Why I Broke Up With College Football

Mary Dell Hayes is the Development Coordinator at STSM. Mary Dell previously served as the Volunteer Services Coordinator at STSM from 2008-2012. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of South Carolina and is currently pursuing her Masters in Business Administration.

I’ve enjoyed college football for as long as I can remember. When I was little, we would get to stay up late and snuggle down in our sleeping bags to watch the Gamecocks take on the teams of the SEC. But committing to the Gamecocks can sometimes result in heartbreak. There were the 0-21 years, the devastating losses to lesser teams, and countless other disappointments. But this football season has been the most disappointing of all.

Every day there is a new story. Florida State is proud of their “alleged” rapist and Heisman winner, Jameis Winston. And let’s not forget their star running back who “allegedly” beat his girlfriend. Of course, there are many other legal incidents at schools across the nation. Players at Florida, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt have been accused of sexual assault, Title IX investigations abound in major athletic programs, and high school football programs are being shut down because senior football players are sexually assaulting their junior teammates in the name of hazing. Don’t even get me started on the NFL.

Despite these serious criminal issues, the players continue to suit up and garnish much attention for their success on the field. The coaches pat them on the back, boosters write large checks, and fans continue to buy the jerseys. As long as the W’s build, the gravy train keeps flowing.

Where there is this much smoke, there has got to be one hell of a fire... and yet no one is sounding the alarm. The young people in our communities continue to admire and look up to these athletes as heroes. You hear people excuse the poor behavior citing a lack of role models or insisting that women are always throwing themselves at successful athletes or “crying rape”. (Hint: The FBI estimates false reports to make up between 2-8% of reported assaults so “crying rape” is not very likely.)

A lack of role models doesn’t cause someone to hit their girlfriend. A lack of role models doesn’t make someone commit a sexual assault.

This behavior continues because we excuse it by not holding perpetrators accountable. We turn a blind eye in exchange for a pleasant Saturday with friends and an escape from our daily responsibilities. If administrators, coaches, and boosters won’t take responsibility, then the fans must stand together. We cannot let these rapists and violent abusers continue to receive accolades while their victims are shamed in the headlines. We must call for athletic programs to reform. If a player violates team rules or is paid for an autograph, they are suspended for at least one game. Yet a player can rape someone and continue to play and win awards. There is no need to wait for the criminal justice system. As a society, we can set the expectation that players will act with such a high level of integrity that they would never face one of these accusations.

This Saturday or Sunday, when you high five your friends as your team scores, think about how you will respond when your team faces these issues. Will you continue to perpetuate a culture that condones sexual and domestic violence, or will you demand accountability and integrity?