This post was written by Michael Kimmel, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University and founder of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities.
Is Oregon the first Politically Correct football team? And could such a team win a national championship?
Consider this: following their systematic, upbeat, and perfectly executed demolition of previously unbeaten Florida State in the national semi-finals last week, Oregon players were seen on the sidelines imitating FSU’s “Tomahawk Chop” and singing along to their equally disgusting “Indian War Chant” the phrase that rings out across the country around sexual assault: “No Means No.”
Excuse me? Were these football players? Good football players?
It seemed strange, almost surreal. After all, football is considered the last redoubt of untrammeled traditional masculinity – the one sport women don’t play professionally, where size, strength, speed and athleticism converge, the field a temple of toughness. One of my favorite books about gender in sports was titled, The Stronger Women Get, the More men Love Football.
College football players are, unsurprisingly, stars on their campuses, bathed in the glow of celebrity and often surrounded by such adoration and support that they feel they can do anything they want. Living in a celebrity bubble of entitlement and protection, it’s not surprising that they’re often the subject of behaviors that fall, shall we say, out of bounds.
Arrest records and campus judiciary hearings are filled, routinely, with cases of athletes violating campus rules or federal and sate laws. Theft, assault, sexual assault, rape – these are relatively common occurrences. And yet they usually, magically, vanish as if the police blotter was an Etch-a-Sketch. Poof! Vanished. Never happened, as big-time boosters, coaches, and general campus adoration (from administrators and students alike) collude to paper over violations.
Nowhere is this more evident than at Florida State, probably the most unapologetically scandal-plagued program the nation has ever seen. Every single time something goes wrong and some player gets into trouble – which happens with remarkable frequency – charges are dropped, cursory investigations lead to casual exonerations. For example, as The New York Times reported in October, “From criminal mischief to domestic violence, arrests have been avoided, investigations have stalled and players have escaped serious consequences.”
And then there was quarterback Jameis Winston, last year’s Heisman winner, who was accused of sexual assault. Both the university and the police investigations were so shallow that he was exonerated. Winston’s response was a perfect expression of that culture of entitlement. “The only thing as vicious as rape is falsely accusing someone of rape.” (I suspect that just as actions speak louder than words, they also hurt more and leave more lasting scars.)
And, don’t forget: Florida State is also home to the most unapologetically racist mascot in collegiate sports.
It was startling, therefore, and even a bit giddy-making, to see those victorious Oregon players singing the song of anti-sexual assault. (Not, by the way, that Oregon hasn’t had its share of scandals in the past. Only a few years ago, LeGarrette Blount cold-cocked a helmetless opposing player at the end of a game. And, in 2010, Oregon running back LaMichael James pled guilty and was jailed for domestic violence in the off-season before returning to play for the Ducks.) And, I’m told, Marcus Mariota, Oregon’s brilliant Heisman trophy winning quarterback is part of the campus #It’sOnUs program, the President’s national campaign to engage men to stand up against sexual assault.
I hope that Oregon’s coach doesn’t make good on his vow to discipline his players for their post-game taunting, which would sort of be like disciplining the 1980 Olympic hockey team for joining in chants of “USA!” Good for them, I say. (And I say this as a Berkeley alum. It is not always easy for a Cal fan to root for another Pac-12 team. Oregon makes it easier.)
Get the picture now? There, after their victory, were several Oregon players reminding Winston and his teammates with the simple axiom “No Means No.” Sometimes it takes an opposing team to remind us of what coaches, police officers, boosters, administrators, and fans choose to ignore. Go Ducks.