In the South, college football reigns. And with a program as storied as that of the University of Tennessee's in Knoxville, football is second to nothing. And in the eyes of the fan base, second not even to the respect and safety of women.
It took nearly six hours since the news broke that two UT football players have been accused of sexual assault and their resulting suspension from all team activities before I heard a derogatory remark about the female accusers from a fellow student. Of course, the lengthy time probably has more to do with the fact that I was still asleep well into the afternoon more so than my schoolmates being particularly empathetic and sensitive. The comments ranged from sheer attempts to discredit the victims, to slut-shaming, to questioning how this rape investigation will negatively affect the football season. But no one questioned how this incident has and will affect the victims.
Whether or not the two athletes are guilty of the accusations, I do not know. That burden of proof is in the hands of law enforcement and the prosecution should charges be filed. But I know that if this had been any other crime that these college football players had been accused of no one would be claiming the victims filed the report simply for the attention brought about by accusing college athletes of sexual assault. Saying anything along the lines that victims deserved to be assaulted, asked for it, are making it up, or are otherwise wrong for coming forward with these allegations discourages other victims from coming forward.
Rape culture dictates that either all sexual assaults are innately false or that the victim was somehow responsible for the actions of the perpetrator. Reports indicate that the two assaults in question happened at a party. A responsible trail of thought would assume that there was drinking present at said college party. And in rape culture, alcohol excuses the actions of the attacker while simultaneously questioning the credibility of the victim.
Being an athlete at the tail end of the season with a bowl game on the line does not excuse that person's actions. Nor should it prevent victims of assault from coming forward. Fans may be disappointed at the damage this will cause the team, on the field and off. They may be disappointed that a star player who happened to be a potential NFL draft pick will probably not be able to play another game. But they shouldn't be. Instead, they should be disappointed at all the abuse from the media and her fellow students that this victim is going to endure simply for having the audacity to file a report of sexual assault. A game is never more important than a person's safety or fair and balanced justice.