Recently, I have been following the Isiah Thomas case in large part because I found myself fired up about what one ESPN radio host (Mike Tirico) said earlier this month about how “we all need to get over our sensitivities and deal with the fact that EVERY woman has been called a ‘bitch’ and it’s just a fact of life”. The host went on to explain how this word is not sexually harassing and that it is no more offensive to a woman than calling a man an “asshole”. Apparently, through this rant he was attempting to show his support of Thomas, who is being sued for sexual harassment, and much of the case has been made over Thomas’ verbal abuse of former Knicks' vice president, Anucha Brown Sanders. During his testimony in the case, Thomas reported that if he had overheard one of the white management calling a black woman a bitch it would have violated his code of conduct. But when asked how he would feel if a black man said it to a black woman he reported it would not bother him as much because he makes "a distinction" between the two.
I think it is interesting that he brings up race because in some senses he is putting the "B" word in its suitable context: calling a woman a bitch is more similar to making a racist comment than calling a man an “asshole”. Bitch is a dehumanizing term much like all racist comments and because one is comparing a woman to a female dog that is, in fact, making a sexist comment which by default is sexual harassment. I think the difficulty Tirico as well as Thomas (and most men, in general) have with understanding the harm of the word "bitch" is that we don’t realize that such terms fit into a larger context of attitudes, assumptions, behaviors, and beliefs that both support male dominance as well as what socially constructs the foundations of rape culture.
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Thursday, September 13, 2007
There has been a lot of debate recently surrounding the Michael Vick story about his dog abuse, but very little of it has centered around the fact that often there are athletes beat, abuse, assault, and sometimes kill the women in their lives. More so, the consequences for these actions pale in comparison to what Vick will be sentenced to for his dog-fighting business.
Now hear me out, I'm not condoning Vick's behavior but I am calling to attention the fact that there are several professional, college, and probably high school athletes that are brutalizing women in their lives and are not being punished as severely. One recent article entitled "Beat a Woman? Play on; Beat a dog? You're gone." by Jennifer Korbin writer for womennews.org discusses the fact there have been many male athletes that have abused women in their lives and received nothing more than a proverbial slap on the wrist.
Which makes me wonder why we are so enraged that Vick beat and killed dogs all the while “looking the other way” when many more athletes harm women in their lives? How can we throw the book at Vick when some estimate that with the loss in salary for his suspension from NFL this year, Vick stands to lose over $100 million dollars and, yet, a domestic violence issue with NBA’s Ron Artest, amounted to him paying a mere $600 and a two game suspension? What is the message we are sending to the millions of youth that look up to professional athletes? Is it that women are valued less than dogs?
I’m reminded of some area college athletes who have abused women in their lives and how their Athletic Departments have overlooked their “indiscretions”. I could name several, but the one that really sticks out in my mind is the story of Lawrence Phillips, former Nebraska football player that was a standout running back during one of Hall of Fame Head Coach Tom Osborne’s final seasons. You can look up Phillips stats but basically he was well on the way toward being an All-American by his sophomore year and was in the running for the Heisman Trophy. Two weeks into his junior year, however, he got into an argument with his girl friend and the argument escalated with him physically assaulting her by dragging her down a stairwell by her hair. For this assault, Phillips received a mere two game suspension. His girlfriend was on scholarship to play basketball for Nebraska, she lost her scholarship during this period, and left Nebraska as she feared for her safety.
Coach Osborne and Nebraska’s Athletic Department took much scrutiny for the lackluster punishment. When asked about it, Coach justified his actions by reportedly saying that Phillips was better off with the team than without it. One press person took the questioning another step and asked Osborne if he would have reinstated Phillips had the Heisman Trophy contender beat up Osborne's daughter (for more on this story click here). In response, Osborne initially balked but later answered 'yes,' he would have allowed Phillips to play even if Lawrence had assaulted Osborne’s own daughter. Not the type of response one would expect from a man who formerly served as a congressman for the state of Nebraska.
Unfortunately, there are more stories like this one than like Vick’s out there and it is disturbing to consider how this affects women as well as the young athletes that worship these abusing, idolized, professionals. It is not the difference in fines and suspensions that I find as alarming as it is the attitudes within sports culture and by their fans that silently condone these violent behaviors toward women. With these attitudes they are not only implying that talent outweighs character, but also inconceivably suggesting that violence towards animals outweighs women "vick"tims of crime.