By Ken Reed

The sexual assault case involving Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, along with the light six-month sentence he received, has brought the problem of sexual assault on college campuses — especially those involving college athletes — back into the national spotlight.

The perpetrators of sexual assault on college campuses certainly aren’t all athletes, but they are a big part of the problem. Just recently, sexual assault scandals at Baylor, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, in addition to Stanford, have been in the news.

First, my thesis: College athletic administrators and coaches aren’t doing nearly enough to prevent the athletes under their leadership from committing rape and other sexual assault crimes. In fact, too often they inadvertently feed the false manhood culture that breeds the type of thinking that can lead to sexual assault. Moreover, this false manhood culture isn’t just a college sports phenomenon. It begins to be cultivated at pre-adolescent ages.

Joe Ehrmann is a former Baltimore Colts star defensive lineman. Today, the author of InsideOut Coaching, tours the country talking to sports teams, athletic departments and other groups about coaching, the purpose of sports and false concepts of manhood. He says boys in this country, especially athletes, grow up believing that manhood in America is defined by three fundamental cultural lies: 1) How athletic you are; 2) How much money you make, and 3) How many sexual conquests you have.

For the purposes of this column, let’s focus on number three.

“In our culture, adolescent boys learn that being a man has something to do with sexual conquest,” writes Ehrmann in InsideOut Coaching. “What does it mean to be a man? It means seducing girls to gratify personal physical needs and to validate one’s masculinity. That certainly doesn’t make anyone a man; instead, it makes one a user of other human beings … Coaches need to provide a clear and compelling definition of what it really means to be a man who exhibits empathy, trustworthiness, friendship, ethics, respect, and joy.”

Unfortunately, most male coaches, especially coaches of men’s sports teams, came of age themselves in a culture that perpetuated the same myth of masculinity — sports, sex, and money — that we’re dealing with today. And while most college coaches of men’s sports teams will put up sexual assault awareness posters they’ve been given in their locker rooms, and talk briefly about the subject in a team meeting or two, most will also adopt a “boys will be boys” approach to their players’ dysfunctional interactions with females. They will also condone derogatory language against women and those in the LGBT community with a quick wink, and/or by looking the other way.

“When you view a group of people as inferior or defective, you treat them as such,” writes Ehrmann.

A lot of work needs to be done in this country to change a male sports culture that spawns way too many cases of sexual abuse and assault. Certainly, more needs to be done at the college level. Players — along with coaches and administrators — need more education on sexual assault. Questions like “What is consent and what isn’t?” need to be addressed head on. These educational programs also need to talk about the important role bystanders can play if they have the courage to intervene when they see developing instances of sexual assault.

However, in the long run, this educational effort must start at an earlier age. We must educate our young male athletes — those at the little league and middle school levels — about respect and what defines real manhood.

Future rapes on college campuses can be prevented with educational initiatives today that target boys on the verge of adolescence. The overarching theme of these initiatives needs to be outlining, in depth, what real manhood looks like.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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