Are you embarrassed?

August 23, 2004 | 23 comments
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Many of you have heard about the latest sex scandal associated with BYU’s football program. For those who haven’t, four members of the football team are being investigated in connection with the following events:

The 17 year old told detectives she met the men at the mall on Sunday August 8th, and willingly went to their off campus apartment. Inside she claims she was accepted their offer to drink vodka, a pornographic DVD was playing on a TV, and that she later passed out and awoke to find herself undressed. She says she was raped by three or four men over a period of 20 to 30 minutes.

If the story is true, I feel very sad for the young woman. Unfortunately, many such events go unreported and unpunished because of ambiguities of proof and ambivalence about blame. And, of course, even those cases that are reported do not attract the same amount of media attention as this case, though the Kobe Bryant case reminds us that media attention can be a very bad thing for the vicitms.

As you might imagine, this story — on the heels of a similar event in the spring semester that led to the loss of several prominent players — has caused great consternation among BYU football fans. Perhaps not surprisingly, it has also attracted attention from people who question the role of big-time athletics at a Church-owned institution. (Note the implied assumption of a connection between big-time athletics and immorality that some accept as obvious and others might find objectionable.) While it is important to remember that the investigation is ongoing and no charges have been levelled against current team members — either by the police or by BYU — it is understandable that people would be engaged in debate over the issue.

This morning, however, I found an opinion that surprised me, at least a little bit. The Salt Lake Tribune ran a story yesterday based on an interview with Rondo Fehlberg, former BYU athletic director:

“I’m not even there anymore and it’s embarrassing to me personally,” Fehlberg said. “I feel a very real sense of responsibility.” Working in the private sector since 1999, after heading BYU’s athletic department for five years, Fehlberg believes the feeling extends to every LDS member, even those without a BYU affiliation. “You can’t separate BYU from the church,” Fehlberg said. (emphasis added)

Despite my earlier tic post about the connection between BYU athletics and the Church, Fehlberg’s comments seem silly to me. I am a BYU alum, and I do not feel personal shame because a few football players allegedly engaged in reprehensible behavior. I also do not take credit for Ken Jennings. But maybe I am the exception. Are you embarrassed by this story?

(Note that it is still far from clear whether BYU football players were involved or if involved, to what extent. At the moment, the public details are rather scant, so people are filling in the gaps with rumors. For example, Dick Harmon, the Deseret News reporter on all things related to BYU sports has reported: “According to multiple sources, players involved in the investigation told teammates that it was not they who got the girl drunk and that she never had her clothes off and just passed out. They say they tried to wake her up, insisting she had to leave. An Aug. 10 search warrant signed by 4th District Judge Lynn Davis requested detectives look for a vodka bottle. The warrant receipt returned did not indicate a vodka bottle had been found. The receipt did list a box of condoms and pornographic item recovered as evidence, items the complainant alleged would be found at the apartment…. One story that surfaced Friday is that one of the suspects agreed to a polygraph test and passed it; that two or three other BYU football players refused to take the polygraph because they didn’t trust the process.”)

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23 Responses to Are you embarrassed?

  1. Bryce I on August 23, 2004 at 2:24 pm

    Isolated criminal and/or immoral actions of individuals, while unfortunate, do not and should not reflect upon the institution as a whole, unless the action is taken on behalf of the institution.

    Patterns of behavior that are tolerated or even encouraged by the institution, however, do reflect on the institution, and by extension, to those associated with that institution (at least the way I see it). So a series of incidents raises a red flag — are the incidents unrelated, or are they symptomatic of a institutional problem? Do athletes get a wink and a nod too often, leading to greater than expected incidence of serious rule/law breaking? Are admission standards for athletes out of line with the university in general? Does the coaching staff emphasize on-field performance over decent, upstanding behavior? Let’s wait and see.

    Also, as a former BYU college bowl player, I’m perfectly willing to take credit for Ken Jennings, just so long as he’s willing to extend credit to me. How does 3.99% APR sound? :)

  2. Grasshopper on August 23, 2004 at 4:22 pm

    ‘You can’t separate BYU from the church,’ Fehlberg said.”

    At least not if you used to be the athletic director at BYU. Others of us don’t find it so hard…

  3. BTD Greg on August 23, 2004 at 4:37 pm

    I have no problem separating my church membership from my (lack of) support for BYU. This story strikes me as tragic, but gives me no personal embarassment whatsoever.

  4. BYUgrad on August 23, 2004 at 5:13 pm

    I’m not especially embarassed about the alleged behavior of the individuals. However, as Bryce I suggests, I am embarassed that this is the latest example of a repeated pattern of incidents going back, to my personal knowledge, at least 25 years. In the previous instances of which I am aware, the University did little to correct the problem and essentially swept it under the rug. I will be curions to see if anything has changed. I suspect it hasn’t — that’s the embarassing part.

