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A Violent Criminal's Athletic Record Doesn't Matter. End Of Story.

It's time to stop giving a free pass to men who commit heinous acts.
Brock Turner is not an athlete. He is a violent sex offender. 
Brock Turner is not an athlete. He is a violent sex offender. 

Above is a Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office booking photo of Brock Turner, a man who was convicted in March of sexually assaulting a woman on Stanford University's campus in January 2015 when he was a freshman student at the school. 

The victim was unconscious and naked below the waist during Turner's 20-minute sexual assault behind a dumpster. Her pursuit of Turner's conviction has upended her life, causing a year's worth of emotional distress. As she put it in a letter to Turner, "[M]y life was put on hold for over a year, waiting to figure out if I was worth something."

But throughout the case, and even after Turner's guilty verdict and six-month sentence to county jail -- a punishment that's been criticized as a little more than a slap on the wrist -- the press has repeatedly focused on him as an athlete first, and sexual assault offender second.

As a society, we hold athletes in an almost invincible light, putting them on pedestals and giving them a free pass when they do bad things -- even more so than certain presidential nominees.

Whether these decisions are conscious or subconscious, we don't know. But they have prompted a great deal of justifiable anger from people who believe they unfairly, if subtly, depict the loss of Turner's once-bright future as the real tragedy, rather than the fact that a woman was sexually assaulted while unconscious.

Beginning with Turner's February 2015 arraignment and continuing through his June 2016 sentencing, multiple outlets have chosen to identify him as an “All-American swimmer." In an ABC news report after his arraignment, discussion of Turner's swimming accomplishments were put ahead of his violent crime. Before his sentencing, a Mercury News columnist actually wrote, "Turner doesn't belong in prison."

In March, a Washington Post news item on the guilty verdict inappropriately highlighted Turner's swimming career before reporting on what happened to the victim. Even after the case was mentioned, the story repeatedly gave equal space to niceties about Turner's athletic career (including quotes from his mother) and basic facts about the sexual assault. 

If we want to mention Turner's swimming career, then it should also be noted that he sexually assaulted his victim eight days after his last swimming competition

Turner's mugshot -- not the smiling photo of him that's been used over the past year in reports.
Turner's mugshot -- not the smiling photo of him that's been used over the past year in reports.

This type of treatment isn't confined to Turner's case -- it's rampant when an athlete harms a woman. Over and over, media outlets have pulled out the good from the pasts of bad men to either earn them empathy or make their falls seem more dramatic. There's hardly any regard for the victim, or in Turner's case, an "unconscious, intoxicated woman." 

At high school, college and professional levels, news reports point out convicted abusers' "promising" or "star" athletic careers and highlight their stats and accomplishments. This creates a perception that they're decent, successful men who disappointingly wasted their great athletic talents.

In reality, they're just like any other violent criminal. Privileged, white male athletes from prestigious schools and with previously clean backgrounds are capable of committing sexual assault, too. 

Unfortunately, this kind of empathy isn't confined to Turner's case — it's rampant throughout coverage when an athlete harms a woman.

Brock Turner is not a tragic figure, a young man looking to right his wrongs or an athlete who’s fallen from grace. He’s an unrepentant sexual abuser. There is no other accurate label for him. And misidentifying him as an athlete who happened to commit a sex crime, but is on the right track to redemption after making a “mistake,” is a practice that sports writers in particular have been guilty of, over and over.

Unfortunately, this practice is a trend. If you look at news coverage, it's not hard to find examples of unrighteous sympathy for male athletes who harm women.

Here's a brief rundown of some recent examples: 


CNN's aggrieved breaking news reaction to the guilty verdicts in the Steubenville rape case

Immediately after reporting the verdict, CNN's Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow took turns expressing sadness for the "promising" former high school football players convicted of rape.  

 CNN felt bad for convicted rapists. 

SBNation's Failed "Who Is Daniel Holtzclaw?" story

The writer angled the profile of a former cop who raped multiple black women as the tragic downfall of a former star college football player with NFL dreams.

The Herald & Review's story on two Illinois basketball players charged with domestic battery

The writer focused on how unfortunate it was that the two players lost their basketball scholarships. The alleged crime was mentioned once. 

ESPN reporter Adam Schefter's softball interview with Greg Hardy

Hardy never apologized for or directly addressed the allegations (and one-time conviction) of domestic violence. Schefter even defended Hardy's character when talking about the interview on a radio show. 

Adam Schefter didn't see the "monster" he thought he'd interview.

In light of Turner's sentence and subsequent reports, this bears repeating: Athletes convicted of violent crimes at all levels are no more above the law or public outrage than any other person. They aren’t athletes anymore. They’re just bad people.

Shortly after Turner's sentencing, a satirical February 2011 article from The Onion began recirculating. It's titled "College Basketball Star Heroically Overcomes Tragic Rape He Committed." Even five years after the article's publish date, the headline's sentiment still has an uncomfortable ring of truth to it.

And it's one the media shouldn't stand to accept any longer.

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