Over the past week, a deep, unsettling feeling has lodged itself in the pit of my stomach—a feeling that makes me worry about sports and our devotion to it.
Last week, The Fountain Hopper reported team captain Bobby Okereke as the previously unnamed player in a 2016 New York Times piece that questioned Stanford’s handling of a sexual assault case. Within hours of the report, the Associated Press released a statement from the Indianapolis Colts indicating that the Colts were aware of the allegations against Okereke when they drafted him.
A female student, according to the Fountain Hopper, invited Okereke to her dorm room in an encounter that began consensually. During the interaction, she became uncomfortable and withdrew consent. She alleges Okereke proceeded to rape her. She sought to avoid the trauma of a police investigation and instead turned to Stanford’s in-house disciplinary board. Three of the five panelists concluded that Okereke had sexually assaulted her. Stanford, however, required four of the five panelists to determine guilt. She appealed the decision where, according to the New York Times, three of the five panelists again concluded that she was sexually assaulted—and the university again did nothing.
This is where my summary of the case will end. If you’re interested in reviewing the facts further, please open the links above. What follows now is my opinion—my thoughts as a devout college football fan, a Stanford sports journalist, and a husband.
I was not in the room when the alleged sexual assault took place. I have not been privy to everything that happened the night that changed these two lives forever. I do know that twice a majority panel of Stanford administrators, faculty, and students concluded that she was sexually assaulted—and that Stanford still offered no consequences. I also know a young woman believed she was a victim and trusted her school to find a measure of justice for her.
According to the Fountain Hopper, she said the “trauma of having been raped and the trauma of having been let down by Stanford… [were] probably equally painful.”
All she wanted was for her school to recognize that what happened to her was wrong. Instead, nothing went on the alleged assailant’s record. Nothing stopped him from walking freely among the students of the prestigious Stanford campus. And nothing stopped him from entering the NFL draft—earning his fame and millions.
But Stanford wasn’t the only one who failed to act.
The Indianapolis Colts knew that six out of ten respected members of the Stanford community agreed that she was sexually assaulted. When the NFL Draft came, though, the Colts didn’t even flinch. They drafted him anyway.
Teams need the talent that a linebacker offers, valuing his skills above an alleged sexual assault. In the world of sports, talent often trumps wrongdoing.
This scenario has played out time and time again. This case is not unique. There are so many sexual assaults, reported or otherwise, that follow the same pattern. Worse still is that the blind allegiance to talent is not just a football problem.
It’s a values problem. We care deeply about the product on the field; what goes into that product is inconsequential. Talent is the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card. Every sports fan knows it.
We are all addicted to sports, which at its pure and honest core is a beautiful thing. But in that ruthless pursuit toward sporting entertainment, morality becomes inconsequential.
Not every athlete is rotten. Not all good men are corrupted by money. But when we as sports fans look past a person’s character—and only examine his talent—we allow for victims to become silenced—for the powerless to remain unheard.
I wish that this article would put an end to the plague of sexual assaults by college athletes on college campuses. But it won’t. Not unless every coach, general manager, and owner—in every sport—collectively put their feet down. Unless each says that talent is not enough to look beyond wrongdoing, we will never shake the sports we love of this evil.