Conflicting time for female fans

AP Photo/Nick Wass

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was arrested and charged with simple assault-domestic violence on Feb. 15 after a physical altercation with his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer. Palmer also was charged in the incident.

Sometimes it can be hard to be a sports fan. And for women who love sports, this may be a particularly tough stretch. Violence against women -- and allegations of such violence -- feel like a daily part of the sports section right now.

Oscar Pistorius is on trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Ray Rice pleaded not guilty to charges that he assaulted his fiancée. And multiple sexual assault charges are pending against former NFL safety Darren Sharper.

Colleges aren't immune, either. There are rape allegations at New Mexico involving football players. At Oregon, three basketball players involved in a sexual assault investigation were dismissed from the program. Then there is the case of Florida State's Jameis Winston. FSU is now under federal investigation for the way it looked into rape allegations last fall as Winston was having a Heisman- and national championship-winning season.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Kicker Katie Hnida came forward about abuse she received as a player at Colorado, and has continued to speak about violence against women.

When so much of the media and many of the fans meet these stories with apathy, it can be hard to be attuned to the pain of sexual violence. It's just so much easier to blindly cheer. espnW sat down to discuss some of these stories with kicker Katie Hnida, the first woman to score points in a Division I-A football game who has told her own story of rape. Hnida works with anti-assault groups and speaks on the issue at universities and to athletic groups

Katie Hnida: Let's start with Jameis Winston and the crab legs. What a stunning thing to see Florida State act so quickly on that but then to have taken no action on what was a rape allegation.

Jane McManus: So much so that the Department of Education is now investigating it for its response. The Obama administration released new guidelines for colleges when it comes to sexual assault. Is this going to change anything for women who want to report a rape?

Hnida: I was able to go to the White House to see them unveil the plan they have. I was impressed. It's not perfect, but it's really good. There are a lot of things that, provided they actually happen, will benefit the next generation of women going to college.

McManus: What will be the biggest change for schools?

Hnida: They will require schools to be educated more about sexual assault and everything that goes along with it. Because as a society, we still view sexual assault through this lens of misconceptions and common myths, and to have people on campus who actually know about this crime and know what it can do to a victim [can help]. So often people think, "Why didn't she do this? Why didn't she do that?" It's good for no one. Until you've walked in those shoes, you don't know.

McManus: And no one second-guesses anyone who's been robbed or any other victim of a crime.

Hnida: Exactly. Like, "Should you have had your television set so near to the window?" This is the only crime where they blame the victim.

McManus: What were the crab legs wearing?

Hnida: But there's been a change. The Department of Ed is not messing around listing the names of 55 institutions. It is starting to put the hammer down because they are not complying with Title IX or the Clery Act.

McManus Have there been many consequences? It's been all carrot, no stick. Will that change?

Hnida: I think it will, and that's going to be key -- what happens if they don't follow through? For me, as a survivor reading the report, it was incredibly encouraging. They talked to about 2,000 students and survivors and educators. If someone chooses to report, they know what's going to happen. Because all schools are different and it's nebulous sometimes. Starting right now, colleges are not allowed to bring up a woman's sexual past -- which is illegal outside the university world but has been allowed at universities.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Department of Education opened an investigation into Florida State's handling of sexual assault allegations against quarterback Jameis Winston and potential Title IX violations by the university.

McManus: And what a double standard that is. I think back to the Winston case, where people said he's just behaving like a normal college student but her behavior is abnormal. It's such a clear double standard, but especially on a college campus when it really is a time to sexually experiment. Do you think the guidelines will have an impact in sports?

Hnida: They will, but honestly I think it's going to take something more for sports because the dynamics are so different -- a regular student versus a student-athlete if they're a star, if they're winning the Heisman Trophy. I think people forget these schools are absolutely obligated to look into these incidents. Under Title IX, women get to have a fair, safe environment to pursue their education, and obviously that can't happen if you are being assaulted.

McManus: The dynamic that emerged after the Duke lacrosse case, where the three men who were indicted were found innocent, did that change the way fan bases look at women who press rape charges?

Hnida: Absolutely. Personally, I have so much trouble with the Duke lacrosse case because that's what comes up whenever there are allegations of sexual assault. Even though the defendants in that case were found innocent, this is something that they have to live with for the rest of their lives. The case is infamous. False rape allegations hurt everyone, including actual rape victims.

McManus: Let's talk about Ray Rice. There's a tape where you see him, very calmly, pulling his then-fiancée out of an elevator shaft, and to have no real legal consequences? Yes, it's complicated, Janay Palmer married him the day after he was indicted, but is there a message?

Hnida: I still haven't watched the video. I've heard it's bad, but very obvious what's happening.

McManus: There is reportedly video of Rice delivering the knockout punch that was turned over to the police.

Hnida: It sends this terrible message that it's OK or acceptable if you are a professional athlete. Because we put athletes on such a pedestal. But we still need to hold them accountable for their actions.

McManus: Do athletes get the same penalties? Some people say they are overly penalized. Some people think Plaxico Burress (who shot himself in the leg with an unlicensed gun in Manhattan) got an extra-heavy sentence because they wanted to make an example of him. But on the other hand, when you look at the way investigations into allegations against Winston and Ben Roethlisberger were handled, the police were very aware that they were dealing with an athlete and may have resulted in deeply flawed investigations.

Hnida: When we were at Colorado, if [a member of the football team] got in trouble, there was a contact on the police force. It was like, "Call this guy." They phrase it more like "He's our liaison," and somehow it's this positive thing. But if you get in trouble, this guy is on our side, quote-unquote.

McManus: Whereas women who are filing complaints or making allegations, they don't have that resource.

Hnida: And I think what's interesting when you talk about Plaxico, he hurt himself. And you see with Michael Vick, there is public hatred. I love animals, but I think it's worse to smack around a human being than a dog. Where is the outrage when this is happening to women? As a society, it's like we still don't always take domestic violence seriously.

Related Content