Tribal Sovereignty

E.S.P.N. broadcasts a most informative program called “Outside The Lines,” which often turns over rocks in the sports world that many would have us ignore. They recently broadcast a program dealing with the failure of Baylor University to investigate the allegations that several women were raped by one of the Baylor football players. This report came on the heels of the report that Florida State recently paid nearly a $1 million penalty to Erica Kinsman who claimed that Jameis Winston raped her while he was a player at that school.  Florida State’s handling of the case has been described thusly:

‘ . . . the university did not even approach Winston about Kinsman’s accusations until January 2014, after the Seminoles had won the national championship; . . . the Tallahassee Police Department’s investigation was so slipshod that the local prosecutor threw up his hands when the case finally landed on his desk; . . . Kinsman was shunned by her fellow students, called a slut and a whore and a liar, and essentially forced off campus as the football-mad student body rallied around its quarterback . . .”

Florida State University found Winston without guilt, but the fine was based on the fact that colleges and universities are required to report and fully investigate all allegations of rape. Apparently Florida State did not follow the protocol. According to “Outside the Lines” Baylor can now stand proud alongside Florida State.

In the meantime, the young women who are involved in these allegations are frequently stonewalled, told not to proceed because it’s a “he-says-she-says” situation and women seldom win in such cases. In a word, the football player (who is usually the one involved) claims that the act was “consensual” and no crime has been committed. In the Baylor case, several young women, including one who claimed to have been a virgin, testified to “Outside The Lines” that they reported the rape and were simply brushed off.

These are allegations, of course, but they are repeated often enough to give them credibility. And they raise the question of whether the football programs at major universities are not, in fact, separate nations, laws unto themselves. I liken them to the Native American nations, that are legally regarded as having tribal sovereignty, though I am not claiming that rape is a common practice among native people. I simply point to the fact that native communities are in some sense “above” the civil law of the states within which they reside. As a brief report in Wikipedia tells us:

Native American recognition in the United States most often refers to the process of a tribe being recognized by the United States federal government, or to a person being granted membership to a federally recognized tribe. There are 566 federally recognized tribal governments in the United States. . . .

The United States recognizes the right of these tribes to self-government and supports their tribal sovereignty and self-determination. These tribes possess the right to establish the legal requirements for membership. They may form their own government, enforce laws (both civil and criminal), tax, license and regulate activities, zone, and exclude people from tribal territories. Limitations on tribal powers of self-government include the same limitations applicable to states; for example, neither tribes nor states have the power to make war, engage in foreign relations, or coin money. [Italics Added]

The similarities here, as I have said, do not attach themselves to the behavior of the native people as compared with that of university footballers. The similarities simply attach themselves to the fact that both groups are relatively autonomous. But where the autonomy of the native tribes is a function of treaty and law, the autonomy of the footballers is a result of avarice and entitlement. These players are spoiled rotten and they bring millions of dollars into the colleges and universities where they play games. The universities in many cases look the other way and basically allow much greater leniency to those who play for their teams than they do to the rest of the student body, including those women who seem to be the victims of something that often looks like “roid-rage.” Whatever the causes of these attacks, it seems clear that the institutions are reluctant to pursue any sort of serious investigation until or unless they are forced to by outside pressure. Clearly, those teams have something very much like tribal sovereignty.



8 thoughts on “Tribal Sovereignty

  1. Hugh, great, disturbing, yet unsurprising post. There are two groups being abused here, but the second one is less apparent. The women are treated horribly during and after the rape. They are treated as people with lesser morals and at fault. This is a key reason so many do not come forward, especially when they have to stare down the Booster Club.

    The school also uses athletes. Yes, they give them scholarships, but give them license to steal while they are earning money for the university. Once their service stops they do not care. The timing of Winston’s case supports this and is an act of malfeasance, in my view.

    My advice to any young woman who feels she has been raped on a college campus is to go to the police. The college will enter a brand-preserving mode such as Penn State did with their pedophile coach. She will get better treatment with the police.

    I recognize there are examples of unfounded accusations at U of Virginia and the Duke lacrosse team, which were only guilty of being jerks, but these are aberrations and outnumbered by those who never testify. Thanks, Keith

  2. A fine, fine piece of writing, Hugh. It should be seen (again this suggestion) in an editorial column (hmmm…NYT? New Yorker?). I was going to make a further comment about what century we are living in, the fact we’ve put a man on the moon and are now looking to Mars, but can’t seem to keep a penis in the right pair of pants. But….I won’t.

  3. Very good blog, Hugh. Penn State’s football team under Joe Paterno was one of the most hideous examples of a college sports program thinking it was above the law, and behaving that way. It was almost literally, as well, a sovereign entity amid the larger university — its own dorms and other facilities, Paterno making his own rules and often insisting football players didn’t have to abide by the university’s.

    The crucial difference, as you point out, is that American Indian nations and communities have their sovereignty legally — through treaties and federal law — and it isn’t used as a blanket shield for all kinds of wrongdoing the way it can be with an athletic program. There is a sense of entitlement, of being above reproach in a lot of major college sports programs. Also, there is enablement — we as fans or the public in general too often look the other way or, ick agree that big-name coaches should be able to call their own shots. We let them get by with this crap until it becomes too large an issue, hurting too many people — as at Penn State — to ignore anymore.

    … on the brighter side, Outside the Lines is a remarkable and brave program, and has been for some time. One has to admire the staff of the show for being so willing to expose wrongdoings in the NCAA (or NFL and other sports) when, for most of the rest of the time, ESPN kow-tows embarrassingly to the leagues because of the big money the network makes from broadcasting the games.

  4. Need we be reminded of that sordid affair that transpired at Penn State University, while Mr. Joe Paterno was head coach there of the football team.

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