In the third part of a four part interview, Dr. Tommy Shavers gives us a better understanding of the athlete in the areas of Culture, Power and Sex based off his research. If you are working with athletes you should read this and share it.
How do we address the domestic violence and sexual assault problem in the culture of sports?
I will continue to come back to my hallmark statement; if you are unaware, then you are unprepared. The first part that is essential to addressing the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault in sports is accurate awareness on the issue. Being a college football player myself and being coached by one of the great defensive minds in football, our coach would always ask the question, “what do you see?” If we couldn’t accurately articulate what we were seeing on the field from our opponent, there was no way we could accurately prepare or respond to what we were up against. So it all starts with accurate awareness, does the sports industry really know what they are seeing when it comes to these areas. Currently they are not fully aware (which means to be accurately aware) of what they are up against with this issue.
In a research study I conducted with college football players, in which they talked about status, power, and sex; these athletes were unanimously clear that their status and social power as college football players was influencing their overall behavior as well as their sexual perspective, actions and behaviors with women. The things these young men stated during these interviews would bring chills to someone who is not aware that such a culture (which the kids didn’t create) exists. Listen, I lived the culture and I was a bit taken back by what I was hearing in these interviews. Most of them talked about entering into a world or culture they didn’t even know existed, where people (men and women) were willing and able to give them anything, just because of their status and influence as athletes. So in other words the way society began to treat these athletes changed (culture); which quickly in turn began to change them. Many of them admitted to being the focus of attention in high school, and they stated that it was at a whole different level in college. A unique issue that most may not understand about this culture is when it comes to sex. In this culture, most male athletes are pursued just as much for sex as they pursue sex. One player asked me a question, “what are you suppose to do when a beautiful, attractive girl wants to sleep with you; turn it down? That’s a hard thing to do; for one you look bad if you turn her down, and two who would want to turn that down?”
So for those who have lived in and experienced that culture, they know these things to be real and valid. Another thing that was emerging out of the study was that athletes are really polarized in the eyes of people socially (especially women). Some love them and want to be in their circle and others really don’t care for them and avoid them socially and relationally as much as possible. So what this creates is a generalized view of women by athletes because all the women that they engage with on a regular basis are women who are heavily influenced by their status and thus carry themselves or allow themselves to be treated in ways that other women who are not so enamored by athletes would carry themselves. As a result many athletes develop a dangerously false perception of women because of the culture of women they regularly engage with.
Now someone may want to jump on those statements as sexist or degrading of women, well before we can talk about how inappropriate such statements are, we must first ask are they true, and as unfortunate as it is, this is true. But it is not just about women. Everyone in their circles who are enamored with their status as athletes, treat them in such a way that this becomes the only world they know. I call it “living in a world of all green lights”. If this is the case, then what happens when such a person comes to a yellow or red light in their life? Well, yellow and red lights don’t exist in their life so they are unaware and thus unprepared to deal with yellow and red light realities of life. And the reality is yellow and red lights do exist for the rest of the world, which means that it is almost inevitable that the green light world will one day encounter a red light, catching up to the athlete and causing disastrous wreckage in their own lives and in the lives of those they’ve encountered. This is why this work is so important. We are trying to tell these kids to slow down and stop, when those things don’t practically exist in their world which makes them unaware that they really exist (for them) anywhere else in the world.
The last thing I say on that is this; the thing that surprised me the most about this study, was the reaction of the athletes after the interviews were concluded. I would ask each of the participants if they had any questions or anything additional they would like to add to the study. Unexpected to me was that the majority (I can’t recall one who wasn’t) were as surprised as I, about the realities that they were sharing about their own lives and the lives of others in this status power culture of sports. Many of them mentioned that they have never stopped and thought about their lives and actions in this way, they were use to just living in it, and it was normal for them, until they actually sat down and talked about it. Many of them seemed to be sobered and alarmed at their actions and the actions of others; now knowing how dangerously risky and abnormal their lives were. Many of them thanked me for opening their eyes to their own world. Think about that, they told me about their lives, all I did was ask if having status and power as an athlete affected them in anyway. But in the end, to them it was as if I had just made them (accurately) aware of their own lives in ways they had no idea. For example guys talk about sexual activity that in the eyes of most, would be viewed as gang rape. This didn’t hit them until they actually were made to look at their lives from an objective and not power influenced point of view. They are so accustomed to living on impulsive and desire that they rarely are taught to process things rationally and with awareness of the circumstances. But this is what all of the research on power tells us could happen to individuals like athletes. Their words were merely practical confirmation of what the research field has already learned and continues to discover when it comes to individuals with high levels of status and social power. This was why I realized that for most of these athletes, we expected them to rationally function in a world that’s not their norm and carry themselves in ways they rarely have to, in their normal daily lives as power individuals. Let me just add, this does not just go on in sports, but in all high profile, high power cultures. We see it with politicians, corporate executives, and sports leaders. We’ve seen it recently with law enforcement and the inability of some police officers to effectively handle having power. We see it in faith circles with the moral failures, behavioral abuses, and exploitation of people by ministers, pastors, and other church leaders. Some are aware and choose to use their status and power in appalling ways for their own corrupt desires. However, many are not this way; many have unfortunately inherited a culture that their character and conduct has adapted to.