Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Out-of-Bounds: Schools Try to Reverse Off-the-Field Violence by Student-Athletes

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Out-of-Bounds: Schools Try to Reverse Off-the-Field Violence by Student-Athletes

Article excerpt

Out-Of-Bounds: Schools Try to Reverse Off-the-Field Violence by. Student-Athletes

The image of college sports is being sucker-punched by several instances of athletes being charged with off-the-field violence directed at women, critics say. The incidents aren't isolated and are bruising the reputations of some of the nation's most respected athletic powerhouses.

The University of Nebraska, the reigning national collegiate football champion, is one of the most notable cases. Heisman Trophy candidate and Nebraska star running back Lawrence Phillips pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, trespassing, and destroying property.

In January, Christian Peter, who was on probation at the time, was allowed to play for the Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl. He had pled guilty to sexual assault charges. But Nebraska is not alone in this league of misbehaving. Similar situations have occurred on the campuses of the University of Miami, University of Tennessee and University of Florida.

Profile in Violence

There is a growing public perception that male athletes are more likely than those students who don't play college sports to resort to violence. A 1994, study has reinforced that view.

University of Massachusetts and Northeastern University researchers concluded that male athletes are disproportionately involved in sexual assaults on college campuses. But some critics say the study is flawed.

For example, only 30 schools were included in the study. Researchers later concluded that their sample group was too small to arrive at any definitive conclusions. Also, in the study, researchers only included crimes of sexual assault that were filed with the campus police or the judicial affairs office at those institutions. Guilt or innocence was not addressed.

Prone to Violence

The idea that athletes are more prone to domestic violence than regular students doesn't sit well with Mike Jarvis, George Washington University basketball coach. "It's a tremendous mistake to think domestic violence is more prevalent among athletes than elsewhere," says Jarvis.

"It's not an athletic problem. This is a societal problem. It touches all of us. So we need to address the issue as a problem, just like we do with alcoholism and drug abuse. We have to educate people, and that has to start while they're still in junior high and high school."

Angela Beck, women's basketball coach at Nebraska, agrees with Jarvis, but maintains that stronger measures are needed. Beck's passion is fueled by the fact that 20-year-old Kate McEwen, one of her players, is the alleged victim in the Phillips case.

Beck says she wants the NCAA to legislate national standards for athletes who commit violent crimes. The matter, she said, should be before the NCAA when the organization meets for its annual convention in January.

"I brought it up (call for standards) to be proactive," she says. "It should be among the top 10 items for discussion at the [NCAA] convention.

"I don't have a formula for how it would work, and nobody has exact answers. But we need to talk about this, get some ideas on the table and establish some standards. It seems like it's becoming OK to be an athlete and be involved in some kind of crime. We need an attitudinal switch here," Beck says.

But Jarvis argues that new NCAA mandates won't make a difference or curb violent acts. The institutions, he says, should be responsible for handling their own problems and without the guidance of external laws.

"The school is where it begins and that's where it should end," argues Jarvis. "Sure, you can have more legislation, but the reality is that a school is only as good as the individual people who govern...in those situations where you have schools that don't or won't be accountable for what they do, all the laws still won't help."

Enforce the Rules

Dr. Thomas Hill, dean of students at the University of Florida, echoes disdain for a fresh round of NCAA rulemaking, characterizing new laws as unnecessary "micro-managing" of collegiate athletic program administrators. …

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