  5. Silus Grok on August 23, 2004 at 8:14 pm

    I feel no shame as an alum… just a sense of sadness that such a thing may have happened (regardless of venue).

    One thing I would mention, however, is that it seems that in cases of sexual assault (especially against a woman), the presumption of innocence is thrown out the window.

    *sigh*

    Which is sickening.

  6. greenfrog on August 23, 2004 at 8:47 pm

    The presumption of innocence is an important protection of the individual from the government. And it still applies quite vividly in that arena.

    It does not have any particular bearing on individuals’ personal views of a situation.

    Should it? Perhaps that is a discussion for another thread.

  7. Brian Duffin on August 24, 2004 at 12:58 am

    As someone who avoided BYU, I feel no personal shame at all. (ASU has its share of sex scandals and athletics to go around!)

    While I feel terrible for the girl involved, I can’t help but ask the question: “What in the he11 was she thinking?” Seriously? What is a 17-year old girl doing in an apartment with a bunch of football players, booze and porn? Was she expecting BYU TV and CES Firesides? Get real!

    Now, before I am judged as sexist and unfeeling, let me say that if the allegations prove true, then the players should receive the maximum penalty under the law. I’ve assisted with enough rape cases working in law enforcement to severely dislike the perpetrators of sex crimes.

  8. lyle on August 24, 2004 at 2:23 am

    mayhap now BYU will stop going after athletes based on “performance” scouting & work instead to field a team that is both moral & competent. I could deal with no bowl games if it meant no scandals…

  9. Ashleigh on August 24, 2004 at 3:01 am

    My brother actually played football at BYU, then professionally, what’s-it-been, 20 years ago, am I that old? Just thinking of his experience and those of other players I know, there was most definitely an entirely different set of expectations and requirements for players.

    First of all he would never have been accepted to BYU to begin with, and I am about 95% certain he would never have made it through 1 year of college let alone 5 without the football special education program. He’s plenty smart, he’s just lazy and irresponsible. (and talented)(btw, he never did get a degree)

    I remember once he told me that the entire defensive line was using steroids the year BYU won the championship (83? 84?). “But the church is still true” he said. He’s a kick in the pants. I’m sure beyond drugs and women and vodka and porn and grades there are other abuses of privilege as well. He is/was a naughty guy and I know that (at least in my brother’s time) the vast majority of these abuses were known and overlooked.

    I don’t have strong feelings about the presence of football or other big time sports at BYU or other universities for that matter. He is one of those guys who could never have gone to college without a scholarship and an academic scholarship being out of the question, the football program opened up opportunities he would never otherwise have had. However, I think it does set up a system of elitists and special interests that can easily run amuck without tight controls. But it can also be an awful lot of fun.

    However as you might suspect, the football atmosphere at BYU is downright wholesome compared to my brother’s experience in professional ball. I think there is a social sickness surrounding celebrity in this country.

    Oh wait, what was the question, am I embarrassed? Yeah, I guess I am.

    And Brian, no doubt the 17 yo infant was stupid, but your implication is that she should have expected something like this. Very few of us expect to be victims of violence. And the very fact that you imply that “she should have known” assigns her guilt for not leaving. While I’m sure she was not expecting BYU TV, neither was she expecting to be drugged and raped. I promise you if she had been expecting that, *if ANY woman expected that*, she would decline the opportunity.

  10. Brian Duffin on August 24, 2004 at 11:46 am

    Ashleigh:

    I didn’t mean to imply that she should have expected to be drugged and raped–not at all. Rather, she should have known that all was not well in Zion, if you catch my drift.

    Not having read the police reports, but based on the news accounts I have read, apparently she was the lone female in the midst of these football players.

    If a reasonable person walks into a party with booze, porn and members of the opposite sex, would that person expect to read scriptures, or be ready for a wild and raucous party?

    This 17-year old IS a victim, but she needed to do a serious sanity check before walking into a snake pit.

    Brian

  11. danithew on August 24, 2004 at 3:49 pm

    Maybe we should kill off BYU football and bring back College Bowl. :)

  12. Ryan Bell on August 24, 2004 at 4:44 pm

    I’m sort of surprised that no one has stepped forward and admitted to being embarrassed.

    I understand that within the church, we are free to feel as close or as distant from BYU as we want. It’s our own choice whether we want to feel ownership in the school. That’s fine.

