RED ZONE: What athletes think about their peers in sexual assault cases

To the general public’s eye, both professional and student athletes have always seemed to sneak away from an accusation with a dismissal of the case, a light sentence or by coughing up a few bucks to the victim. Fans and common citizens have seen situations like Kobe Bryant’s, Ben Roethlisberger’s and Brock Turner’s and are left in disgust and anger, but who are they supposed to direct this frustration toward? The athlete, the judge, the lawyers, the justice system as a whole; none can really carry all the blame for the never constant and unjust sentences.

Photo credit: Jian Bautista

Many universities around the country have a stash of elite lawyers specifically for athletes when they are accused of sexual assault and other crimes, but do not provide lawyers for victims or the average student who has run into some legal troubles. Over the summer, the University of Tennessee settled a $2.48 million lawsuit that was produced by eight women against the university’s football program. As part of the deal, Tennessee can no longer provide a list of lawyers for the athletes to contact, something they denied they were doing previously.

For every athlete that has used the rigged system to receive an inferior consequence, there are countless other members of the athletic community, from Division III schools to Hall of Fame professionals, that recognize athletes have a major advantage when it comes to these situations.

“In some instances, athletes do get more cover-up than non-athletes do for sexual assault, but If someone did the crime, they deserve the time,” GNAC men’s basketball 2015-16 Newcomer of the Year Suki Wiggs said. “I don’t know whether he did it or not, but in Kobe Bryant’s case he has so much power to where if he was convicted, he would hurt the Lakers franchise and the city of Los Angeles in the eyes of people with money involved, more than people know. People might look the other way and think that a victim isn’t really a victim because of who the person is. That is not fair, it is really not fair at all but it is the society we live in. A lot of things are going unjust, it is a sick world, but we are trying to fix it.”

Money, reputation and status are the motive and influence of many of these cases. Professional athletes can afford top-tier lawyers, and student athletes can essentially draw out of a hat and receive excellent representation in court.

“Regardless to whether or not they’re student athletes, the better the attorney you can afford is going to have more to do with your sentence than whether or not you’re a student athlete. You see wealthy individuals being charged with crimes like these and they seem to be receiving lesser punishments,” Sparky Anderson, head coach of the UAA skiing program said.

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The only man who has ever coached the UAA gymnastics team, Paul Stoklos, also attested to money causing much of the corruption.

“I think for a lot of those big schools, they protect athletes because there is a lot of money involved, and it is sad that money is driving it but that is the reality,” Stoklos said.

So what can the average person do about this and bring awareness?

“Students and the people in the community need to speak up and protest, like they were doing on Stanford’s campus, and say ‘this is not right,'” Stoklos said.

Although questions and discussions always seemed to be raised while these instances are in the news, it still has not quite reached the entire public audience.

When freshman volleyball player Diana Fa’amausili was asked if she thinks things may get brushed under the table for athletes more than a regular citizen in sexual assault cases, she responded, “No, I definitely think it is fair for both, that is a serious topic.”

After explaining to her the Turner story and the Jameis Winston case, in which the former Heisman-winning quarterback at Florida State had no charges because “the athlete said it was consensual.” Her jaw dropped and she appeared stunned.

“I did not know about all that, but they should be punished equally, athlete or not,” Fa’amausili said.

Athletic departments here and afar are now raising awareness and educating their student athletes on facts, what to do if you see a potential sexual assault, and how to receive or provide help to yourself or others. There is a program called the “Bystanders education program” which informs those who may witness a sexual assault.

“UAA and the administration does a great job of talking about Title IX, sexual abuse, and what exactly it is,” head volleyball Coach Chris Green said. “I have been here eight years and we have done more awareness in recent years than six or seven years ago.”

Every athlete, coach or faculty member of the athletic department spoken to did not think it was fair that money, image or athletic ability should have any influence on sexual assault cases. Some extended that, and said it was not fair to both sides.

“In general, it gets put into the media more, if you’re an athlete or someone with some sort of reputation, people hear about it more and then everyone has an opinion about it, so the publicity is somewhat unfair,” Madeleine Arbuckle, a junior on the gymnastics team said.

Green also discerns that athletes accused receive way more attention, whether they did or did not do the crime.

“Athletes like [Brock] Turner or a Div. I football player becomes more famous because they are under the microscope,” Green said. “If [Turner] would have been an ordinary student at Stanford that had done the exact same thing, no one would have known of the case or the person’s name. He is getting more negative exposure than he would as a regular student.”

No one can agree on who to blame, but everyone can agree that something needs to change. The skill of a human being should not determine the outcome of a court case.