Cook: Dominance, power and sports culture in Ooltewah

Cook: Dominance, power and sports culture in Ooltewah

January 10th, 2016 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

Stop calling it hazing.

A pool cue? A ruptured colon? Teammate-on-teammate violence to the point of hospitalization?

That's not hazing.

That's rape.

Nineteen days ago, a teenage boy was raped and assaulted during an Ooltewah High basketball trip, and Chattanooga is roiling, with some calling for the resignation of coaches, administrators, even Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith.

(Fire Smith? Now? Where has the outrage been over the ongoing breakdown — low test scores, failing infrastructure, little vision, a demoralized faculty — of Hamilton County's schools? Why not call for Smith's resignation then?)

(And please remember: women and girls are routinely raped in this town, yet to a fraction of such public outrage. Had the victim been female — say, a cheerleader — would our fury be as great? Or would we subtly question what she was wearing, or if she'd been drinking, or if she'd been, you know, asking for it?)

Yes, without question, Ooltewah should have canceled the rest of its basketball season. The school should put itself at half-mast, some voluntary athletic fast out of grief and trembling and respect.

So should the rest of us.

Not only Ooltewah, but the entire Hamilton County athletic schedule should pause before such atrocity; we should all — every sport, every season — stop playing for a week, a month, with every coach, fan, parent, player and administrator engaged in moral inventory.

What is the purpose of sports, especially high school sports?

What is the connection between athletics and power, especially among high school athletes?

What is the connection between athletics and violence, especially among males?

Because this Ooltewah assault — no matter how violent and extreme it is — did not happen on its own, in some contextless vacuum.

The assault resides on a long spectrum of violence within sports, just one more member of a poisoned family tree. The Ooltewah rape? It's connected to Ray Rice, Aaron Hernandez, doping, steroids, a win-at-all-costs mentality that awards college and pro coaches with more money than God, the sexual objectification that regulates women — "you throw like a girl" — to sidelines and swimsuit issues, the embrace of a national pastime that routinely causes brain trauma, and a concussion-mindset that forsakes and sacrifices the brains and health of men and young men for the rings of power, fame and glory.

Rape is an act of dominance and power.

Sports, too, involve acts of dominance and power.

No matter how furious we are about Ooltewah, we should not dodge and evade an understanding of the larger sports culture we live in and help create. No other realm of American life has as much influence on the development of boys and men as athletics.

And what a marvelous, transformative job sports can do. Sports culture is linked to bravery, the development of moral code, the celebration and appreciation of bodies in motion; sports are the beautiful, gritty arena where we learn about ourselves and others. Think Jackie Robinson to Wilma Rudolph to Larry Bird. Think older boys mentoring younger ones with guidance and love. Think about that coach that changed your life for the best.

"You're not a team until you care for one another," one friend said his coach used to say.

Yet sports culture has a dark side, especially among males, and is able to deteriorate into a gladiatorial world of mini-acts of power and violence, where playing sports feels like early practice for warfare.

The dark side of sports culture teaches that manhood is synonymous with dominance and power.

Rape teaches the same thing.

The dark side of sports culture teaches boys to snuff out compassion for a "man-up" toughness. That crying is soft. That emotion is soft. That manhood is only fully realized through an alpha-male hierarchy. That male violence can be shrugged off in a boys-will-be-boys kind of way.

We should ask ourselves:

Would we rather our child — or college alma mater — have a coach that wins every game, or a coach that loses, yet also offers unforgettable, life-changing, moral instruction?

Would we be willing for our child's team — or college alma mater — to lose more games in exchange for time spent volunteering in the local community?

What is joked about in the locker room? How are women and girls discussed? How much pornography do players consume? What insults, slurs or put-downs are used? How does the coach speak to his players? With respect? With love? Or shame? Humiliation?

Whether we fully realize it or not, sports culture gives clear instructions on what it means to be a man in America today. From the NFL down to Little League.

Could the violence that happened in Ooltewah happen elsewhere?

In many ways, it already has.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.

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