Brian Murphy: Sports can help stop violence against women

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comMay 18, 2014 

Across the Treasure Valley this past week, young women — representing the best Idaho produces athletically — competed for high school state championships, their accomplishments chronicled in newspapers and cheered on by family, friends and classmates.

Will we care as much about them when they become part of another group of statistics?

One-quarter of the women in the United States have experienced domestic violence, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's 2013 survey. One-in-six American women have experienced an attempted or completed rape, according to the same statistics.

These problems are magnified at U.S. colleges and universities and in the military, places where many of the Gem State's young female athletes will end up in the coming years.

The University of Idaho is one of 55 colleges and universities under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.

Congress is holding hearings on sexual violence in the military.

Too often this issue intersects with sports, where it is past time for league commissioners, athletic directors and coaches to establish much tougher sanctions for violence against women.

Two former Boise State female students are suing the university, claiming their allegations of sexual harassment by a Bronco track athlete were not dealt with properly and led to rape and sexual assault.

Three Oregon basketball players were kicked off the team this month after being investigated for an alleged sexual assault. It was decisive action, but not exactly swift as questions remain about whether the players were allowed to play after the school found out about the allegations.

Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston was not charged after being accused of rape by another Florida State student. But the case is still clouded by the investigator's shoddy work and the appearance of favoritism toward a high-profile football player.

The NFL has a problem that can no longer be ignored. Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has been indicted on aggravated assault charges against his fiancée. Carolina Panthers' defensive end Greg Hardy was arrested last week after allegedly choking his girlfriend, threatening to kill her and throwing her down atop a pile of guns. Former NFL player Darren Sharper, suspected of raping nine women in five states, has been charged in California.

At least seven players in the league were arrested on charges of violence against women last year, according to UT-San Diego's NFL arrest database. According to Slate.com, in 2012, 21 of the NFL's 32 teams had a player with a domestic violence or sexual assault charge on his record.

The text messages between former Miami Dolphins' offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin showed an alarming disrespect for women.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, positioned as one of the most powerful men in sports, should make a stand. He can begin by handing down meaningful suspensions to Rice, who was caught on camera dragging his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator, and Hardy, pending the resolution of their cases.

Leagues, including the NCAA and the NFL, have established standardized penalties for drug use, both recreational and performance enhancing. Former Michigan basketball player Mitch McGary faced a one-year suspension for marijuana use. Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon faces the same, according to reports.

There are no standardized penalties for violence, sexual or otherwise, against women.

There should be.

Creating a standard eliminates excuses - and elevates the expectations against such behavior. Players who use drugs get little sympathy from fans or media. The rule is written down. The penalties represent obvious consequences for actions taken.

It is beyond ridiculous that we need to elevate expectations that our athletes (and college students and military personnel) do not commit violence against women, but the statistics and anecdotal evidence are staring us in the face.

Sports, as they often have in this country, can lead the way.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444; Twitter: @murphsturph

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