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Empowering Women in Sports

Contact Sports and Violence Against Women

Another aspect of sports and women is the violence against women associated with contact sports like football, basketball, rugby, and ice hockey. The case of O.J. Simpson has trained the spotlight on the connection between male athletes and violence against women.

Mariah Burton Nelson, in her book The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football, points out that coaches of these sports often exhort players to perform better by telling them not to be 6 4 sissies" or "girls." She quotes rugby songs that describe violence against women, and talks about women-degrading language used by players of contact sports. Players ridicule the opposing team by calling them "girls." Being good at these sports, in other words, is associated with putting women down. Women are not seen as fellow athletes to be respected.

While these athletes talk about women in violent, degrading terms, are men athletes more likely to commit violence against women? A recent study of student-athletes at ten Division I universities showed that while male athletes made up only 3.3% of the male university population, they were 19% of the students reported for sexual assault. Of the male student-athlete S reported for sexual assaults, 67% were football or basketball players.

Another study by Mary Koss and John Gaines at the University of Arizona also suggests there is a link between men athletes and violence against women. According to a survey of 530 undergraduate men at the University of Arizona, men college students who participated in formal athletics were slightly more likely to feel hostile towards women, and to engage in sexual aggression, than other men. The best predictors of sexual aggression and hostility to women were high alcohol and nicotine use.56

Yet college and professional football players who commit sexual assault are often given preferential treatment by police, judges, and sports authorities, according to a Washington Post article. For example, the NFL usually does not suspend players who have been convicted of sexual assault, domestic violence, or other violence, and these players often do not lose lucrative endorsement contracts either.57

By encouraging boys to become aggressive, violent athletes, and by encouraging girls to cheer for them, we perpetuate the cycle of male aggression and violence against women.

(Empowering Women in Sports, The Empowering Women Series, No. 4; A Publication of the Feminist Majority Foundation, 1995)