In case you haven’t heard, the University of Tennessee is currently facing a Title IX lawsuit.
→→→→→Before I continue, I need to take a moment and give a disclaimer that the subject matter of this post is mature.←←←←←
Numerous women are alleging that the university has created a negative culture, a culture which not only allows bad male athlete behavior, but also protects those athletes. The lawsuit also alleges that the University of Tennessee has been deliberately indifferent in these sexual assault cases.
In response to the lawsuit, 16 head coaches from Tennessee called their own press conference Tuesday afternoon to defend the university and its culture.
Watching video of the conference and reading news recaps left me in a state of absolute bewilderment. I don’t know if it’s because I have a daughter now and, as a result, issues like this strike an even deeper chord within me, or if it’s because I endured abuse as a child (physical and verbal, not sexual though), or if it’s simply because I am a decent human being. Whatever the case, let’s just say many of the speakers/coaches came off as mind-numbingly ignorant.
Here are 5 takeaways from 10 of the more asinine things actually said by the Tennessee head coaches during the conference.
5. Anecdotes = Evidence
“One of the hotel attendants grabbed us and said, ‘I just want to let you know, this might be the best, well-mannered team that has ever come through our facility.’ That’s what’s going on here at the University of Tennessee.” – Baseball Coach Dave Serrano 1
I don’t ever understand how anecdotal, overgeneralization is supportive of anything. Is that supposed to mean that just because some unnamed hotel worker lauded the Tennessee baseball team’s behavior that one time, that all of Tennessee’s athletes and programs behave the same way? This hearsay accounting must mean there is absolutely no problem at the university.
Hmmmm, that isn’t how it works, is it?
4. Victim blaming
“Don’t go out alone at night. Know where you’re going to parties. Those types of things….no, you don’t walk down the street by yourself ” – Women’s Basketball Head Coach Holly Warlick 1
So bad things only happen on the way to and from parties? Certainly nothing else happens in dorms, apartments, frat/sorority houses, or anywhere else on campus.
Why might that be? Perhaps because everything’s fine until later at night. Because, you know, night is scary and nothing bad ever happens during the day. Softball Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly gave his view: “Nothing good happens after 10pm.” 2
But last I checked, crime wasn’t limited by some arbitrary stipulation like a Mogwai that you can’t feed after midnight because it’ll become a Gremlin. Alas, if only some sort of data existed to confirm or deny this.
Wait. There is.
According to the US Department of Justice 3:
Also, sexual assault can occur at any time of day…morning, afternoon, and night. 4
Yeah, facts and evidence usually are good things to have before you make positional comments. At least, that’s how I feel.
“I don’t think anyone here thinks there’s a ‘five-alarm’ situation here. … The things being alleged haven’t changed our world.” – Women’s Soccer Head Coach Brian Pensky 2
So, allegations of sexual assault and the university giving preferential treatment to athletes hasn’t made you want to take a look at how things are handled or even made you want to seek out ways to improve student education on assault?
“We don’t live in fear. … We don’t sit in bed at night thinking, ‘Oh my God, what’s happening?’ ” – Women’s Soccer Head Coach Brian Pensky 2
Well, at least they haven’t lost sleep over campus safety and sexual assault because, just like holding your hands over your eyes, there isn’t anything to be concerned about if you don’t want to see it. That must come as quite a relief to everyone. I’d certainly never want an influential person of authority to be kept up at night worrying about the safety of his/her players. I mean, my God, think of what would happen if they took on a sense of responsibility for something other than coaching a sport.
Besides, “Our young ladies are better off than they were five years ago.” – Volleyball Head Coach Rob Patrick2
Oh, so since women at UT are supposedly better off than in recent history, all is good.
2. Everyone else is doing it
“If you want to go back 20 years and accumulate incidents, I think a lot of places would have a similar story to Tennessee.” – Softball Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly 5
Now I’m confused. Doesn’t this statement contradict the purpose of this press conference? First, Tennessee doesn’t have a problem. Then, maybe Tennessee has a problem, but so do other schools. So which is it? Or are you saying that Tennessee has a problem, but because other schools do as well, that’s ok? Is that meant to invalidate these allegations against the university?
