Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that mandates fairness in funding for sports across both genders, but it also sets guidelines for how federally funded institutions ought to address sexual assault complaints. Eight women sued the University of Tennessee, alleging that they have long been in violation of this law. As a woman who has experienced sexual harassment, the things that happened in Knoxville chills me to the bone. Any woman (or any person for that matter) can be appalled, but for women who have felt powerless in a sexually charged situation, this is terrifying.
Much of our attention, as Kentucky fans, has been occupied with the madness that continues to unfold in Louisville. We have heard about their woes until we’ve become desensitized to them. We have talked about them until we have run out of new words to say. We have heard every U of L “escort” joke imaginable. What happened at Louisville is bad; very, very bad. However, what has allegedly happened at Tennessee is exponentially worse… and it is no laughing matter.
Last week, just mere days from having to legally (and publicly) respond to the allegations against them, the University of Tennessee settled with the plaintiffs to the tune of $2.48 million. Therefore, the university no longer had to issue a response to the lawsuit. However, and perhaps most notably, settling kept the FBI from investigating their athletic program, including (but not limited to) possible Title IX infractions.
So, what exactly happened at the University of Tennessee?
Three years ago, a vice chancellor at the University of Tennessee resigned, by and large due to the lack of adjudicating discipline against misbehaving athletes. He took aim at the highest level, naming UT’s president, chancellor, and athletic director responsible for creating a dangerous culture in Knoxville for both athletes and students. He said the athletic department all but refused to address rule-breaking athletes, and in instances when the school itself did step in with disciplinary action, it was met with great disdain by athletic officials. At this vice chancellor’s resignation, he said was troubled that a proposal for a program addressing sexual assault problems on campus was outright rejected. Again, this was three years ago.
Just down the road from my home, at a university to which I once applied to attend, there was a terrifying problem.
When did a touchdown, a home run, or a slam dunk become more important than a woman’s dignity?
When did elite athleticism become a license to disrespect a woman in the most demeaning way possible?
This isn’t just happening at Tennessee, either. More recently, we’ve learned of Baylor facing similar allegations and a former Stanford swimmer receiving gross preferential sentencing after being found guilty of rape. How many other campuses around this country could potentially be shielding athletes from appropriate disciplinary actions simply because of their game day worth?
After I was able to think beyond the shock and disgust of UT’s situation, the first thing I wanted to do was self examination. I began to say things to myself like, “I do not think that this kind of stuff is happening at UK, but how can I, as a fan, know that?” I absolutely cannot know that for a fact. Then, I asked, “What makes me believe this isn’t happening at UK?” Now, that is a question I can answer.
I cannot be certain that UK will not face an issue like that of Tennessee, but I am confident that it will not. I rest easy knowing Kentucky recruits great character and insists that character is evident in every facet of campus living.
What can fans do to prevent this from ever becoming an issue at the University of Kentucky:
As for Tennessee, they do not admit any guilt by settling. “One side ultimately would have won in court several years from now, and we felt confident about our legal position,” said Raja Jubran, Vice Chair of the UT Board of Trustees. University of Tennessee lawyers said that settling was “the right thing to do” for several reasons. You can take that for what it’s worth, but when numerous women step forward to make similar allegations, it is a serious situation. Tennessee doesn’t have to admit guilt for me to still believe there were terrible wrongdoings that occurred.
Every higher learning institution in the nation would serve themselves well to take a long, hard look internally and be certain unwanted sexual advances are not being tolerated on their grounds by anyone, especially athletes. In the wake of UT’s and Baylor’s troubles, may the University of Kentucky discover new ways to protect and empower female students, giving them a greater sense of security that ever before.
No woman should ever have to fear for her safety. No woman should ever be concerned justice will never be served. No, not on their campus. No, not anywhere.