published Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Wiedmer: Miami mess echoes VU and Calhoun High cases

JaWand Blue, left, and Alexander Fugueroa
JaWand Blue, left, and Alexander Fugueroa
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The news out of the University of Miami on Tuesday had to sound disturbingly familiar to the football fans of Vanderbilt University and Calhoun (Ga.) High School.

According to various wire services, two 20-year-old linebackers for the Hurricanes were arrested on sexual battery charges involving a 17-year-old girl who was, according to the police report, "physically helpless to resist."

Both JaWand Blue and Alexander Fugueroa admitted buying drinks for the accuser, bringing her back to Figueroa's dorm room as Friday night rolled into Saturday morning and repeatedly performing -- you might want to grab the Sharpie or hit the delete button regarding the next seven words if small children are present -- sexual acts, including intercourse, without her consent.

The only slightly positive angle to this whole despicable story is that the players seem to have admitted swiftly to the entire crime, which should make putting them away for a very long period of time far easier than most of these cases. And the university immediately dismissed them from school.

But the more pressing question is when is this going to stop? Or at least become far less frequent? When are coaches and school administrators and most of all, most important of all, parents going to stamp out this behavior before it begins?

Everyone's innocent until proven guilty, of course. So the ongoing Vanderbilt rape case from last summer could still exonerate those former Commodores players. The same could prove true in the case of those three senior athletes at Calhoun.

But as my gifted colleague at this newspaper, David Cook, pointed out in the Calhoun case, to blame this on alcohol is a cop-out. This isn't about alcohol. It's about character, or lack thereof. It's about respecting women, which hasn't always been extremely high on all those lists that coaches post around locker rooms.

How many times have we heard it was the girl's fault? The way she dressed. The way she talked. All those drinks she consumed. The guy was just behaving the way he thought she wanted him to behave.

And maybe the messages aren't always as clear as they could be or should be. Maybe the alcohol plays a bigger role at some point than it should. Maybe a lot of teenagers and adults would do well to heed the words of former Georgia Tech and Alabama football coach Bill Curry, who has long preached, "Nothing good happens after 1 a.m."

But the presence or absence of alcohol should have nothing to do with right or wrong.

What happened to the girl at Vanderbilt last summer was wrong. What happened to the girl after the Calhoun High prom was wrong. What happened to this girl last Saturday in Miami was wrong. All of them one-thousand percent wrong.

And these incidents, eerily similar in nature, make you wonder when we're going to make stopping such abhorrent behavior before it starts a bigger priority than prosecuting it after it occurs. Prisons are necessary after the fact. But why not change the male mindset that gives birth to such evil?

Don't just trot out promising male athletes whose careers were ruined by a failure to respect the personal rights and wishes of the opposite sex. Make them listen to the women whose emotional and mental scars may never heal, no matter how many years their attacker remains behind bars. Make them watch videos, when available, of such disgusting behavior to the point the males become physically ill, not unlike "Clockwork Orange."

This is not to say there are no other issues here for both men and women to consider. Issues of morality and responsibility and common sense. On both sides.

But as a wise coaching friend of mine once said, "You can't legislate morality."

You can, however, educate against brutality, which now shows, according to a Violence Against Women survey, that 1 in 6 women will be a victim of sexual assault at least once in her lifetime. You can run two public service announcements on every NFL telecast that feature everyone from President Obama (who admirably already filmed one such ad in the past 18 months) to famous men and women from all walks of life demanding respect and restraint. Force the NBA, MLB and NCAA to do the same. Let all those entities assume the costs. They've got plenty of money to improve the common good.

You can also make every NCAA head coach in every sport conduct three seminars a year on the subject: one before the season, one during the season and one before the summer break. Much as every NCAA locker room is required to hang a poster warning of the dangers of gambling, similar posters should be hung decrying any form of sexual assault or intimidation.

Lastly, no means no. At all times. But especially in those times when the person is too compromised to say yes or no.

It won't wipe out the problem completely. But Miami president Donna Shalala's stance on the issue needs to be adopted by every school administrator at every level.

Said Shalala with commendable swiftness and resolve: "[The university] has zero tolerance for sexual assault and gender-based violence. There is no confusion about our responsibility as a university: We will fully and compassionately support the victim of sexual assault. I have spoken to her myself and reassured her of our full support."

If nothing else, such concern for the victims rather than the accused would provide them some small portion of the love and support needed to put such terrible traumas behind them.

Contact Mark Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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