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Exposing the Rape Culture in Sports

Christa Speranza
Staff Writer

Imagine being a young kid, thirteen years old, going to your first summer football camp. You’re so excited to see your friends, throwing the old pigskin. Then, imagine being brutally raped, tormented, and bullied by older boys who threatened to hurt or kill you if you ever spoke a word. Imagine wanting to tell your coach, who kept telling you that no one would believe you. Imagine coming home and living in fear that you can’t tell anyone, not even your parents.

This is what the victims of the Mepham High School football camp, located in Pennsylvania, faced from the time they arrived at the summer camp until the return home in 2003. Mepham High School itself is located in Bellmore, N.Y. and their football team, known as the “Pirates” was one of the top athletic teams on Long Island. But what does this say about our society? Is rape something that should be brushed aside when it involves potentially high profile athletes? Or should we accept rape as normal in our society? This is what is known as rape culture and it is something the American public should be fully aware of. Sadly, this is not the latest news of victimization in young children.

In 2012, former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 56 counts of child molestation and aggravated sexual assault, and was sentenced to a minimum of 60 years behind bars. This went on for nearly 15 years while he worked with the Penn State football team, as he brought young boys into the locker rooms and washrooms. No one said a word, and even prestigious ex-coach Joe Paterno turned a blind eye to Sandusky’s atrocious behavior. Jack Thedinga, a sophomore Political Science major said, “I went to PSU the year before the Sandusky scandal hit so it really hit home for me. I’d worked alongside Sandusky once in his charity and I thought he seemed like a great guy at the time. Obviously in hindsight I’m appalled at what transpired…We have become part of a system that accepts rape as an inevitability in society, and not the abhorrent anomaly it should be.”

In the most recent news, spanning from August 2012 until the trial on March 18th, 2013, two high school football athletes, Ma’lik Richardson, 16, and Trent Mays, 17, were convicted and charged with aggravated sexual assault on a minor. The incident took place at a Steubenville, Ohio house party. For three consecutive days, these boys took advantage of a 16 year-old girl while she was intoxicated. When she tried to report the incident to local authorities and teachers, they told her to keep her mouth shut. Eventually, word of this case went viral when videos and photos of the girl surfaced on the Internet. These boys made jokes through text messages about how she “deserved it” and “we raped her.”

It wasn’t long after that the Internet vigilantes, known as “Anonymous,” would release personal information of both boys and a local cop who the victim reported to. They vowed that justice would be served, and have proven thus far by attracting media attention to the case. Without the help of these people, the case may have gone unseen, like the Sandusky and Mepham cases had for so long. On March 18, the boys went to trial in an Ohio state court. They were found guilty, but only sentenced to one-year probation and ordered a no-contact rule until themselves and their victim were 21 years old.

When interviewing students about the incidents of rape and how they were handled, Rachel Mahler, a senior Earth Science Education major said, “I believe that anyone who could destroy someone else like that should face the consequences and they should be punished to the full extent. Why should they get off easy when their victims will have to live with it their whole life?”

Sports culture has always been about the brotherhood of the sport, the fun of the game, and friendly competition. What is shocking in all three cases is that people told the victims to keep quiet about this. Why should anyone suffer through this mental and physical torture while these rapists get away with it. Peers even spoke out against the victims of the Mepham case, calling the boys “fags” and “broomstick boy.”

Our own virtues of respecting humans are diminishing, and it is becoming more acceptable to blame the victim rather than the attacker. In protest to this, women every year go on a walk to raise awareness of our rape culture and “slut shaming.” This event is known as “The Slut Walk.” There are also various organizations that help rally volunteers and bring an understanding to those victimized by rape. We must also realize that rape is not gendered. Men, women, and children alike can all be victims.

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