Promising young athletes

Clementine Ford has some thoughts on Brock Turner.

Turner did not present to the world as the archetypal monster dwelling in shadowed alleyways. He was attending Stanford on a sports scholarship as an accomplished swimmer with aspirations to one day compete at the Olympics. He is from a privileged white background, with enough family money and support to hire the kind of expensive lawyers who usually appear on behalf of the of well taken care of privileged white sons defending themselves against rape charges. It has been suspiciously difficult to track down the police mugshot taken after his arrest; instead, media reports throughout the trial have been littered with smiling photographs of what is no doubt an attempt to portray a ‘promising young athlete in happier times’.

These tactics are employed deliberately. Not, as you might think, in an attempt to humanise a rapist – but to massage that niggling impulse to associate rape with certain traits. A promising young athlete with friends, teammates and well-to-do parents can’t possibly be a rapist! There must be some other explanation – alcohol consumption, perhaps, and poor reasoning skills. Misread signals. A life-altering mistake.

Being a promising young athlete does not provide a protective charm against criminal activity, but this is the message that has been all too often sent by judges, lawyers and community members intent on protecting young men from the consequences of their violence and entitlement.

Indeed. But I would go beyond “being an athlete isn’t a defense” and “being an athlete doesn’t magically rule out being a rapist” to make it an affirmative thing – being a promising young athlete may well encourage rapey ideation. Why wouldn’t it? At least, why wouldn’t it in cultures that overvalue male athletes and undervalue women?

What’s true about promising young male athletes? That they get masses of social validation, not to say hero worship. That they spend a lot of time with other promising young male athletes, who all get masses of social validation / hero worship. That these tribes of promising young male athletes tend to be very macho, and very contemptuous of all things female. (How do they provoke each other? By saying things like, “You need to take the tampon out of your pussy.”) That all this adds up to a sense of entitlement coupled with contempt for girls and women. You do the math.

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