15 October 2006

Should Athletes be More Accountable than Other Students?

I was reading in the New York Times this morning about college and university responses to what happened at Duke University last year, when members of the Lacrosse team were accused of rape. (Here's a link to the Times story, but you may have to sign up for an account in order to read it.)

It seems a number of institutions are making tougher rules for their student athletes. According to the Times, "Scores of colleges and universities have begun enforcing codes of conduct for athletes that are more strict than those applied to the rest of the student body, officials said. More rigorous standards for athletes were among the recommendations of the panel investigating Duke’s internal response in the rape case."

I know we've been steadily developing a culture of "guilty until proven otherwise," but is this the wisest thing to do? And are we saying, "If you rape somebody, there's gonna be trouble, but if you happen to play football and get accused of rape, it's gonna be worse?"

I understand the temptation of the "Caeser's wife" approach - after all, the actions of an athlete are far more likely to be considered "newsworthy," - at least by the national media - than the actions of an average student. But I suspect that these new "rules" are just one more example of how we always seem to overreact to any new situation we face... or any situation that becomes news because, let's face it, accusations of rape are hardly uncommon on college campuses.

Of course, it's gone even farther than that. Some new rules (and some contracts) also hold the coach responsible for what their athletes do - even when not in school - and it's now clear that the coach can be fired based on student actions. "On the advice of United Educators and sometimes on the counsel of high-powered conference commissioners, colleges and universities have rewritten coaches’ contracts to specify that they can be fired for their players’ misbehavior."

When did we forget the simple truth that without authority, you can't have responsibility?

No comments: