power that has reared its ugly head out in the realm of college athletics.
In the past, I have felt that college athletes occasionally and unfairly receive a bad reputation. In my mind, the majority of college athletes don’t let their status get to their heads. Many handle their pseudo-fame on campus with dignity and a down-to-earth attitude. However, we cannot let these positive examples blind us from the negative ones. In reality, by only praising the admirable athletes that personify what is good about athletics, we ignore the real problems that exist within the college athletics arrangement. We often take the attitude of letting “boys be boys” and choose to ignore destructive behaviors. White players are the most at risk for engaging in this power culture because they are the ones that are easily let off the hook. Black players, knowing they have a less stable standing in the overwhelmingly white culture of power, are less likely to subscribe to it because they understand their guilt will always be assumed.
When a football player pushes you at the Jug, you accept that you can’t fight back because you know that, if you get mutilated by the entire team outside, justice will never be served. When athletes in general act like idiots and jerks, they simply don’t encounter the same consequences as non-athletes. White athletes are simply more likely to fall into the bad behavior because it’s easier for them to get away with it. That’s when things like the Duke incident creep up because, while very severe offenses are punished accordingly, less severe incidences are often swept under the rug and no justice is carried out. White players get even more breaks because most of the people in power on these affluent campuses are white and because those white administrators and coaches can’t imagine kids that look like their own relatives committing such acts. The Colgate community is at great risk for having these same attitudes.
So what can we do to avoid such an incident on our own beloved Colgate campus? I ask that all of us, athletes especially, stop to think about what this incident may tell us about our own community, and in doing so reflect on our own behavior to see if we too engage in this culture of power unknowingly. If you’re a white athlete, do you take advantage of the fact that you can get away with more than your non-white/non-athlete counterparts? Coaches, take a critical look at your team and ask yourself, am I coaching these men or women to be good people once they reach the world outside this Colgate bubble? Players are capable of excelling in athletics while not taking advantage of their powerful position. Take the Duke lacrosse incident as a somber wakeup call: an athlete’s destructive behavior must be monitored closely because these are the people most likely to fall into the trap of the culture of power at universities. Let’s all make sure to pay attention to the small problem, so it never becomes a big one.