A few weeks before the historic election, The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University’s official newspaper, uncovered that the 2012 Harvard men’s soccer team created a “scouting report” rating incoming female freshmen recruits. Describing their looks with demeaning and degrading language, the players assigned each woman a number, preferred sexual position and a paragraph-long description often including sexually-explicit language.
The report — which was, until recently, publicly accessible on Google Groups — only came to the current Director of Athletics’ attention in late October this year. This “scouting report” is one of many. It was later discovered to have continued into 2016. Because of this, the team was suspended for the rest of the season, despite being favored to win at least one of two championships this year.
This team, however, is not the only one in hot water this year. A few days later, the captain of the Harvard men’s cross-country team admitted that his team created spreadsheets that also degraded their female counterparts. In it, they assessed the likelihood of their fellow athletes asking them to an end-of-the-year dance. While not exhibiting the level of disrespect shown by the soccer team, this group also included comments about women’s appearances. The captain encouraged his teammates to “come clean” regarding their comments in order to avoid the severity of punishment the soccer team received, citing the fact that they attempted to conceal these documents as the reason for their sentencing.
This past Friday, The Harvard Crimson announced that the team was placed on “athletic probation.” University lawyers found that the 2014 reports included “crude and sexualized statements” about that year’s female members, although the most recent 2016 report did not include such offensive language. The team’s members have asked for help and support in reshaping team culture to be more respectful, signaling that they have learned from their mistakes.
Nonetheless, the very fact that such language is used by athletes attending a prestigious institution is deeply troubling. As a university that prides itself on a high quality education, Harvard has failed to inspire respectful and insightful attitudes in its students, particularly males that are unquestionably talented, yet lack certain moral sensibilities. The fault does not lie with the university alone. Degrading language towards women is unfortunately a pervasive cultural phenomenon, and in order to change it, we must start from the ground up.
In these trying times, when the country is deeply divided and disrespect has become more rampant, it is more important to be champions of our fellow man. Sports have the great power of bringing people together and influencing people’s values. Athletes undeniably hold a unique position in molding the atmosphere in which they play. They must actively challenge the current dialogue in place and refuse to take part in it. Team leaders and coaches should take responsibility and encourage respectful behavior among their teammates, not because they are scared of the repercussions of bad behavior, but simply because it is the right thing to do.
Sinead Schenk is a senior in the College. This is the final installment of A Level Playing Field.
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