It’s September again. Across the country, high school students and their parents are compiling lists of colleges to check out. At the end of that investigation, there’s a list divided into three categories: “safety,” “target,” and “reach,” — meaning the schools where one can safely get accepted, where it would be a reach to get accepted, and one’s target schools — and counselors tell students that they should include some of each when they send out their applications.
When you go to a school’s website, one of the standard items on the home page is the school’s mission statement, and, depending on whether you’re looking at public or private, sectarian or secular, the wording of the mission statement will vary, but one will begin to notice that a certain commonality of purpose is shared among the schools: the pursuit of truth and excellence and the creation of productive citizens.
For those choosing a private sectarian education, there is this example at the University of Notre Dame: “The University is dedicated to the pursuit and sharing of truth for its own sake,” while Vanderbilt, a private secular university distinguishes itself thusly, “Vanderbilt values most highly intellectual freedom that supports open inquiry, equality, compassion, and excellence in all endeavors.”
If a state education is preferred, the University of Tennessee declares that its primary mission is to “move forward the frontiers of human knowledge and enrich and elevate the citizens of the state of Tennessee.” While Florida State University has inscribed its mission directly into its seal: Vires Artes Mores which translates as “Strength, Skill and Character.”
A parent assessing these schools may be impressed by such noble ideals. After all, the idea of the universitas — in the original Latin, the word means “whole,” (in the medieval period it came to be associated with students and scholars) — is that the whole world is opened up to you. The university is supposed to be where a student goes to pursue the life of the mind for four years. Or, in 2016 America, with a job skill. And many parents trust colleges and universities to act in loco parentis while their children live in the dorms or attend classes.
Parents pay for that privilege, too. 2016-17 tuition at Notre Dame is $49,685 (that’s before adding in room, board, books and other living expenses) and even in-state tuition at Florida State is $6,516.
But, before a parent allows their child to set foot on any of these four campuses, there’s another commonality that parents and students should be aware of. For those details, parents would be well-advised to pick up a copy of a new book by Jessica Luther: Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape. Luther, an investigative reporter who was born pumping the garnet and gold blood that comes with being the progeny of two Florida State Seminoles parents, finds a lot of commonality in the unwritten mission statements shared by Florida State, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee. The schools’ unwritten shared mission appears to be to use all of the resources under the schools’ influence to silence young women who accuse their Division-1 (D-1) football players of sexual assault and to create rape culture where women’s bodies become the commodities for which young men’s athletic skills are the rewards.
Notre Dame — the university that is dedicated to “truth for its own sake,” once had an administrator refer to the victim of an alleged gang rape by Notre Dame football players as “a queen of the slums with a mattress tied to her back.” This was in 1976, and while rape apologists are always quick to note that times have changed and those types of things don’t occur anymore, consider the case of Lizzie Seeberg, who was raped by a Notre Dame football player in 2010. When she reported the rape to a counselor, she immediately felt pressure to recant because Notre Dame has a storied football program. At the same time, she was afraid that the young man who had raped her would rape again. Ten days after the rape, Lizzie committed suicide. In that time, the police, despite being informed of Lizzie’s charges, had failed to investigate. And of course, once she was dead, it didn’t stop Notre Dame officials from protecting the football player by postmortem character assassination and gaslighting.
“In life, Lizzy was both politically and personally conservative, a brand new member of the College Republicans who led her parish youth group and spoke openly about saving herself for marriage. But Notre Dame officials have painted and passed around a different picture of the dead 19-year-old. Sotto voce, they portray the player as wrongly accused by an aggressive young woman who lied to get back at him for sexually rejecting her the first moment they were ever alone together.
The player’s lawyer, Notre Dame alumnus Joe Power, isn’t whispering. He shouted in my ear about the “complete phony lie” designed to slander an exemplary young gentleman. His client, who has never been named or made to miss a football practice, had a reputation as a young man with a temper among some parents at his high school, and was suspended from high school over allegations of misbehavior,” Melinda Henneberger from the National Catholic Reporter wrote.
We’ve heard this story before: a woman (or multiple women) report a rape on campus, and police are slow to investigate the charges. Luther documents the labyrinthine mechanisms by which rape allegations are investigated in a college setting — whether they are handled by college cops or referred off-campus, whether the campus has an office specifically for handling sexual assault charges against students — which can make even reporting the assault its own trial. She also shines a light on some of the troubling ways in which universities establish financial relationships with local police that might make it appear that cops have a financial stake in preventing scandal from tainting an athletic department. For example, traffic direction on game day can earn a cop $40-50 per hour in overtime. So can private security provided for the team or providing escort service for the team bus. These are all ways that athletic departments provide work to local police departments. Confronted with a young woman accusing a star athlete at a D-1 football program of rape, a cop dependent on those overtime hours may not be as diligent as they might be if their investigation leads to a loss in revenue for the program.
