Football, A Guys' Game

Hosted by
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW. And this is The Score.

As of this week, the sexual abuse scandal at the University of Colorado is ostensibly over. In February, charges surfaced that an eventual number of nine women students had been raped since 1997 by members of the football team. In the months since, the university President, Elizabeth Hoffman, issued an investigation and suspended head Coach Gary Barnett. This Wednesday, with several of the victims having withdrawn for fear of being subjected to the criminal justice process, and with lack of sufficient criminal evidence, Colorado-s attorney general declined to file formal charges in any of the nine alleged sexual assaults. Three of the women have actually sued the University of Colorado in federal court but, as far as the state and the school go, the cases are closed.

Eight of the alleged victims presented basically the same profile. Non-athlete students who socialized with members of the football team. To my mind, eight is a number with some credibility behind it. There might have been enough concrete evidence within the strict letter of the law to press charges, but common sense suggests there was most likely foul play.

The ninth victim is the case that worries me most. Her name is Katie Hnida. Katie was a star place kicker on her boys high school team in Littleton, Colorado, just outside Denver. She had a lot of experience being the maverick girl on a boys- gridiron. Her high school teammates showed her respect and she expected the same when she went out for the University of Colorado squad. This was the big time, Division I. Katie worked hard to make the team but, once in uniform, the awakening was rude. Over her first two years, 1999 and 2000, she was often groped under her jersey right in the huddle before plays. They often exposed themselves to her over that two years, too. She told her dad, an army surgeon, who went to Coach Barnett but was summarily dismissed.

At the end of her sophomore year, Katie was allegedly raped by one of her teammates. Rather than fight the good-ol-boys at Colorado, Katie transferred. A couple of years later she made history as the first woman to ever score points in a Division I football game. Her team. The University of New Mexico.

The first point is that there are football coaches and football players willing to accept the occasional exceptional woman athlete. The men at the University of New Mexico say that if a player has the skill and the heart to carry her weight for the cause of the team, gender be damned.

The MO of the men at the University of Colorado, however, still permeates football culture. Many a pro and college player will tell you that they have been groomed since their tyke Pop Warner days to believe that the worst thing in the world a football player could ever be-worse than a loser, worse than a cheater, worse than a criminal -is to be a woman. Misogynist language in the football locker room, in the huddle, on the bench is legendary. You-ve heard the classic coach put down -Ladies, may I have your attention?- But that-s the least of it. I covered the Pop Warner Super Bowl a few years back. It takes a lot to make me blush but, listening with headphones as our microphones were placed on the sidelines, I turned beet red a number of times.

The roles of women in our society have changed radically and rapidly. We are now surgeons and senators, military officers and presidents of universities such as the University of Colorado. If men feel they have one last empire, only one domain that is truly theirs and they don-t have to share with women, it-s football. The locker room mentality among some male players, often fostered by the coach, that says: -You don-t belong here. We don-t want you here.-

Back in February when the sex abuse scandal flared at Colorado, Coach Barnett actually said this about his player Katie Hnida: -Katie was a girl. Not only was she a girl. She was terrible. It-s a guy-s sport.- For Katie Hnida, being a girl was a crime at the University of Colorado. But, evidently, the message has gone out this week, raping a girl at this university is not a crime.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW. And that-s The Score.



Diana Nyad