That a 16-year-old cheerleader can be raped by a peer on the basketball team and then be dropped from the team because she refused to cheer for him during games is a repulsive example of how highly we value athletes — to the point where we’ll choose to forcefully and repeatedly traumatize a sexual assault victim rather than witness a microscopic lack of school spirit while someone shoots free throws.
To be clear, the cheerleader only refused to shout his name and cheer for him on the free throw line; she cheered otherwise. (Update: This is the cheer she refused to say: “Two, four, six, eight, ten! Go Rakheem. Put it in!” I mean, really? The school demanded she shout that to her rapist?) But now she’s stuck with the school’s legal fee bill: $45,000. All because she didn’t want to personally encourage the person who raped her (he plead guilty to misdemeanor assault, so the rape charge was dropped and he was free to remain on the basketball team). But this case never should have gone to the courts — the school system should have just been more understanding.
One of the major reasons the school wasn’t sensitive is that people are so obsessed with sports that they’ll overlook anything so long as their athletes remain able to play in the game. There’s no denying that athletes constantly get preferential treatment — especially at the high school and college levels, where the schools are focused on their team winning and keeping public support high because the teams are significant moneymakers. Oftentimes for better players, even fans are willing to look the other way at or forget about indiscretions if it means victory for the team (on the professional level, think Kobe Bryant or Michael Vick).
But we shouldn’t overlook the correlation between male student-athletes and sexual assault — one study showed that there was a significantly larger proportion of male student-athletes in reports of violence against women; another showed that on-the-field aggression can follow athletes outside the sports arena and into their relationships with women. In 2003, USA Today found that in the 12 years prior, 164 athletes and former athletes had been accused of sexual assault. If we want to combat sexual assault, enabling athletes and punishing victims isn’t the path to follow.
The school officials wanted to punish her though, because (1) cheerleading so powerfully affects these athletes’ talent and ability, plus (2) her lack of enthusiasm at the sight of her rapist was somehow unreasonable. I don’t know if it was because, as the Independent article claimed, she cheered in a “sport-obsessed small town” in Texas that demanded school spirit, or because they were afraid if she didn’t cheer then people would start asking questions. If the latter was their strategy, that didn’t go so well.
Does this guy really need her cheers to effectively make a basket? I doubt he gave a shit if she cheered for him at the free throw line. And, as my friend Nicole pointed out, forcing this cheerleader to scream her rapist’s name and cheer for him during games is assaulting her all over again. Should she be forced to quit if it makes her uncomfortable? Absolutely not. A sexual assault survivor shouldn’t have to change her life around to make her rapist feel better.
And let’s not forget: This girl is 16 years old. She is a child. She is a teenager and a student who should be protected by her teachers and school officials — instead, they are attacking her. Good to know she’ll use $45,000 that could’ve been a full four years at a public in-state college instead toward paying the legal fees for a school that demanded she cheer for someone who raped her or be kicked off the team — what a great message about the education system.
What’s the lesson here? We don’t want people asking questions or our athletes to feel unappreciated, so you better applaud whenever you see your rapist, because to us, school spirit is worth crushing your spirit.