When I first began researching the topic of violence in football for the Daily Trojan’s supplement a month ago, I thought I knew what to expect.
I’ve read the headlines, I’ve seen the statistics. But as I researched, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the violence that athletics programs, both collegiate and professional, attempt to gloss over to protect their talent.
I love sports. I always have, and I always will. Yet the more that I learn about the darker side of athletics, the more I wonder what we’re getting wrong. I spent the last few weeks looking, and I finally realized that the trait that most commonly protects violent athletes and allows this cycle to continue is rather unexpected — forgiveness.
For me, the most disturbing part of the rhetoric surrounding the issue of sexual assault and violence in athletics is the myth of the “second chance.” We hear it time and time again — an athlete made a mistake, slipped up, got himself in trouble when he was young and stupid and didn’t know any better. Now we’re supposed to believe that he’s taken a turn for the better, that his head and heart is in the right place. We’re supposed to believe that he isn’t a threat anymore.
I do believe in second chances, and third and fourth and fifth chances, but only in circumstances where the possibility of redemption outweighs the atrocity of the past errors. Earlier this month, I binge watched the entirety of the Netflix docuseries Last Chance U, which follows the paths of several young men spending a year playing football at a junior college in Scooba, Miss. after leaving Division I colleges.
The main subjects of the series are entertaining, passionate and spirited, and it’s hard not to root for them throughout its six episodes. Each of these athletes messed up — some with grades, others with position competition — and is looking for a second chance. These athletes are easy to relate to because their mistakes only hurt themselves, and their only wrongdoings come from not living up to their own potential. They deserve second chances because the weight of their error is carried entirely upon their own shoulders.
But young athletes who commit violent acts don’t deserve that second chance. It’s one thing to truly “mess up,” to fail a class or get drunk and miss practice or even to yell at a coach. It is completely different for an athlete to harm another person, and that can’t be tolerated anymore.
Something has to be done. It’s absurd, preposterous and dangerous to let this go any longer.
I understand the complexities of enforcing this stance. As a fan of the Kansas Jayhawks this year, I was completely shocked to see one of my favorite players, Carlton Bragg, charged with assaulting a woman at a campus apartment building. For a week, I was horrified that this player, who always attacked the court with warmth and a goofy grin, could have hurt a woman.
In Bragg’s investigation, however, security footage revealed that he was completely innocent — the woman who accused him of assaulting her had actually been the one responsible, both verbally and physically attacking Bragg, who attempted to keep her at arm’s length.
If it weren’t for a conveniently placed video camera, that case could have ended Bragg’s career. And I know that similar situations happen without a camera across the country. Ambiguities occur constantly in situations of assault, particularly when all that is involved is one person’s word against another’s.
But in the cases of cut-and-dried violence, there is no reason for any exceptions, any forgiveness, any second chances. Take Joe Mixon, who spent a season suspended from Oklahoma after knocking out a girl at a restaurant, or Tyreek Hill, who was kicked out of Oklahoma State after brutally attacking his pregnant girlfriend. These players committed acts that should be unforgivable, yet their futures seem destined for NFL stardom.
At the end of the day, though, what are teams gaining by picking up these athletes? Maybe they can run 4.24-second 40-yard dashes, maybe they can slice through offensive lines like butter. But what is gained by picking up a talented athlete who is also capable of causing harm off the football field?
Sports are, and always have been, about so much more than just winning. Sports are about loyalty, dedication, faith, heart and inspiration. We don’t paint our bodies red and gold, we don’t stand in negative-3-degree snowstorms, we don’t fly halfway across the country and spend hundreds on jerseys and scream at our TVs because of a score.
We do this because of love. For our teams, for our games, for our players — we all do this out of love, whether we are coaches or athletes or fans. There is nothing like a love for sports because it can outlast a lifetime of losing streaks and poor trades and untimely injuries.
There’s no place in that love for violence. And as fans, we must stand strong in this belief to protect the games we love.
Julia Poe is a sophomore studying print and digital journalism. She is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Poe’s Perspective,” ran on Wednesdays.