I am a football fan—a devout one at that. Though I would not be a womanist if I did not add that I have no true genuine favorite team on the collegiate or professional levels. I tend to root hard for the team that I’m closest to geographically. So, now that I am at Vanderbilt, this means the Commodores are on my radar screen. This is the first time that I’ve been at a Division I school whose team has a charismatic coach and a winning program. Teams of heart but few wins marked my days at Chicago and Northwestern. So now, I am in a football culture although the university stresses scholar athletes. However, I found my self being slightly amused as I attended an orientation in another campus building and noticed that the rooms we were meeting in were named Linebackers, Defensive Ends, and the like. Hmmmm…
We are also, as a school, disturbed by the recent rape charges filed against four former football players—accused of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman student in one of the dorms. The young woman has asked for and been granted anonymity while the faces of the four young men regularly appear in the paper when there is a story about this tragedy. The university police force reportedly moved quickly when they spotted suspicious activity on a security camera tape, the Metro Police did likewise, and the district attorney has gathered evidence. Two of the young men have posted bail/two remain in jail. After I said a prayer for the young woman when I first heard about this incident, my next reaction was to shake my head at what details were released about the case. What in the world, I wondered, was in these young men’s heads if they are guilty as charged? This was clearly not an act of lust (or if it was, this is a strange lust I am not familiar with) because the young woman was unconscious.
Once again, I am reminded that rape is not about lust. It is not about affection. It is not about commitment or caring, or relationship-building. Rape is an active of aggressive, violent, sadistic power—treating another person as an object on which we impose our will and our ability to control and destroy. It goes beyond the “boys will be boys” attitude that still finds its way into the thinking of many. It destroys and it an act of war against our humanity. I am not one to say that football breeds the kind of violence that these young men are accused of nor do I think sports in general does so. I learned long ago as a varsity athlete that it is what you do with the aggression you learn to use to turn into althletic performance. The athlete is in control and this is a part of learning to play one’s sport well.
No, the violence of rape is older than sports. It is found, in part, in cultural mores that sanction possession and acquisition of bodies. That believe control should be absolute and it is better to possess that control rather than endure those who do. The case here in Nashville will most likely take months to resolve and I suspect that there will be twists and revelations that will cause many of us to groan or curse or both.