Some of you may have heard already, but for the uninformed, three weeks ago BBC Sports (yes that BBC) contacted me and asked if I would come on their show and discuss the issue of violence against women and violence in American football. Why they asked me is still a mystery but of course I graciously accepted the offer.
Our discussion centered around two recent high school football cases where in Maryville, Missouri and in Steubenville, Ohio two teenage girls were raped by star football players. The case in Missouri was eventually thrown out and the hint of an apparent cover-up sparked social media outrage.
Justice was served in Ohio when both young men charged with the rape of a 16-year-old girl were convicted of their crimes.
Two high school football stars were found guilty on Sunday of raping a 16-year-old girl last summer in a case that drew national attention for the way social media spurred the initial prosecution and later helped galvanize national outrage.
Because the victim did not remember what had happened, scores of text messages and cellphone pictures provided much of the evidence. They were proof as well, some said, that Steubenville High School's powerhouse football team held too much sway over other teenagers, who documented and traded pictures of the assault while doing little or nothing to protect the girl.
One of the football players, Trent Mays, 17, who had been a quarterback, was sentenced to serve at least two years in the state juvenile system. The other, Ma'lik Richmond, 16, who had played wide receiver, was sentenced to serve at least one year. Both could end up in juvenile jail until they are 21, at the discretion of the State Department of Youth Services.
Our actual discussion was less about the actual cases and more about the culture of football in America and how we as society treat football players. My argument, based on my experience as a player in a high profile high school in Florida that has produced multiple NFL players and my father who played college football, is that the issue is not one of football violence but in how society worships the ground football players walk on and in how we as parents, teachers, administrators and society in general have failed to create a culture that holds young men accountable for their actions.
This lack of accountability, and god-like worship, has embedded in these young men the idea they should and will get anything they want, including women.
We can point all day long to the hundreds and possibly thousands of stories like Zach Mettenburger, Jeremy Hill, Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger just to name a few, where football players in high school, college, the NBA and NFL football have seemingly walked away from raping or abusing women because of their status as an athlete. What is more damning is how fans defend these players and even attack the actual victims, like the poor girl in Missouri, because they dare demand justice.
This experience with the BBC has led to me re-evaluate my own attitude towards sports and more importantly, Alabama football. If you care, and I'm not asking you to click this link because it is of a religious nature, you can read my own thoughts from my personal blog on the issue of Alabama football and the role it plays in my life.
If you would like to listen to the BBC Sports interview you can find the podcast here. The discussion takes place in the first 15 minutes.
My hope is this— That each of us, in our own way, would look deep into our souls and evaluate how we look at and treat athletes. Change happens one person at a time and if we can, as society, begin to place more weight on helping these young boys grow into mature men by holding them accountable, perhaps we won't be having this conversation in the future.