Granted, sexual assault and other violent crimes are big problems on college campuses across the nation and Tennessee isn’t alone…but that does not mean those issues shouldn’t be a concern for UT. Following that logic, why don’t we lessen our concerns about the murder rate in Chicago since other cities have murder? Oh, that’s right, because each incident of crime is important to deal with.
1. The University of Tennessee is the victim too
“The culture here, right now, is the best it’s ever been. And like Rick said, those stories aren’t being told. And the image that’s being displayed of our culture isn’t fair.” – Softball Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly 1
Yeah, it’s totally unfair to the University of Tennessee and its athletic department that sexual assaults are happening and are being reported. Those poor, poor coaches and administrators.
By the way 6:
Maybe my eyes are bad, but it sure seems like that trend line is increasing. Damn those facts and evidence again…always getting in the way of something that sounds good to say.
What else ya got?
“Instead of us continuing to lay down and just kind of take it and take the beating, we felt like as a coaching unit we want our administration to know that we have their back and we have each other’s backs, and we have our student-athletes’ backs.” – Women’s Soccer Head Coach Brian Pensky 7
I just…I just don’t think I have the capacity to understand. Here’s a situation where a group of women have come forward after allegedly being assaulted. It’s obvious there is a problem somewhere within the university, and these people…head coaches who are in charge of large numbers of student athletes by the way…have come together to say that they are the ones taking the beating and that they are going to fight back?
My God. It leaves me dumbfounded. Surely that must be all of it. No? C’mon. How could there be more?
“Our competitors are using it against us.” – Football Head Coach Butch Jones 8
Wow. Bravo. If that isn’t the definition of sensitivity and having priorities straight, I don’t know what is. As I understand the equation:
Recruiting/sports (read: $$$$) > sexual assault/potential problem with university culture
In fact, the coaches say, ad nasueum, of how great a culture the university has, what great facilities they have, and great resources that are available for female students/athletes. But during the first 18 minutes of the conference, the baseball coach is the only one to mention anything about efforts made to educate male students on respecting others and making good decisions…but then it falls short when he follows it up with “our guys are going to make mistakes sometimes.”1 In other words, you know, boys will be boys.
Apparently it wasn’t until 50 minutes into the conference before the direct issue of these women and the alleged sexual assaults were brought up. Reporters for a local Knoxville station (ABC affiliate WATE 6) drove the point home by saying:
“I think we’ve heard that you guys stand with your student athletes and you’re strong as a department, I think that message is clear across the nation. But you can’t forget about the victims. How are sexual assault victims and future sexual assault victims supposed to feel when six women, who don’t even want to be named, finally have the courage to come together and speak up, and they’re met with 16 head coaches at one of the biggest schools in the nation saying ‘No, the culture here is great.’ How are they supposed to feel?”9
If you ask me, the entire press conference should have been what ultimately the last few minutes of the hour long affair were. You know, the part where addressing the alleged assaults were the focal point and not coaches defending themselves, making excuses, or painting themselves as the victims.
And so, even if the lawsuit is not successful in court, the coaches have shown, by their words and attitudes and by the very nature of this press conference, that there is indeed a culture problem at the university. Sorry coaches, time to wake up and join the rest of us in reality. Something is definitely wrong.
**Please know, it is not my intention for any of my comments to come across as insensitive to, or lessening the severity of feelings/experiences of anyone who has been (or knows someone who has been) the victim of assault. No, I found this entire press conference to be one big joke and so I critique it in the best way I know how, satire. Furthermore, I have no sympathy for anyone engaged in any kind of victim-blaming. It’s abhorrent and needs to be called out for what it is.
1. Partial video of Tennessee Coach Conference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bd4ddEc2eg&feature=youtu.be