Title IX: Keeping UT’s Woes From UK’s Door

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Title IX: Keeping UT’s Woes From UK’s Door

Photo: Barry Westerman | UK Athletics

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.

  1. Character of Athletic Department Staff- This starts from the main top and trickles itself down. Eli Capilouto, Mitch Barnhart, DeWayne Peevy, John Calipari, Mark Stoops, Matthew Mitchell, are all outstanding people of exceptional quality with not so much as a blemish on their records to state otherwise. On at least one occasion, I have heard every one of these athletic officials speak about the importance of having, recruiting, and developing great character.
  2. Character of Athletes- The University of Kentucky athletic staff prides itself on recruiting, not only elite athletes, but exemplary young men and women. Are Kentucky athletes perfect? Of course not. But, they are pushed at every turn, not to only be great sportsmen and women but to be great people. Servant leadership is the mantra of Calipari’s basketball teams. Blue collar mentality is the motto of Stoops’ football teams. Both coaches mandate progression on the court/field, in the classroom, and in their lives. Come to Kentucky good, leave Kentucky great.
  3. Discipline in Action- We have witnessed discipline in action in our athletic programs that proves Kentucky Athletics is serious about upholding the rules. For reasons often unbeknownst to us, players has been dismissed from both the football and women’s basketball programs. We have also seen athletes who do not face dismissal, but are subject to suspension from games and/or exclusion from the team for a period of time. Kentucky Athletics have not only said, but they have proved in action they are serious about obeying the law and following the rules set forth by the university.
  4. Sandy Bell- I will not say that it takes a woman in a high place of authority to guarantee that a program stays in compliance, but in consideration of Tennessee’s situation, I am doubly grateful that Sandy Bell is our comptroller. Bell is one of the toughest compliance officers you will ever meet. She ensures UK Athletics is run by the book. She continually makes sure all sports are in compliance with the NCAA and beyond. Furthermore, as a woman, I’m confident that she takes all matters of sexual assault/harassment very serious, and if a complaint were to be issued, she would deal with it swiftly and harshly.

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:

  • Erase the Stigma- Being a victim of sexual harassment or assault is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, if a woman lives to testify, she is not a victim but a survivor. Help empower those you know who have survived such a gross imposition. Help them to make overcoming survival their defining story, not the assault itself.
  • Stand up- Songs, jokes, and stories about women being sexually imposed upon are not catchy, funny, or cute. Be the one to say, “Hey! That’s not cool. Its deplorable. Cut it out!”
  • Be Vigilant- If you see something that looks or feels to be inappropriate, say something. Do something. Many women comply with their attackers out of fear. Keep your eyes and ears open. Your awareness could change everything.
  • Encourage Justice- Encourage any woman you know who has been victimized to contact the police. Unwanted sexual advances will decrease when perpetrators learn that they cannot and will not get away with it. Not at our school, not on our campus.

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.


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