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 athletes are a big part of the problem. Just recently, sexual assault scandals at Baylor, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, along with 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. He is also the author of a great book called InsideOut Coaching. Today, Ehrmann 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."
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. Athletic administrators and coaches also need to talk to athletes about the important role bystanders can play when they have the courage to intervene in developing instances of sexual assault.
Unfortunately, most male coaches came of age themselves in a sports 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 hang sexual assault awareness posters they've been handed 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.
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.
For Ehrmann, real manhood comes down to this: "What kind of father were you? What kind of husband were you? What kind of coach or teammate were you? What kind of son were you? What kind of brother were you? What kind of friend were you? Success comes in terms of relationships. Success is measured by the impact you make on other people's lives.
"And I think the second criterion is that all of us ought to have some kind of cause, some kind of purpose in our lives that's bigger than our own individual hopes, dreams, wants and desires. Life's about relationships and having a cause bigger than yourself. Simple as that."
Nothing about athletic ability, money or sexual conquests in that definition.
Future rapes on college campuses can be prevented with educational initiatives employed today that target boys on the verge of adolescence.
The overarching purpose of these initiatives needs to be outlining, in depth, what real manhood looks like.