Why I Keep Track Of Alleged Rape Cases In College Football
I started the list after reading about two separate rape cases involving college football players in 2013. Since then, it's become something much bigger—and much more horrifying—than I could have imagined.
Image by Alexey Kuzma / Stocksy
I maintain a list of college football sexual assault allegations. It started as a post on my sports blog in December 2013, and I've been updating it ever since. It is now a permanent link on the site's sidebar. It currently has a little more than 110 cases on it, dating as far back as 1974. My blog is small, a place I sporadically vent when I don't think something I have to say is worth pitching as an op-ed. Since I started the site in May 2013, the blog been viewed over 116,000 times, according to the Wordpress stats. The college football sexual assault list, though, makes up roughly one third of that traffic. The list alone has been viewed more than 37,000 times.
The original list was months in the making. In the late summer of 2013, I was watching two college football sexual assault cases play out—one at Navy and another at Vanderbilt. At first, the majority of media interested in the cases were local newspapers and TV stations, while national sports media was more focused on whether a famous college quarterback had gotten paid for his signature, and if he would get punished for it (getting financial compensation beyond your athletic scholarship for playing a sport is a violation for collegiate athletes). Then in mid-September, I began working on a piece for the Atlantic about college football recruiting practices and how athletic departments and coaches used women to lure in recruits. In that piece I argued that treating women like prizes creates an atmosphere wherein women's consent takes a backseat to what football players feel they are owed. I brought up the Navy and Vanderbilt cases, and mentioned a couple of other ones I had found. To supplement the piece, I made my first list.
Then the biggest college football sexual assault in decades broke: It came to light that a woman had claimed in December 2012 that Jameis Winston, who in November 2013 was the star quarterback for Florida State on his way to winning the sports' biggest awards and his team the national championship, had raped her. But charges were never pressed, and the media didn't report on it at the time. (She went on to sue Winston in April 2015 for sexual battery, assault, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress arising out of forcible rape; a month later, he counter-sued for defamation.) I went to Florida State and was a huge FSU football fan. I was primed to write about the case, and I did. But between the work I had done for the Atlantic article and the news about Winston, I just kept wondering how common it was for college football players to be accused of, reported for, charged with, or convicted of sexual assault. So the list was born.
I have come away with a handful of lessons. The first one was that this is a never-ending issue.
People cared about the list immediately, but that made sense given the timing of it. The Winston case was a big deal and the topic was hot. However, I had no idea at the time that sexual assault in sports, football especially, would remain at the forefront of a national conversation about violence against women, both within sports media and society at large. Now, almost two years later, we are still having it. This means the list—which is, as far as I know, the most comprehensive one that exists—gets a lot of traffic despite covering a narrow topic and population. It has been linked to repeatedly, it has been cited in academic work, and it gets tweeted out with commentary like, "Here's a really depressing list," "This is heartbreak," and "wanna read something scary?" Journalists and investigative reporters have told me they used the list as a jumping off point for research they were doing on the topic.
I never expected to learn anything beyond "this is a sad problem" when I started the list, but I have come away with a handful of lessons. The first one was that this is a never-ending issue. As I have carved out a niche for myself over the last two years, often writing on the intersection of college football and sexual assault (and sports and violence against women more generally), I find myself seeking out these stories, and I find people bringing them to me. I have created Google alerts, depressing ones, to comb the Internet for anyone using words like "football" and "rape" in the same article or post.
I will go through stretches where I cannot handle the emotional work of reading my alerts and making a note of the new cases, so I'll avoid them instead. Returning to them after only a couple of weeks, there will be a couple hundred waiting. People send me emails, Twitter DMs, and Facebook messages about cases new and old. I have expanded and updated the list more times than I can count. I decided at one point to go through and add a section to each case that listed its outcome. Even now, there are cases to be added since it has been a couple months since I've touched the list.
If nothing else, this list has shown me that it's worth talking about the dangerous sexist culture of football and working to change it.
The second lesson was that people want to talk about this topic. Sometimes that means people telling their own stories, and sometimes it means people whose memories are jogged after they see the list. Both are on display in the post's comments section, which is a part of this process I never anticipated. Last year, a woman wrote, "My daughter is mentioned in the list. In Nov. 1999 she was gang raped by four Oklahoma State U. football players at a house party." One comment left by a woman named "Mother" begins, "My daughter was raped by a USC football player in late October 2014." In another comment, a woman told of her own sexual assault at a university and how her abuser used his power to make her life miserable, while one woman wrote that "New Mexico State University covered up a 1992 assault at the pool at swim practice when I was 16." Another pointed out that Jerramy Stevens, who went on to play for the Seahawks and (in)famously become the husband of US soccer goalie Hope Solo, is missing from the list, from his time at the University of Washington.
The third lesson is a rough one. If you read the list from beginning to end, you will notice a specific phenomenon: gang rape. The earliest case on the list, one from Notre Dame in 1974, is a gang rape case. The Vanderbilt case I mentioned earlier, which is still ongoing, involves a whole host of players: four of them charged with sexual assault, another as accessory-after-the-fact, and a handful as witnesses. In total, I have found 49 cases (either accusations, charges, or convictions) involving multiple football players who participated directly in the sexual assault. That is over 40 percent of all cases I've located. My list is not comprehensive, so there are many reasons that percentage could be so high that aren't explained by a hyper-masculine culture that uses the sexual abuse of women as part of their bonding experience. But it could be that. When I read the list (or when I hear of yet another case involving multiple players), I think, if nothing else, this list has shown me that it's worth talking about the dangerous sexist culture of football and working to change it.
I am glad the list is useful for other people, that it does work beyond satisfying my curiosity and providing me research material for my own projects. That has made it worth it. But I have moments of despair when I think about how the maintenance of this list will never end. What have I signed on for? Can my heart handle it? So far, so good. And yet, I haven't updated the list since August. Maybe it's time to do that. But I'll probably put it off the way I normally do. When I decide finally to add new cases the list, I always have a whisper of words that skims the edge of my thoughts, "Just wait one more day in case a new case breaks; you can update then" I'm never wrong. One day soon, there will be a new case and those whispered words will be right. And the list will, once again, grow.