We must change the way we address sexual misconduct allegations in sports

We should use this time to change sports culture. U of R Athletics

VictimsVoicesRegina sparks conversation and change

CW: sexual assault

I’m not going to lie to you, it’s difficult to write for a sports section when a large amount of sports-related things have been put on hold indefinitely. There are fewer events to write about, fewer playing athletes to interview, and we can only write so many articles about policy changes and season cancellations. Any “normal” organization had to be tossed out the window, and it’s been hard to plan a format for the future because it’s anyone’s guess what the future actually holds.

Everyone has been forced through some very rapid changes, and the world of sports in general has not been able to adapt as well as was hoped. Unless we set every athlete up with the best multi-player virtual-reality technology to compete with, it’s not likely that we’ll see all team sports back soon. This begs the questions, what can we use this newfound time and space for?

Normally when people advocate for change in sports they’re faced with the issue of time. If it’s mid-season it could be too difficult to alter things without adverse effects, and if it’s out-of-season it’s difficult to make a priority because you don’t have a collected group meeting regularly that can employ the change. This results in the same issues being brought up year after year because they haven’t been made a priority or been dealt with.

Now how, you ask, are we supposed to do anything about that? How can you change an issue with change? The good news is that our present circumstances are actually an ideal time to begin working through that. This is a perfect space to reflect and critically think on what we’d like to see. “Normal” has been tossed out the window, making this our best chance to consider if “normal” is really worth fully going back to.

Let’s take a look at locker-room talk. This topic exploded in 2016 when a recording of Donald Trump talking to Billy Bush about groping and forcibly kissing women came up, and Trump himself labelled it as “locker-room talk.”

That was a rich, white, heterosexual cis male proudly bragging about having sexually assaulted women. It’s evident that he sees those acts as something “normal,” something that he can use to build rapport with other men, which is mortifying. Not only has he been accused of multiple accounts of sexual assault (involving both women and children), he’s admitted to and bragged about them, and he still became president.

This use of the term “locker-room talk” had a few outcomes. First, it made a lot of athletes very angry. Many of them never have or would engage in a conversation like that, so they felt insulted by Trump using that term in an attempt to justify his actions by aligning himself with them. Second, it opened the floor to honest discussions on the way sexual assault is taken lighter than most other crimes by the most organizations. For example an employee in a bar would be fired if they were caught stealing, but many people who’ve worked in a bar have a story of another employee sexually harassing them with no consequences.

This was brought to light in Regina recently by the Instagram page @victimsvoicesregina. This page was a safe space for people to talk about their sexual assault experiences anonymously, with the option of being able to name the individual(s) who’d assaulted them. In mere weeks the page was absolutely exploding with hundreds of testimonies from people in Regina, with many people in positions of influence being named more than once.

This gives sports organizations in Regina a unique opportunity to show where their priorities are, as there were an assortment of athletes mentioned among the allegations. This is an opportunity to have difficult discussions on what behaviour will and will not be tolerated, and what consequences will be set in place.

The bottom line is this – by putting people who’ve committed sexual assault in positions of influence, you’re showing that you approve of the ways they influence people. Which, if they’ve committed sexual assault, would mean their influence has caused unimaginable trauma for others, most likely resulting in PTSD. That will be the influence representing these institutions if no actions are taken.

So, now is a time for change in sports. Obviously having the best athletes on your own team is ideal, but athletes can be idolized by their fans so it’s important to remember that athletes are people of influence. Athletes are role models for many, and those picking teams need to consider much more than just athletic ability. They are deciding how their organization is going to be portrayed to the public, and to see real change in this area those hiring need to place more weight in the quality of people they’re choosing to have represent them.

Societal norms aren’t going to change themselves. When Trump used “locker-room talk” as an attempt to justify his horrific acts, it was generally believed to be an accurate description of a locker room’s atmosphere for those who aren’t normally in one. It’s heartbreaking to think that that is the perceived “normal” for athletic institutions, and it’s not a normal worth returning to.

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