    But when it comes to the world in general, we don’t have a choice about how BYU is perceived. Whether you hate the Y or not, your non-Mormon neighbor sees BYU as synonymous with the Mormon church, and will almost certainly allow his perception of BYU to color his perception of the Church.

    So go ahead and declare independence from the school in your own life. But don’t imagine that bad press for BYU has no effect on you. If we care about how our church is seen abroad, we will care about how BYU is seen as well, because like it or not, to Joe Sixpack, there’s little distinction between BYU and LDS.

  13. Ashleigh on August 24, 2004 at 5:21 pm

    “This 17-year old IS a victim, but she needed to do a serious sanity check before walking into a snake pit.”

    Brian, I didn’t think you were contesting her “victim” status but I think your words still imply that she is partly to blame because she put herself in a dangerous/sinful situation. I agree that she expected a wild and raucous party, and the porn and booze and yuck that comes with it. But to imply that she should have known that entering the snake pit would lead to rape is akin to saying that women should know that dressing like a tramp will lead to rape. I’m sure if she had been told at the door that should she decide to enter she would be gang-raped, she would have turned around and left.

    I’m not saying that you believe she was to blame for her rape, only that to me, your choice of words implies culpability. Perhaps to express the practical concern that girls should be more vigilant in protecting themselves you could say something like, “It’s unfortunate that she put herself in such a vulnerable situation.” Or in some way that acknowledges the risk without implying blame for her lack of foreknowledge.

  14. Guy W. Murray on August 24, 2004 at 5:47 pm

    “I think your words still imply that she is partly to blame because she put herself in a dangerous/sinful situation.”

    Does she not bear any responsibility for the eventual outcome by placing herself in a dangerous situation? Don’t actions have consequences–even if unanticipated and/or unintended?

    Guy

  15. greenfrog on August 24, 2004 at 6:31 pm

    I am a BYU alum, and I do not feel personal shame because a few football players allegedly engaged in reprehensible behavior. I also do not take credit for Ken Jennings. But maybe I am the exception. Are you embarrassed by this story?

    Perhaps I’m thinking too hard about this question, but to me, “embarrassed” would suggest that I have had something disclosed that I wanted to keep hidden.

    To the contrary, I think we should broadcast it from the rooftops — we are as capable of wrong-doing as any other group, and to the extent that we’re pretending we are not, we should stop.

    IMO, it’s only when we acknowledge that LDS Church members are rapists and that LDS Church members are rape victims that we, as LDS Church members, can begin to address these problems rather than continue imagining that this has nothing to do with us.

    *hops off soapbox*

  16. Glen Henshaw on August 24, 2004 at 6:36 pm

    IMHO college sports in general do a disservice to the purpose of higher education, which is, well, education. As Ashleigh alluded to, many athletes get into and stay in college because of their athletic ability, not their academic ability. And at the vast majority of colleges and universities, the athletic programs lose money — they only stay afloat because of alum donations *to the athletic department*.

    My most recent alma mater, the University of Maryland, just spent over $100 million on a new basketball arena. That money could have completely covered the tuition of the entire student body for two years.

    Yes, I’m embarrased. On both counts.

    Glen

  17. Keith on August 24, 2004 at 7:00 pm

    I have to admit to feeling a sense of shame, regret, and dismay in connection with the action of others who belong, in some way, to the same group that I do. This is not only true of those mentioned, but also of the actions of those in the Abu Ghraib prison, or when a USA athlete performs well but behaves arrogantly, or over a nation that has a past of slavery. I really don’t know how to avoid it.

    Paul says we are members one of another. To me that means we have some sense of shared identity and that identification cuts both ways in widely publicized happenings–a sense of interest/pride when someone like Ken Jennings does well, a sense of dismay when one associated in some way does poorly. For all the teachings of individual responsibility, the sense of corporate identity seems equally true.

  18. embarrassed John on August 24, 2004 at 7:53 pm

    I can’t believe that Dick Harmon is being quoted here. He is about as biased as they come. I bet he dresses up as a Y cheerleader for Halloween.

    When I was in high school one of the coaches, a former player at the Y, asked coach Edwards if he would set his daughter up with some of the young men on the football team. Coach Edwards refused, saying that the ones that weren’t already married were all trouble and he couldn’t feel good about any of them.

    I doubt that things have gotten better under Crowton.

  19. Ashleigh on August 25, 2004 at 3:07 am

    >Does she not bear any responsibility for the eventual outcome by placing herself in a dangerous situation?

    No Guy, a woman bears none of the responsibility for being raped. No matter how alluring, tempting, or overtly sexual a woman’s behavior, men are not victims of their libido. And a woman is never responsible for a man’s decision to rape her. Not ever.

