Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Sports

Hypocritical NCAA content to defer on domestic abuse

Before the Orange Bowl last week, Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon starred in a bizarre say-nothing news conference as he faced reporters for the first time since sitting out the 2014 season for allegedly punching a woman. A media representative threatened to have reporters escorted out who asked "non-football" questions.

It was reminiscent of former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who was accused of rape before accepting the 2013 Heisman Trophy. During his news conference in New York, when reporters attempted to ask him about the case, a team representative jumped in to chide media and then whisked Winston away.

But in these cases of alleged domestic abuse and sexual assault against women, the athletes aren't the quietest ones. The most silent on these issues is the NCAA.

True to its hypocritical form, the organization makes a dangerous problem such as domestic violence on campuses worse by shrugging its shoulders and leaving the universities to decide on punishment (often a tsk-tsk response to serious allegations).

Kudos to the NCAA for working with the White House to start the It's On Us campaign to raise awareness about sexual assault on campuses. But in actuality, the organization is clearly telling college programs: It's Up To You.

The NCAA likes to pick and choose when it plays strict Big Brother.

Deciding when an adult man should be allowed to become a professional in his chosen career? Check. Denying players' rights to make a profit off of their abilities but ensuring that college coaches and universities maximize their profits? Check. Monitoring at which points of the year a recruit can receive a phone call from a prospective coach? Check.

Almost every year, a top-flight freshman sits out in basketball while the NCAA meticulously reviews his eligibility. But when it comes to things ranging from drug use to domestic violence to sexual assault, the NCAA takes a laissez-faire approach and lets the universities decide the appropriate punishment. There seems to be little rhyme or reason to how teams discipline players, even on the same team.

Often depending on the talent of the player, coaches and administrators give players a "permissible benefit" of the doubt. Just look at Les Miles' record of second chances doled out at LSU.

And, yes, sometimes players deserve a second chance.

The NCAA said in a statement that schools are responsible for "developing approaches and programming that are consistent with the needs of their student body." The statement also pointed out that NCAA schools are required to follow federal laws, as issued by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, on sexual harassment, bullying and violence against all students under Title IX.

"Prevention of violence and sexual assault is a responsibility we all must share," the statement read. "The NCAA is committed to supporting and working with campus professionals and subject-matter experts to create and maintain safe campus environments."

But it would be wise for the NCAA to institute some standard policies for programs to follow when it comes to crimes against women.

Oklahoma had Mixon sit out a year, but he returned this season and was shielded from having to publicly acknowledge a heinous act. He was charged with a misdemeanor for the alleged 2014 attack and entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant pleads guilty without admitting guilt. He said at Orange Bowl media day he had no regrets and referred questions to his lawyer.

Mixon isn't alone. This isn't just an NFL problem either. Sexual assaults on campuses are not unique to athletes, but the issue deserves greater attention.

Some are certainly doing the right thing.

Applaud the SEC for becoming in May the first major conference to prohibit teams from signing transfers who were dismissed from other schools for domestic violence or sexual assault allegations. Give former South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier a shout-out for his zero-tolerance policy for any player who hits a woman.

In 2014, the NCAA Executive Committee issued a resolution stating that athletic departments can't have oversight into sexual assault allegations against athletes after a Senate survey found 22 percent of colleges were allowing this. The NCAA also published and distributed a handbook in 2014 to each NCAA athletic program about dealing with sexual assaults.

These are all good steps.

But the NCAA should be setting a standard, not hiding from the issue. — Chicago Tribune (TNS)

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