Sex cases throw light on dark side of a culture

March 26, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

ALISON JENNINGS is still fighting, winning back a little bit of the life she lost after deciding to sue four Oklahoma State football players, the university, the city of Stillwater and the police department for the way her 1999 rape case was handled.

Or rather, how the case was covered up, botched, turned against her.

Maybe the University of Colorado, where accusations of rape by football players keep cropping up, is aware that, on May 3, Jennings' appeal will be heard in Oklahoma City.

"The court said she could not sue for being lied to or for the destruction of evidence, but we will make our argument," said David Hammonds, an Oklahoma City attorney who took the case three years ago, pro bono.

Hammonds is still working on settling the score for Jennings and reversing a culture that made it too easy for a big-time college athletic program to make the rape of a student by four players disappear.

Or at least they tried to make it disappear.

How much did Marcellus Rivers of the New York Giants and Alvin Porter of the Ravens have to pay Jennings?

The financial terms reached last July are confidential (Jennings did not seek criminal charges after signing a waiver she later said was coerced by police).

But ever since Jennings settled her federal lawsuit against two of the four Oklahoma State football players she accused of rape, you had to wonder:

For a victim of sexual assault, what price could be worth the pain, public ridicule, humiliation, threats, depression, joblessness and lost time?

It's a material question, considering the rape case against Kobe Bryant. The NBA player and his accuser were in court again yesterday. The 19-year-old woman's attorney asked the judge to set a trial date so she can get on with her life.

A court filing states the woman has been "forced to quit school, she cannot live at home, she cannot talk to her friends and she has received literally hundreds of phone calls and e-mails threatening either death or mutilation," according to Associated Press reports.

For a victim of alleged sexual assault, what price could be worth any of this?

It's a material question considering that this week, the eighth alleged victim of sexual assault by a Colorado football player or recruit was made public.

The Rocky Mountain News reported yesterday that university officials learned about this eighth alleged victim and the 4-year-old incident during its ever-expanding investigation into the football program.

The probe stems from a suit filed by three alleged rape victims who have accused the football program of using sex to lure recruits.

How is it that the culture of sports slides into the danger zone of sexual innuendo, power, abuse, violence?

Pretty easy, it seems, when Gary Barnett can stand in front of the national media and attempt to deny his football program has a serious problem.

How does it get like this?

Winks and nods.

Coaches who not only condone an attitude of sexism, but also use it to enhance their status, to make themselves one of the guys, to get kids to want to come to their school and play football.

It took an NCAA gambling violation to bring down football coach Rick Neuheisel at Washington. But as Neuheisel wages a legal battle against the university for the way he was terminated, it's a good time to review what some of us in the wide world of sports consider one of Slick Rick's worst character flaws, besides the truth-skirting and "creative" recruiting practices:

The wink-wink willingness to make women the butt of his easy, breezy jokes and frat-boy manner.

His decision to take the Huskies football team to the Playboy Mansion during Washington's trip to the 2000 Holiday Bowl turns out to be one of the most telling things about the kind of coach and recruiter Neuheisel was/is.

Neuheisel made pretty quick work of offending a segment of the university community that might expect a representative of the university to respect all members.

Around the time of the Playboy Mansion visit, Neuheisel gave a talk to a sociology class. He asked only the women to participate in a demonstration about football.

He made the three women crouch in a three-point stance with their rear ends toward the audience. He told one of the women she could be the center and laughed at the audience, telling them, "No, you can't be the quarterback."

He asked one of the women whether she had ever been "double-teamed" before, wink-winking all the way.

Teaching assistants and students were dumbfounded and/or appalled. Is this the highest-paid man on campus?

It most certainly wasn't only gambling that made Washington decide it was time for Neuheisel to go.

What's the point?

Alleged sexual assault victim No. 8 has turned up in Colorado.

As Barnett, Colorado's currently suspended coach, continues to put more and more feet into his ignorant mouth, it should be said that patterns of sexual abuse -- personal or institutional -- don't just show up over spring break. The accusations date to 1997.

Neuheisel was a coach at Colorado from 1994 to 1998. The culture of the football program is so entrenched, it has Sports Illustrated columnist and Colorado alum Rick Reilly calling for the firing of athletic director Dick Tharp.

A lot of lines have to be crossed before a college program reaches the kind of depths alleged at Colorado. But if you already have a coach making an idiot of himself with sexist, juvenile behavior, it's a much shorter trip.

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