“She seems relatively simple and probably inexperienced sexually, so I decided missionary would be her preferred position.”
This particular sentence described a member of the women’s soccer team at Harvard University. The person who assigned her to this position happened to be a member of the men’s soccer team.
Last week, the student paper, The Harvard Crimson, revealed that since 2012, the men’s soccer team has circulated a “scouting report” on the freshman recruits for the women’s team.
The report ranked their attractiveness with numerical values, hypothesized their sexual tendencies, assigned them sexual positions, described the women in degrading terms, and included photos of the women.
When Harvard became aware of the document and tradition, they made a decision that college athletic programs and even professional sports leagues can learn from: they immediately suspended the rest of the team’s season, despite the team being ranked number one in the Ivy League.
Harvard’s president Drew Faust said, “The decision to cancel a season is serious and consequential, and reflects Harvard’s view that both the team’s behavior and the failure to be forthcoming when initially questioned are completely unacceptable.”
While the decision was described as ‘serious’, it should be noted that the statement released did not indicate that Harvard made a difficult decision. In fact, they made the decision swiftly because in all honesty, what other choice did they have?
Sure, they could have made the team write a public apology. Perhaps they could have suspended them for one game. Or maybe they could have done nothing, which when it comes to the treatment of women in athletics is what seems to happen most often.
(Photo Credit: Harvard Gazette)
Athletic programs have an incredibly bad habit and low standard when it comes to treating women with dignity.
In Jessica Luther’s book, Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape, she highlights several cases where universities overlooked alleged rapes committed by football players even when it was known the sexual assault did take place.
In particular, the sexual assaults were ignored when it was a high-profile athlete accused or charged. Beyond college sports, one needs to look no further than the NFL as an example of how violence against women committed by players is not adequately punished.
NFL Giants kicker Josh Brown was suspended for only one game when the Giants learned he had physically abused his wife. Giants owner John Mara even admitted that Brown had come forward and admitted to abusing his wife. This revelation highlights how little action is taken within the sports world to protect and honor women.
The men’s soccer team at Harvard, whether realizing it or not, were perpetuating sexual violence. They were instilling even further that women are only to be treated as objects, and not with respect.
By Harvard making this decision, they are setting an important precedent, one that deserves praise. They are saying, “We want women on our campus to feel safe. We want them to feel respected. We want them to feel honored.”
Harvard knew that had they taken little to no action, that the women’s soccer team would justifiably had felt disregarded in their feelings. In fact, had the university done nothing, it could have been perceived as worse behavior than that of the men’s soccer team.
There are many universities and sports leagues that herald themselves as advocates for women’s causes. However, many know this not to be the case, and the victims of assaults and attacks also know this to be true.
While one might argue that it was “boys just being boys,” and that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, I would challenge that person to ask him or herself, When do we start expecting boys to act like men?
By Harvard not ignoring this behavior, they took an important stance in understanding that there should not be an age limit for when we should start expecting young men to not degrade women.
Bob Scalise, the Harvard Athletics Director said they have a “zero tolerance” for such behavior. Their decision to forfeit the rest of the team’s season indicates that they take zero tolerance seriously, and other leagues and athletic programs should start following suit.