Over at Tennessee, the university that seeks to “enrich and elevate the citizens of ” the state six women took the university to court for tolerating sexual assault within the athletic department to a level that it became “de rigeur.” When one football player — Drae Bowles — attempted to help a rape victim by taking her to the hospital, he was attacked by his teammates — within view of university officials who apparently just let them.
The lawsuit claims that former linebacker Curt Maggitt “admitted” the second assault in interviews with police, but doesn’t specify whether or not Maggitt was part of the assault. It says that Williams said in an interview with police on Nov. 26 that former defensive back Geraldo Orta “had told Williams that the football team had ‘a hit’ out on Drae Bowles.”
The lawsuit claims that Orta told police that he felt “Bowles had betrayed the team and that where he (Orta) came from, people got shot for doing what Bowles did.” It also said Orta told police that he had gotten “in Bowles’ face” and said “some threatening things” at Smokey’s Cafe, the athletic dining facility. It also said that Orta told police Maggitt confronted Bowles in the team locker room in an incident separate from the assault,” the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.
This is the same Tennessee athletic department that hounded Dr. Jamie Naughright after she alleged that Peyton Manning sexually assaulted her when he was a student-athlete at Tennessee. Naughright’s career has been targeted ever since; Manning has made millions selling himself as a squeaky clean, all-American athlete. This media whitewash is also part of the service that university athletic departments provide to football players accused of rape: if the allegations result in charges or any kind of public scandal, expect a ton of sympathetic media to appear — not in favor of the victim, but for the young man or men whose lives have been de-railed by a “single mistake” or “misstep.” (Or, in Brock Turner’s case, “20 minutes of action.”)
Vanderbilt, where parents are expected to shell out $64,654 for the package of tuition, room, board, books, and other assorted costs of being a student, might be surprised to learn that Vanderbilt’s former head football coach, James Franklin, who went to Penn State in 2014, equated success on the D-1 playing field with scoring with women.
“I’ve been saying it for a long time, I will not hire an assistant until I see his wife. If she looks the part and she’s a D1 recruit, then you got a chance to get hired. That’s part of the deal. There’s a very strong correlation between having the confidence, going up and talking to a woman, and being quick on your feet and having some personality and confidence and being articulate and confident, than it is walking into a high school and recruiting a kid and selling him,” Franklin said on a radio show.
Vanderbilt allegedly participated in a common practice by football programs during recruitment: using pretty female undergraduates as “bait” for visiting recruits. These hostesses were directed to offer sex to the young men in exchange for their signing with the school. While the schools all deny that this happens, Luther and others have documented that the practice is common. At Vanderbilt, during one of these weekends, a student was gang-raped by football players who photographed and video-taped her humiliation.
In Florida, the question is not “Coke or Pepsi?” it’s “Gators or Seminoles?” So, when a student who has their heart set on going to Tallahassee, the FSU-Alumnus/a parent should take into consideration the lengths to which officials at Florida State — and the Tallahassee police — are willing to go to protect its football players.
“The former official, Melissa Ashton, who ran the advocate office in 2014, also testified that in the nine years she worked in that office, an estimated 40 football players had been accused of either sexual assault or “intimate partner” violence, and that to the best of her recollection, only one person had been found responsible. She said most of the women chose not to pursue the cases “based on fear.” No names were mentioned.
Ms. Ashton said the number of sexual battery cases was so much higher than the total that university reported because most of the encounters occurred off campus, and the federal Clery Act, which requires colleges to report sexual misconduct cases as part of its overall crime statistics, did not require that those off-campus cases be included,” the New York Times reported.
So, at FSU, 40 players had been accused, but only one has been held responsible. Thirty-nine players being let off the hook would seem a violation of a university credo of “strength, skill and character,” except in the sense of “strength” invoked by the Athenians when they reminded the inhabitants of Melos that the “powerful do what they can and the weak grant what they must.” When I learned that lesson from Thucydides, I had always thought the Athenians bullies, but perhaps when you’re a successful D-1 football program intimidating raped women into silence by using the full power of the university, the Athenians provide a good example of extracting from the weak what you can.
At least, it must appear that way to the Florida State Booster Club, which used its money to fight the Title IX lawsuit that was brought against the school for the hostile atmosphere its athletic department had created for women. The power of the university’s athletic department extends beyond the local police department and its on-campus officials; the booster clubs of these D-1 teams also have the types of financial resources at their behest that can make a victim’s charges disappear.
There are other schools that could be named here. Jessica Luther has documented cases at schools such as Colorado, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Liberty, and others. Reporters such as Kavitha Davidson at Bloomberg View, and the staff at Deadspin, and Dave Zirin all continue to document the continuing issue of college football players who rape and the college officials and institutional structures that support the rapists rather than the female students who attend those colleges.
In a system in which a college football player represents a financial investment to a program that stands to earn thousands — potentially millions — of dollars off his arm or the quickness of his 40-yard dash, it may very well take the mass commodification of female students into a loss-of-tuition bloc, or as a loss-of-Title-IX-funds bloc that finally gets the schools’ attention. But, as parents and students assess their prospects this fall, do not make your choices without a copy of Luther’s book handy.