Evanson: Allegations highlight serious problem in sports
Despite a handful of games already having been played, this week marks the beginning of what should be another fulfilling campaign of high school football, soccer, volleyball and cross country action for athletes and the people fortunate enough to watch them compete on fields across the state of Oregon. But what should be a celebration of the games and the people who play them has again been sullied by detestable allegations against a growing list of athletes giving their brethren a very bad name.
Buffalo Bills rookie punter Matt Araiza was cut from the team this past weekend after a civil lawsuit filed against the former San Diego State University football player revealed he faces rape allegations stemming from an incident alleged to have occurred at a party in October 2021.
We don't need to get into the details of the night in question, but a Google search will get you where you might regret going.
It's not pretty. In fact, it's stomach-turning to believe anyone is capable of such repugnant behavior, in addition to the unconscionable indifference to be able to go about your daily business in light of what you knew occurred.
It's important to understand that at this point these are just allegations, and until the facts of the ongoing criminal investigation are complete, they — and Araiza — should be treated accordingly. But regardless of whether the now-former Bills punter was guilty of what he's being accused, what appears to have happened is more than concerning, and to be honest, inhumane on so many levels.
I'm not a moralist, nor am I coming from a place of perfection. We all have our flaws, and none of us are without our regrets regarding things we may have done or turned our backs on over the course of our lives. But cheating on a test, speeding, teasing or witnessing someone being teased as a kid, or partaking in an adult beverage despite failing to meet the legal age grossly pale in comparison to assaulting someone and/or sitting idle while another human is being dehumanized by monsters in an otherwise civilized society.
The world is a very big place, but with every passing day, I see increasing evidence of people seeing nothing or no one beyond themselves.
It's no longer so much about right or wrong in regards to others, but rather the wants and needs of the man or woman in the mirror. For decades now, we've armed a further growing group of individuals with a self-aggrandizing mindset. They are the most important thing walking the earth, and their wants and needs take a back seat to nothing and no one.
If what Araiza and his peers are being accused of ultimately proves to be true, it's just another horrifying sign of people acting on behalf of their own wishes, without even the slightest concern for even the most basic longings of another living, breathing person.
Not only is that wrong, but it's scary at the most primal level.
Sadly, Araiza and his alleged actions aren't alone. Most recently, Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has been in the news regarding sexual assault allegations from 30 different masseuses. In 2017, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended for domestic violence. Roughly a decade ago, former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger too was punished by the NFL for allegedly sexually assaulting a Georgia college student. There have been others.
Additionally, between 2010 and 2015, officials at Baylor University failed to report sexual assault claims against football players, creating what the NCAA would later call a "campus-wide culture of sexual violence." The school and program went unpunished due to a lack of evidence regarding NCAA legislation, and the football program mostly skated when the university simply said in a statement that it "sincerely regrets the actions of a few individuals that caused harm to so many."
The University of Oklahoma had a similarly grotesque incident to Araiza's in the late 1980s. Notre Dame had six football players suspended in the wake of accusations of gang-raping an 18-year-old in 1974.
Locally, Brenda Tracy has been very public about allegedly being gang-raped in 1998 by four individuals, two of whom were Oregon State University football players. The case was never adjudicated, primarily due to Tracy dropping the charges — something she's spoken about at length in recent years as part of her advocacy for victims of sexual assault.
Tracy's alleged assailants never faced any real punishment, players at Baylor and Notre Dame got slaps on the wrist, and the very real issue at hand — entitled young men doing things no person should do to another — was never addressed.
Nigel Clay, one of the Oklahoma players who was convicted and spent four years in prison for his part in the 1989 aforementioned rape, said, "We felt like we were above the law and that OU (Oklahoma University) would protect us from anything," in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1992.
Deborah Epstein, who is the co-director of the Georgetown University Law Center's Domestic Violence Clinic and previously served on the NFL Players Association commission on domestic violence, recently told CNN that many athletes are identified as stars relatively young, and as a result of that, they feel the rules don't apply. To state the glaringly obvious, that can have dangerous consequences.
"For someone that young, it's incredibly hard to avoid internalizing those messages and developing into a person that acts impulsively (and) doesn't really have to think through the consequences of his actions," Epstein said in her interview with CNN. "And that pattern, that kind of life, is one that can easily lead to violence against women, feeling like everything's your property."
Araiza's case is just another glaring example of what remains a grotesque and serious problem facing our society as a whole, but it's also another in a long list of symptoms of a mindset infecting young and outstanding athletes who are led to believe their excellence on the field means impunity off of it.
So, as we welcome back high school athletes this week to the games that offer so much to so many, let's keep perspective regarding just how much these games mean — and in many ways, how little.
Sports matter, and there are many lessons to be learned from them, but life and the people living it matter far more — and that's a law no one's above.
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