Talking Title IX

Sexual assault allegations in professional sports send a powerful message

More stories from Nicole Bellford

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Over the course of the past couple months, a flood of sexual misconduct allegations have come to light against various powerful men who had previously been well-respected and successful within their respective industries. From film producer Harvey Weinstein, to past President George H.W. Bush, to past head of Amazon Studios Roy Price, the list continues to grow.

Regardless of the increasing allegations, however, my heart still dropped when I heard yet another name — this time in the realm of sports — was on the chopping block.

Earlier this month, U.S. Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney came forward and shared their stories regarding alleged sexual abuse from their former team doctor, Larry Nassar. Nassar is currently in jail for child pornography charges but will face an upcoming trial regarding sexual misconduct allegations from more than 130 women, including Raisman and Maroney.

Maroney posted her story on Twitter using the #MeToo hashtag, explaining that Nassar repeatedly gave her what he called “medically necessary treatment” from the age of 13 until the end of her Olympic career.  

“It seemed whenever and wherever this man could find the chance, I was ‘treated,’” Maroney tweeted. “It happened in London before my team and I won the gold medal, and it happened before I won my silver.”

A few weeks later, Raisman spoke out via Twitter, in her recently released book, “Fierce,” and through an interview with “60 Minutes,” shedding light on her own “treatment” from Nassar.

Raisman said she was first “treated” by Nassar at 15 years old, and, like Maroney, experienced sexual abuse throughout her career. During her “60 Minutes” interview, Raisman said it is important to encourage female athletes to speak up against mistreatment rather than question it.

“Why are we looking at why didn’t the girls speak up?” Raisman said. “Why not look at what about the culture? What did USA Gymnastics do, and Larry Nassar do, to manipulate these girls so much that they are so afraid to speak up?”

Listening to Raisman’s interview, I couldn’t agree more. It’s unbelievably frustrating and heartbreaking to hear hundreds of successful women, both in sports and various other industries, had to endure such disgusting and despicable treatment from men. Furthermore, it saddens me beyond belief to think about how many of these women were too afraid to come forward to share their stories.

Although my column focuses on Title IX, the sports equity act aimed at generating equality among federally funded institutions, I want to emphasize how pertinent it is for society to demand equality and fair treatment everywhere, regardless of the program or affiliation.

Young, impressionable female athletes in the high school and collegiate realms look up to professional athletes like Raisman and Maroney. They idolize these women. How do you think it must feel to see your idols mistreated in this way?

Women, regardless of their power, accomplishments or status, are repeatedly being treated as less than human. They are being treated as objects. And our society is allowing it.

This type of treatment has a trickle-down effect. We cannot let the events that have occurred in professional sports influence the treatment of female athletes in federally funded institutions. We cannot be complacent anymore.

Professional athletic programs should serve as a model for female empowerment, fairness and equality. We need to hold men in power accountable for their actions and encourage women to not be afraid to take a stand against anyone who fails to uphold standards of basic human decency.

It’s not okay. It never was, and it never will be. It’s time society comes together to enforce this.