One of the more interesting things to deal with as a journalist, particularly one involved with something as emotional as sports, is how to deal with your readers’ reactions. They get mad at me for saying a player’s political opinions should be respected? Reply to their email explaining your point and wish them well. They refuse to read a piece because the headline goes against what they believe? Their loss.
In general, the smartest move is to avoid what people say online because most of the time, they’re just looking to get you mad. So while I do get fired up about it at first and I talk my editor’s ear off for 10 minutes about, for the most part, I leave the online commenters to wallow in their naivety.
Except for now. To give context before I delve into my main point, a trial just recently finished up in which the team doctor for the United States Olympic gymnastics team and sports physician at Michigan State University, Larry Nassar, was convicted of sexual assault after his years of taking advantage of his position to sexually assault athletes. He used his position as a trainer and doctor as pretense to sexually abuse those who went to him for care.
On a Facebook post by ESPN that linked to an article about his conviction, the two most liked comments were “These girls don’t understand the difference between sexual assault and athletic medical care” and “I just don’t believe it, there are too many accusations now.”
Like I said before, I normally let the online comments slide because it isn’t worth my time or effort but this is one case where I saw the comments and tried to move on but it stuck with me. The #metoo movement has been spreading like wildfire after originating in Hollywood from the Harvey Weinstein scandal and is now making its way into the sports world.
The movement has been met with some resistance from those who believe it is a witch hunt out to get any man that has committed an act that is now deemed inappropriate. The president himself tweeted he is concerned about the practice of due process being thrown out because people are quick to jump to conclusions.
I believe that this is where those comments stemmed from. People are scared of being burned by a movement that is tearing famous people down left and right and their natural reaction is to question it. I won’t demonize them for that. Many of those who were accused have suffered before anything can be brought to a court and many of it is just “he said, she said” so it’s natural to feel scared that the wildfire can burn you next.
The problem with this is people don’t understand the context behind the headline. They see someone is accused of sexual assault and immediately go to their keyboards to their defense because they don’t understand how one accusation can take down a career.
The problem is, in many cases, it’s not just one accuser. It’s multiple ones accusing them over the years. Coming from a journalist, publications have to vet any story accusing someone of sexual assault better than almost any other type of story to protect them from a lawsuit. If they run with something that can be found to be false, it could put them out of business with how
much they would be sued for. But they don’t. Not a single publication that has put forward a story accusing someone of sexual assault in the recent months has been successfully sued for libel.
So, while scary to some, these accusations and the movement that is swallowing so many has merit. These aren’t men just making inappropriate jokes in front of women at the workplace or otherwise significantly smaller things like that, these are people who have exercised their power for their own sexual benefit.
So when a commenter says the girls who were assaulted by Nassar don’t understand he was simply checking them for sports injuries, he doesn’t understand that the doctor put his fingers inside them. He penetrated those girls and there is absolutely no reason for a sports doctor to do that. The commenter said that because he didn’t understand the full case.
The other one who said there are simply too many accusations for him to believe this one. That tells you the scope of how long this has been going on. Maybe the reason there are so many accusations is that those men in power have felt they can get away with this for so long. The greater the quantity doesn’t mean the there is less quality. It just tells you how big this problem is.
I won’t use the line many others do in this situation, “I have two sisters and a mother” because it’s not about my personal relationships with women. It’s about me caring about another human’s emotions and experiences. I understand it can be scary to see so many men that we watch on the court, field or on-screen to be knocked down by something they may or may not have done. However, especially as this movement spreads within the largely male-dominated sports world, it is important to remember that these accusations are not published simply because someone said so, they are heavily investigated by journalists and the accusations come from multiple accusers.
I’m not saying every single one accused is immediately guilty but people need to understand the context surrounding the accusations, especially in cases like Nassar, to determine if they are truly innocent.
Tad Desai covers sports and education for The Sealy News. He can be reached at 979-885-3562 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.