Pro Sports Can Help End Rape

Let's start with a goal: professional sports leagues should devote major financial resources toward educating young men about the need to stand up to rape and all manifestations of violence against women. The NFL, NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball—for starters—should see part of their mission as using the influence and power of sports to reshape a jock culture that treats women like they are the spoils of athletic supremacy. They should be appalled by the glaring connective tissue between sports and rape culture in Steubenville, Ohio, South Bend, Indiana, and now Torrington, Connecticut. They should be especially devastated that the hero worship of athletes meant that the alleged and convicted perpetrators of sexual violence are defended by many of their coaches and peers. They should recoil that survivors who accuse athletes of sexual violence are blamed and then become threatened with more violence for daring to step forward.

They should do it because for years, sports leagues haven't addressed violence against women among their own players. They should do it for Kasandra Perkins, gunned down by Kansas City Chiefs Jovan Belcher, the father of her newborn child. They should do it for Lizzy Seeberg, the St. Mary's student who took her own life after being threatened by members of the Notre Dame football team because she reported a sexual assault. They should do it for the young women assaulted by the Boston University hockey team. They should do it because it's the right thing to do.

Yes, rape culture and violence against women exists in every cultural sphere: the armed forces, music, advertising and a political world where people actually debate the differences between "rape" and "legitimate rape," But sports bears a very specific responsibility to take this struggle on. No other institution reaches more men and no other institution plays a greater role in teaching boys how to define their own manhood and masculinity. Often this definition involves equating weakness with femininity, femininity with softness and softness with not being a “real man.” There's no crying in baseball. Instead, there's stress, ulcers, divorce, heart disease and death. (Homophobia is inextricably tied to this as well which makes the growing movement of athletes for LGBT marriage equality so welcome.) I have been to rookie seminars where young pro athletes—I won't name the league to respect the confidentiality agreement I signed—are told to view women (called "road beef") as potential predators and threats. The embedded fear that women exist only to use, trap and destroy the young athlete becomes a corollary to alienation from their partners—divorce rates among athletes are massive—and at its most extreme, violence.

This week I had the privilege to speak on a panel organized by Eve Ensler called "Breaking the Male Code: After Steubenville, a Call to Action." I left this meeting convinced that this is a fight we can win but not unless men themselves stand up and say "no more." No more to the degradation of women, no more to the normalizing of violence against women and no more being a bystander when potential rape situations unfold in our presence. This doesn't happen by accident. It takes funding curriculum, hiring more teachers and training more coaches. In other words, it takes the devotion of resources. I also left convinced that there is no neutrality in this fight. To do nothing and just say, "Well I don't rape. I'm not violent. Therefore I don't have to do anything," is to live with your head in the sand. Men have to be heard and our institutions of socialization have to be heard as well. As Scott Fujita of the Kansas City Chiefs said to me, "There are a lot of impressionable eyes on professional athletes and their respective leagues. With that comes some responsibility, as far as I'm concerned, to show what's acceptable and what isn't. So if there's anything we can do to help address a sort of ‘unspoken’ sports culture that has in some respects not taken the violence against and denigration of women seriously enough, that should be explored."

Every year, the NFL trusses up players in pink for a month to showcase their commitment to combat breast cancer. It's a ham-handed marketing ploy that allows them to sell pink merchandise online, appeal to female fans and support a worthy cause. They erred terribly in not doing more after Kasandra Perkins was murdered. It's time for them to do right—confronting openly that there is a problem in this country, and enlisting themselves in the struggle to change how men view women. Violence against women is endemic in our society. What’s not endemic is people looking the other way when this violence occurs around us. It’s time for sports to pick a side and take their share of accountability for the toxicity in our culture that normalizes rape.

7 Reader Comments | Add a comment

The New World Violence Epidemic

cheers on another good article, Dave. despite some people's vitriol, it is so important to have had voices like yours speaking for alternate thinking and consilience with issues of society in sports. it would also be nice if the NFL made connections between breast cancer and the violence on women (and men) of environmental injustice and the culture of pollution, also connected with our culture of violence. doing nothing in the face of resistance=L soul searching and standing up for what's right, in the face of unpopularity=W.

I highly recommend to people to watch the "Breaking the Male Code" Video, great issues brought up therein.


Thanks for taking part in this and for sharing it. Fight on

Pro Sports Can Help End Rape

Just watched the two hour video on "Breaking the Male Code" and wanted to thank and appreciate you for speaking up on this important topic. Well said and well worth the time for most guys to check out and consider the points brought up in the discussion. Keep up the great work!

yes, patriarchy must be resisted, but this System ended

"... this violence and degradation, all this cruelty and viciousness, is not just the depraved behavior of a handful of men. Nor is this just "human nature."
This is the nature of many men as they are shaped by the system we now live under, the global system of imperialism, which has patriarchy—the domination of women by men—woven into its foundation, its traditions, its "morals," and its culture. This violence is a direct and inevitable outgrowth of a system that feasts off of and requires the subjugated and degraded position of women in both its feudal/ medieval forms and in its so-called "modern" forms.
And this violence and hatred of women is fostered and CELEBRATED in one of the most mainstream cultural cornerstones of U.S. society today and one of the biggest industries in the world: pornography and the sex industry.
It is no coincidence that pornography has become more and more violent, degrading and cruel even as it has become more and more mainstream. It is not a coincidence that one of the most popular forms of pornography today is rape porn—and gang-rape in particular!
These rapes cannot be separated from the larger relations in the world where millions of women and young girls every year are kidnapped, tricked, sold by starving families, and beaten into the global web of sex slavery—and where millions of men have been conditioned to see women as nothing more than flesh to be consumed, defiled, brutalized, and discarded.
If there were nothing else wrong with this system, this alone would be reason enough to rise up and make revolution to sweep this system—with its celebration of woman-hating and horrific suffering it causes—off the face of the earth! And anyone who dreams of a better world must take up this fight..."
at "Stop Patriarchy!"

Rape and Jock Culture

It should be no surprise to anyone paying attention that women are viewed as the spoils of exceptional athleticism. It is a continuation of why we find everywhere else in capitalist cuture. Engels noted that he first division in human society was between men and women. Current society reinforces this further to a horrifying extent. Given the nature of sports in this country, exposing his aspect of jock culture seems a good place to start, but we must show this for what it is. A reflection of a culture at large that demeans women, objectifies them, and ultimately blames them for their own victimization. Thank you, Dave, for doing just that. As someone who hasn't paid that much attention to sports, Edge of Sports does an excellent job of using the sports industry (at all levels) as a microcosm of the complexities of the screwed up social relations we have in this world.

Domestic Violence Prevention

This is a very timely article for me. I am scheduled to participate in a fundraiser event called Walk A Mile In Her Shoes. This event involves men walking a mile in women's shoes to raise money for the prevention of domestic violence and to provide resources for victims. I could not agree more with your stance on this issue. Thanks for always bringing truth to power!

thank you for being an ally

Dave, thank you for being an ally. Its so important that rape and misogyny not be treated solely as a "women's issue". Keep up the great work!

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to
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