OPINION — Changing attitudes about athletes and assaults



Once a week for almost 10 years, I took swimming lessons at Bonivital Pool. Once a week, I shivered into my one-piece and read a blue poster hanging on the wall of the women’s change room. The poster listed signs of sexual and domestic abuse and included a phone number women could call for help.

That poster scared me. I was nine years old, but I knew it was important. I memorized the signs of abuse, because I knew I might be – like the poster told me – one of the 25 per cent who would experience abuse.

I asked a number of men who took swimming lessons at Bonivital at the same time I did if they remembered seeing similar posters in their change room. They didn’t.

But all too often, we hear people associate male athletes with another kind of “locker room talk” and attitude about sexuality and abuse.

I noticed this twice in the past few months. The first was when a woman accused Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane of sexual assault. The second was when a Tennessee high school canceled its boy’s basketball team season after three of its players were charged with raping one of their teammates while on the road for a tournament.

Both times, people took to social media to share their thoughts on the cases. And both times, disturbing storylines emerged.

Hundreds of Twitter users joked about the Kane scandal, saying women would be crazy not to sleep with When Kane earned a 26-game point streak earlier this season, so-called fans joked about that, too. Here’s a sample:

“First of all, no one would unwillingly have sex with Patrick Kane – it’s Patrick f’n Kane!”

“[With] the rate that Patrick Kane is producing, he should rape someone every off-season.”

When the news broke about the Tennessee high school case, one woman tweeted that “we have a male athlete problem in this country.” Many people agree.

In Social Issues in Sport, Second Edition, Ronald B. Woods discusses a shocking statistic: on average, one in every three college sexual assaults is committed by an athlete.

Researchers have speculated dozens of reasons why this may be the case. But to properly address and prevent sexual assault, we need to get one thing straight: our current solutions and our current attitudes aren’t working.

We have to stop labeling rape as an athlete problem and see it for what it really is: a human problem.

The jokes and comments on Twitter every time an athlete (or any other prominent figure) is subject to an assault investigation show us another side to this problem — a lack of education.

In Manitoba, students learn about consent in a sexual context as early as Grade 5. The provincial curriculum teaches student to DECIDE when they make choices: define the topic or issue, explore the alternatives or options, check alternatives, identify possible solutions, decide and take action and evaluate their decisions.

In the fall of 2015, the University of Winnipeg introduced sexual misconduct workshops for select student groups (including all Wesmen athletes) as part of a full-fledged anti-assault initiative. Earlier this year, the NHL and NHLPA launched a similar initiative to educate players on sexual assault, domestic violence and sexual harassment.

These are great first steps, but let’s go further. We as a society need to have a proactive approach to preventing sexual misconduct — not a reactive one.

Friday, Feb. 12 is Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Day. Let’s use this day — and every day — to talk about consent. It’s an important issue too many people — not just athletes — know too little about.