This past Monday, a female Michigan State student filed a lawsuit accusing three men’s basketball players of rape. On April 11, 2015 the student, who chose to stay unnamed, went to a bar with her roommate. Later, one of the members of the men’s basketball team offered her a drink. Despite not having a lot to drink that night, she noticed intensifying feelings of disorientation and even had difficulty holding her glass.
Later that night, the men’s basketball players drove her to an “apartment party.” After realizing her roommate was not at that apartment, she attempted to send her roommate a text. However, she failed to do so: She had no control of her thumbs. She began to question whether or not she had been drugged, but it was too late for her to take action. The room suddenly went dark, and the three players threw her on the bed, pinned her down and took turns raping her.
A week later, the student sought help at the Michigan State University Counseling Center. But when she mentioned the involvement of members of the university’s men’s basketball program, the tone of the appointment shifted from supportive to discouraging.
She was advised to avoid seeking any medical treatment or testing, avoid reporting the assault to the university and avoid asking for a no-contact order with the three basketball players. She was instead told that filing a police report involving well-known athletes would warrant unwanted media attention.
“If you pursue this, you are going to be swimming with some really big fish,” the counselor told her.
She was silenced. Silenced by the university’s “safe space.” Silenced by one of the first people she felt comfortable telling her nightmare to. Silenced to preserve the reputation of the powerhouse men’s basketball program, which lost to Duke in the Final Four just days before the assault.
She waded in a pool of emotional numbness and self-destruction for the next 10 months, fearful that her worth would never be great enough to overpower the empire of Michigan State Athletics. She stopped going to classes, was forced to withdraw for the semester and, upon her return, had to change her major because those three men destroyed her dream of becoming a sports journalist.
“Everyone I was in classes with or working with was just all into sports, like ‘bleed green.’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘If only you could look at them like I have to. If only you knew what it felt like,’” she told ESPN’s Outside the Lines.
After a dark, 10-month spiral, she visited the school’s Sexual Assault Program and was prescribed medications for depression, anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia.
She is not alone. This is not the first time high-profile athletic programs have stripped away women’s worth. New cases of sexual assault by coaches, players and team doctors pop up on our lock screens every day. And the horrifying truth is that the more notifications we receive, the more desensitized we become. Our tolerance builds, while our sensibility shrivels.
The issue stems from the value associated with sport: It is no longer just a game or a means of physical activity, it is a source of revenue, entertainment, tradition. The world stops for Super Bowl Sunday and March Madness, so we are afraid of tainting these institutions by allowing women to have a voice.
Now that men in highly-publicized athletics are put on a pedestal, they act as if they are above the law. They act as if they are untouchable. They act as if being the USA Gymnastics national team doctor; an All-American swimmer at a top-ranked university; or a member of a team that made it to the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four can excuse them from respecting women’s basic human rights.
But this is a two-way street. We cannot treat these men as exceptions from the law. If we continue, their actions of assault will be encouraged. If we continue, women will continue to be put down at the expense of protecting high-level sports programs.