    Not if she dresses provocatively, not if she has a reputation as willing, not if she dances naked in a room full of drunk football players. Certainly you can question her intelligence for putting herself at risk because it’s an evil dangerous world, but the rapist still holds 100% of the responsibility for the rape. No matter how strong the temptation, he made the choice to rape.

    >Don’t actions have consequences–even if unanticipated and/or unintended?

    Certainly, but consequences are not the same as responsibility. If a black woman chose to walk into a bar full of angry skinheads and was murdered, you could question her intelligence for putting herself at risk, but the skinheads would still bear full responsibility for choosing to kill her.

  20. Sam B. on August 25, 2004 at 10:43 am

    “As Ashleigh alluded to, many athletes get into and stay in college because of their athletic ability, not their academic ability.”

    I’m not sure that this is fair–it describes maybe a small subset of really good athletes. Having lived with volleyball players and track–what? players? competitors?–the lower-prestige athletes neither get into school because of their prowess nor ignore their studies.

    That said, though, collegiate athletics serves many purposes, not the least of which is allowing people who wouldn’t otherwise have experienced a college education to get one. Plus the number of Olympic athletes who trained at US colleges (or, I’m sure, colleges of their own countries–NBC’s coverage is skewed, and, therefore, so is my knowledge) is stunning.

    That said, it is too bad that a small number of high-profile athletes feel that they’re beyond the law; I just don’t feel that they taint either the university or athletic programs in general. Maybe, though, they should serve as a wake-up call.

  21. Kaimi on August 25, 2004 at 11:30 am

    Ashleigh writes:

    “And a woman is never responsible for a man’s decision to rape her. Not ever.”

    I agree with your broad point, but the lawyer in me wants to quibble over the details.

    A woman has a responsbility to convey lack of consent. This may be assumed (if she is incapacitated). If she is not incapacitated, I think she does have a responsbility to make her lack of consent known.

    Thus, if a man says “let’s have sex” and the woman (assuming no incapacitation or inability-to-consent issues) thinks “no way” but actually says “yes,” she has, through her actions (her spoken consent) agreed to sex, and (unless she withdraws the consent prior to sex) any ensuing sex will not be rape.

    (To further muddle things, there are interesting technical questions of how to treat a woman’s assertion of “no” that is reasonably understood by a man as “yes.” For example, a woman who speaks English as a second language and has the terms mixed up, and repeatedly asserts “Yes” when she is in fact meaning “no.” Or that wacky English case that we talked about in crim law, where a husband told his friends that his wife had a rape fetish, and that she would yell “no” as part of her enjoyment, and his friends then raped the wife. That court, as I recall, found no rape on the part of the friends because they reasonably believed that she was consenting. It has been criticized.).

  22. Glen Henshaw on August 25, 2004 at 5:52 pm

    Sam B. wrote:

    “That said, though, collegiate athletics serves many purposes, not the least of which is allowing people who wouldn’t otherwise have experienced a college education to get one.”

    I’ve heard that point a lot, but I’m not sure it’s a good one. I believe — although it’s certainly arguable — that colleges have a responsibility to give “nontraditional” students a shot at earning a higher education. But there are better ways to determine who should be given that shot than athletic ability. Scholastic ability would be one. Artistic or musical ability would be another. In any case, I’m not sure that the majority of division 1 football and basketball players end up becoming educated in any meaningful sense anyway.

    I’m certainly not against college athletics. I just dislike the current model for them, where college teams becoming de facto minor leagues for professional sports. And I dislike the corrupting factor the resulting money has on higher education. Obviously volleyball and track, and many other sports, aren’t the huge money-making sports that football and volleyball are, and as a result in most cases volleyball players and track athletes are, as you point out, actual students. In a lot of places football and basketball players just aren’t.

    I’d prefer the old Ivy League model. Every student who wants to should be able to play on a team. Nobody should get scholarships for it, there shouldn’t be any tickets, there shouldn’t be any bowl games or huge television contracts.

    I recognize that it’s wishful thinking, though.

    Glen

  23. Sam B. on August 25, 2004 at 7:37 pm

    Glen,
    Having just graduated from an Ivy, I’d prefer a winning team (I guess I always have my undergrad, BYU. I hope).

    My sister’s at Stanford, and I like their system.

    I see academic and artistic ability already being rewarded. I had a friend at BYU, though, who probably never would have gotten into college if he weren’t a really good athlete. He never blossomed into the best student, but he did graduate and did play sports. And I think that’s an absolutely win-win situation. And I don’t see the inherent conflict between athletics and education–I agree that often they should be better integrated, but learning to use our bodies is just as important, IMO, as learning to use our minds.