Football, Gender, Rape Culture, and the Glory of God

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I sat down to write something related to the Super Bowl and was overcome with the possibilities. I could focus on sex trafficking – the Super Bowl acts as a magnet for this illicit activity. One escort service is alleged to sell “party packs” of drugs and prostitutes. Police are cracking down on organizations that hope to reap the benefits of increased demand from high end customers in town for the game.

Or, I could focus on the disrespectful attitudes toward women expressed in the sponsoring ads. Even though I’ve never done a tweet, the Representation Project almost made me open a twitter account so that I could join people worldwide in using hashtag #NotBuyingIt to call-out sexism during the Super Bowl.

I’ve been intrigued by the relationship, studied and discussed in interviews, books and articles between violent sports and violence against women. Lyell Walker, who manages a sports blog called Roll ‘Bama Roll, was interviewed recently by the BBC about violence against women and violence in American football. The discussion centered around two cases in which teenage girls were raped by star football players. The case in Maryville Missouri was thrown out, amidst media outrage over an apparent cover up. But in Ohio two football stars were found guilty and sentenced to serve time in a juvenile system. They were convicted primarily from evidence of text messages and cellphone pictures of the assault against the 16-year-old girl that were taken and shared. The article points to the way football players are treated as a contributing factor in this tragedy. “The 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.”

There are hundreds of similar examples that we could point to in the NFL, the NBA, and other sports, where the status of athletes has allowed them to walk away from charges of rape. Is there such thing as a rape culture in American football? Rape culture has been described as a concept that links rape and sexual violence to the very culture of a society, one in which attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate, and even condone rape. Another contributing factor is the myths that people tend to believe about rape. For example, many think of rape in terms of a stranger jumping out of the bushes and attacking a woman as she walks alone at night. In fact the vast majority of rapes occur in private homes, by someone who is known by the victim. Information about rape myths is available at www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/jhamlin/3925/myths.html

Lyell Walker also wrote another blog – a blog about his experience as a Christian and avid Alabama football fan. He makes a confession, “Don’t even think about watching a game with me ‘cause I am over the top and probably not very Christian-like during games. Worst of all, my kids are not allowed to talk to or even touch daddy during games. How awful is that? … It’s not funny the dogs hide when a game is on, it’s just sad.”

I don’t watch much football, but it’s hard not to get sucked in to all the Super Bowl hype. It’s a good thing to enjoy a game together, to appreciate the hard work and discipline that go into great athletic events. And there is God-given creativity expressed in ads that catch our attention. So, how do we watch the Super Bowl? Perhaps we watch with awareness. The Hebrew word for glory means “weight”. To God be the glory! When we say that, we need to think about the “weight” that something has in our lives. We need to carefully consider the “weight” we ascribe to things, and also to people. We need to be aware, and to challenge cultural norms that stand in contrast to our Lord and his kingdom.

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