Letter to the Editor
As a male student-athlete and football player, I was deeply concerned and, quite frankly, offended by “The Elephant in the Room.” I respect and completely agree that sexual misconduct on the Amherst campus is a serious issue that needs to be addressed thoughtfully and urgently. You will never hear me disagree with that fact on that point. However, what I do object to is that male student-athletes are being unfairly targeted by baseless claims, gross generalizations, and sexist insinuations.
In the quest to solve a very serious issue, scapegoats are often used to create a simple answer to a multifaceted and complicated problem. Using scapegoats is not only counterproductive, but also the consequences are often overlooked and seriously underestimated. By placing the blame of sexual misconduct on campus squarely on male student-athletes, the divide between athletes and non-athletes is only deepened, furthering one of the most serious problems facing Amherst College.
Instead of including male student-athletes in the solution, male athletes are instead viewed as the problem and are discouraged from being a part of the solution. The stigma that accompanies an assertion such as the Football and Men’s Lacrosse teams are the main perpetrators of sexual misconduct (examples that I have heard across campus) follows not only the student-athletes of those teams, but also resonates with the student body. This stigma unfairly places blame on every single member of the team solely because they play that sport. However, this completely discounts the individuals of the team. This creates gross generalizations about who members of the team are, and furthers stereotypes that Amherst needs to get rid of.
The stereotypes that follow athletes like “jock” or “meathead” are undeserved just like any stereotypes that might be ascribed to non-athletes. To say that all non-athletes are nerds or geeks is equally inappropriate, undeserved and false. Separating the campus like “The Elephant in the Room” does only furthers these stereotypes to the detriment of the College’s culture.
I consider myself an Amherst student that happens to play football. I have never defined myself as a football player, and many of the athletes on the Amherst campus feel the same way. Most of the athletes at the College aren’t joining the professional ranks in their sports. They are here to get a tremendous education while continuing to play the sport they love. Athletics have always been important in my life, and my parents have always supported me in all of my academic, athletic, cultural and other endeavors. Why do I bring that up? My father was a two time All-American swimmer at the Division I level and believes that athletics teach life lessons that can’t be taught in a classroom. I will likely never be a star player on the Lord Jeff football team, and I may never start a game, but the life lessons I will learn and the friendships and memories I make will make the hundreds of hours I spend a year perfecting my craft worth it. I am sure that student athletes like Presidents Ford, Robert Kennedy, Reagan, Nixon, and Eisenhower, former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson, CEO of General Electric Jeffery Immelt and many other successful Americans would attribute at least part of their success to the lessons that they learned playing college sports.
What many athletes at Amherst enjoy the most about continuing their sports are team unity and personal growth. Although “The Elephant in the Room” states that, “the tight bonds of team unity… might contribute to the underreporting of sexual assaults by team members,” I believe quite the opposite is true. Teammates are the first people to call out team members for their mistakes. Accountability is central to the success of the Football team not only on the field and in the weight room, but also most importantly in the classroom and in social situations. I am lucky enough to play for a coach who is incredibly involved in all aspects of Amherst life, and prides the Football team on being ambassadors for the College. What I, and the rest of the Amherst Football team accepted when we were given the honor and privilege of wearing the purple and white is that we have an obligation to hold ourselves to a higher standard.
Don’t get me wrong; football players make mistakes just like regular students. That said, many men’s teams are on the forefront of sexual respect education. I believe that this training must be available for everyone at Amherst. The solution can’t come from educating and training one subset of the Amherst student population. I believe that the training that Coach Mills has prioritized about sexual respect needs to be required for all Amherst students. I agree wholeheartedly with Professor Hunt who said, “What we felt was the best way to eliminate sexual misconduct in a primary way from the beginning is to enlist the entire community instead of trying to find on very skimpy evidence some particular demographic that is especially prone to sexual misconduct.” Every Amherst student needs to be a part of the solution instead of acting as bystanders to solve sexual misconduct at Amherst.
Instead of blaming sexual misconduct on male athletes, the College needs to look seriously at our alcohol policy. The alcohol policy is completely ignored by “The Elephant in the Room,” therefore doesn’t account for the influence and impact that alcohol has on sexual misconduct on campus. The report that the Special Oversight Committee on Sexual Misconduct produced, in part thanks to my friend and teammate Rob Wasielewski, noted that alcohol is a contributory factor in 70% of cases of sexual assault on college campuses. The report also states that sexual misconduct is “heavily correlated with heavy alcohol use on the part both of perpetrators and victims.” These are facts that are shockingly absent in “The Elephant in the Room.” The article was so busy blaming male athletes at Amherst that it didn’t account for one of the biggest contributing factors to sexual misconduct across the country. That is the “elephant in the room” that Professor Dumm overlooked. Any serious conversation about sexual misconduct without discussion about alcohol use is misguided and isn’t taking into consideration one of largest factors in sexual misconduct.
A central argument to “The Elephant in the Room” is that a possible explanation for the Committee disregarding disproportionate sexual misconduct by male athletic teams is that athletics have an outsized impact in life at the College. Athletics at many universities may have outgrown the schools themselves, but that isn’t the case at Amherst. This isn’t University of Michigan, or University of Alabama where the football programs success is directly correlated with overall financial well-being. Coach Mills isn’t making five million dollars a year like Nick Saban and the athletic department doesn’t rely on football-related revenue for 75% of the overall athletic department budget like at the University of Michigan. Athletics are a source of pride for Amherst students and Amherst alumni. Willy Workman’s play on Sports Center’s Top 10 plays was an example of an Amherst student performing at the highest level. This is something that should be celebrated by the Amherst community. However, if an athlete is found to be responsible for sexual misconduct, just like any other student, that person should be punished accordingly. However, it is up to Amherst to establish the framework that punishes offenders appropriately.
Athletics are a way for Amherst students to support their classmates and school just like attending a Zumbyes or orchestra concert. Amherst should support all kinds of extra-curricular activities. Athletes, just like musicians or actors, provide much needed diversity in the Amherst community. If the College wanted to be solely focused on academics, then Amherst could have a school full of valedictorians. However, this isn’t what the College wants nor what it should want. Diversity is something that the College strives for and athletes are a part of that diversity.
In closing, I would like to think once again who is impacted most by the insinuations and generalizations in “The Elephant in the Room” article: male student-athletes. What I have consistently emphasized is the phrase student-athlete. Athletes at Amherst are not athlete-students, like at large Division I schools. I am here to get an education and I have been lucky enough to have the privilege of wearing the purple and white. Just because my teammates and I represent Amherst on the football field doesn’t mean I should be held responsible for a disproportionate amount of sexual misconduct on campus. Before the assertion is made that male athletes are responsible for sexual misconduct on campus, consider the stigma that will undoubtedly follow the men on these teams and how that will effect their reputations.