Opinion: Too Little Respect for Women in Sports

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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)


The irreplaceable Aretha Franklin first belted out the letters in 1967: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It rightly became an anthem for women everywhere, even if the #MeToo movement wouldn't arrive for another 50 years.

But judging by two of the top four headlines on ESPN's website Saturday morning, too many women are still a long, long way from receiving the respect they deserve from the men in their lives.

The first story concerned the troubling behavior of former Ohio State football assistant Zach Smith during his time on the Buckeyes coaching staff -- including having sex toys mailed to his office and photographing himself in an inappropriate relationship with a female OSU staffer not his wife -- behavior that may ultimately cost Buckeyes boss Urban Meyer his $7.6 million annual salary.

The second story centered on LSU junior wide receiver Drake Davis, who has been suspended indefinitely for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend on multiple occasions in April and June.

A third story included a paragraph on the huge Las Vegas odds (200-1) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to reach the Super Bowl. Why is this noteworthy? Because the Bucs are quarterbacked by serial sexual miscreant Jameis Winston. At least they will be once his three-game suspension due to a groping complaint made against him by an Uber driver concludes.

And with each new charge, scandal or cover-up, is it not more than fair to ask what it's going to take for men to treat women with respect, decency and intelligence?

When is this going to end, or at least shift into reverse? The #MeToo movement shouldn't just scare straight the rich and famous and powerful. It needs to blanket every male on the planet. It needs to start being taught in elementary school, ratcheted up in middle school and become a full-blown class in high school.

It also needs to include young girls, older girls and women. It needs to teach them to stay away from any male who is physically or emotionally abusive to them at any time. It needs to teach them to get help at the first sign of trouble, not the eighth or ninth. It also needs to teach both genders that intimacy works best when there is some emotional attachment involved.

Sexual freedom must also include responsibility and common sense by both parties. Always. You can't expect others to respect you until you respect yourself.

I write this as Ohio State is supposedly concluding its investigation today into what Meyer knew about former aide Smith's alleged abuse of his former wife in 2015.

Maybe Meyer should lose his job and maybe he should merely be suspended without pay for not only the upcoming season, but also through the February signing period. Zero contact with recruits. Zero access to OSU practices and games. Zero comment about any of it past a single prepared statement and brief news conference.

Let's see how much Buckeyes Nation wishes to stand by its coach then.

But the Davis story goes to the root of the problem on so many fronts. If the charges against him are true, he reportedly attempted to strangle his girlfriend, broke one of her ribs and texted threatening messages.

However, there is also this: These assaults reportedly happened over four separate dates. Why would anyone who was choked or punched or threatened even one time agree to go out with Davis a second time? Or a third?

As with most sexual assault charges that don't include a video of the accused assaulting the victim (Ray Rice, come on down), there usually aren't a lot of witnesses to such crimes. It's almost always a he-said, she-said case. And when athletes are involved, the jock far too often gets the benefit of the doubt, as with O.J. Simpson.

But not always. Almost every Tennessee football fan is aware of the A.J. Johnson-Michael Williams rape trial. Nearly four years after the two were charged with raping a female UT athlete, they were found not guilty this past month. Perhaps their fame helped them, but Johnson's NFL dreams are likely done. Denver has reached out to him, but four years is a lot of rust. Whether you agree with the verdict, whether you believe all three might have acted more responsibly four years ago, in almost every way except the final verdict, Johnson, Williams and their accuser all lost.

When Franklin made R-E-S-P-E-C-T her signature song 51 years ago -- even though Otis Redding had written it and recorded a different version two years earlier -- the world was a far less sensitive place. It was, in every sense, a man's world.

The late Queen of Soul certainly helped change that, as much by her countless actions to help those less fortunate as her musical words.

But if the NFL's late-June suspension of Winston for his alleged groping of the Uber driver is a small step in sending a message that such behavior must stop, it still seems to stop far short of being tough enough.

Merely consider that Winston -- who was the subject of a lengthy sexual assault investigation while at Florida State -- wrote a sort of/kind of apology to his victim that stated, in part: "I'm sorry to the Uber driver for the position I put you in. It is uncharacteristic of me and I genuinely apologize."

Wrote the Uber driver in response: "I am glad to see the NFL discipline Jameis Winston. I do appreciate his apology, even if it needs some work."

When it comes to giving women the R-E-S-P-E-C-T they deserve, it would seem there is much work that needs to be done by many, including far too many athletes.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at [email protected]

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August 18, 2018


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