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Sports Have Still Not Figured Out How to Deal with Sexual Violence Allegations

Updated: Aug 6, 2022

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 3 women and more than 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of sexual violence.[1] And, unfortunately, the world of sports, which so often serves as a microcosm of society at large, is rife with allegations of sexual violence being perpetrated by its athletes, coaches, and other personnel. The last few years have brought to light alleged instances of abuse in the National Women’s Soccer League, against Major League Baseball’s Trevor Bauer, against the National Football League’s Deshaun Watson, against the Chicago White Sox organization, and against Major League Baseball’s Marcell Ozuna. Not to mention the years and years of abuse perpetrated by Larry Nassar against the women and girls on the United States’ gymnastics team that were swept under the rug, ignored, and allowed to continue by those in power.

And that is what is perhaps most striking in these cases of alleged and proven sexual violence within the sports world: those in power have continuously, and oftentimes horrifically, failed the victims. Multiple players in the National Women’s Soccer League, including United States Women’s National Team star Alex Morgan, have alleged that the league knew of the allegations and failed to properly investigate them or do anything about them. Major League Baseball chose to conduct an investigation into the allegations, and ultimately placed Trevor Bauer on administrative leave beginning July 2nd through the end of the baseball season, but the league waited to make any firm decision chose to extend the administrative leave multiple times – rather than making a decision at the onset of its investigation – and has yet to issue any kind of suspension or fine (administrative leave is paid). Deshaun Watson is currently in an odd state of limbo – he is healthy but not playing for the Houston Texans and is not being traded by the team either all while the National Football League has yet to put him on the commissioner’s exempt list as it had previously done with stars including Michael Vick, Adrian Peterson, and Kareem Hunt for other offenses. The Chicago White Sox organization’s general strategy in defending itself in the lawsuit brought against the team and its affiliate, the Birmingham Barons, has been to separate itself from the minor league affiliate and thereby avoid liability. Major League Baseball placed Marcell Ozuna on administrative leave, as it chose to do with Trevor Bauer, and the Atlanta Braves have kept Ozuna away from team activities, but no further penalties have come out as a result of the league’s investigation into the allegations against Ozuna that have now been dismissed.

Despite the prevalence of sexual violence in the United States and its prevalence in the sports world specifically, there seems to be no improvements in how leaders in the sports world handle allegations of sexual violence. Investigations are conducted by sports leagues that often drag on for months, sports leagues frequently fail to work effectively with local law enforcement and others involved in these allegations, and, even worse, sports leagues often prioritize self-preservation and preservation of their own at the expense of the victims.

The issue is out in the open – it is now time for leadership to do something about it.

Earlier this month, a football player at a Charlotte-area high school played in a game despite having been charged with sexually assaulting another student. (Allegedly, coaches covered up the player’s ankle monitor before the game.) A walkout was organized by student Sereniti Simpson and several members of Olympic High School’s volleyball team to highlight how poorly the school’s administration had handled the situation. Two of the members of the volleyball team who spoke out were suspended by the high school for violations of the school board’s policy on student protests.[2] The failure to protect athletes, students, coaches, employees, staff, and other personnel against sexual violence is a serious problem in the sports world that needs to be fixed at the highest levels of the sporting world all the way down to the lower levels.

As Sereniti Simpson said after being suspended: “I will not play for a team or school that punishes its athletes for wanting a safer environment. It’s time to take a stand. We need to take action now.”[3]

We need to take action now. Sports leagues can no longer wait until issues of sexual violence among their ranks arise before they react; proactive measures and policies must be adopted that acknowledge the very real problem of sexual violence in the sports world. The excuse that league rules do not contemplate how to handle situations where conduct is alleged, and not yet proven, is no longer valid. The situations arise frequently enough that it is nothing but a failure for sports leagues to still not have comprehensive policies and procedures in place for how to handle allegations of sexual violence.

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