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.


Tarnished Reputation

 15 Year-Old Audrie Potts

15 Year-Old Audrie Potts

You have doubtless heard about the 15 year-old high school student who was at a party where she drank heavily and went upstairs with three boys where she was allegedly assaulted. She was then apparently photographed and the photos shared with the three boys’ friends at school.  Eight days after the incident, the young girl hanged herself. This was last Fall. In a recent story it became clear that while the girl’s parents are bringing homicide charges against the three 16 year-old boys, the school will have nothing to do with the incident and has refused to expel the boys whose names are known. The young woman’s name is Audrie Pott and her family lawyer, Robert Allard, had this to say about the school’s refusal to act:

 Allard described the school district as “more interested in protecting its image than in taking responsibility for its lack of actions in Audrie’s case.”

It would appear that the lawyer is correct in his assessment, which raises questions once again about the role of an academic institution in the face of possible scandal. We usually see this sort of thing happening in our college athletics programs where the institution refuses to acknowledge an incident until it has been made public. This happened most recently with the basketball coach at Rutgers whose behavior was well known by the administration for months before anything was done. As Allard suggests, in this cover-up culture that is academia the institutions are “more interested in protecting [their] image than in taking responsibility.” This is doubly disturbing because these are academic institutions that are charged with educating the young. One must wonder what sort of message they are sending to their students.

The Superintendent of Audrie’s school insists that the school need not take any action because the party did not happen on school property. The Pott’s lawyer insists that it was the showing of the photographs on school property after the party that drove Audrie to suicide. Be that as it may, it is a senseless quibble in the face of the girl’s death. The school should have stepped forward immediately after the incident, expelled the three boys, and made a public statement regarding the incident and its moral implications. Again, it is a question of basic common sense and common decency — if not a question of taking the moral high ground (which seems to be getting flatter as the days and weeks go by). The school was remiss and especially so since there were important lessons to be learned from the terrible incident that have been swept aside in the interest of saving face.

It is ironic that the urge to preserve the reputation of an educational institution turns into a black eye when it becomes known that a deplorable incident has been brushed under the rug. It would seem to make sense for the institution to acknowledge the incident as soon as it is known “in-house” and make clear that they will not stand for that sort of thing.  Being pro-active in the face of possible scandal would, it seems to me, enhance the reputation of the institution rather than tarnish it — as occurs when the cover-up is disclosed.

The Best and the Brightest

I have commented before that the founders of this nation must be flip-flopping in their graves when numbers of citizens in this country vote for the President on the basis of brief TV debates that are little more than tailored entertainment that must compete for viewers with more popular programs such as Monday Night Football. But if they were disturbed about that they must be even more agitated to think about the quality of persons running for the highest political offices in this land. I am thinking primarily of the “rape experts,” like Todd Akin a Republican from Missouri, who have been making news insisting that there is such a thing as “legitimate” rape in which “the female reproductive system is able to block conception from an unwanted pregnancy” —  a theory based on what shall hereafter be known as the “New Biology.” Tina Fey got it right recently when she said, “If I have to listen to one more gray-faced man with a two-dollar hair cut explain to me what rape is, I’m gonna lose my mind.”

But, speaking of gray-faced men, a more recent comment may take the proverbial cake. Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, also a Republican, has declared in public that when a woman becomes pregnant from rape it is “God’s Will.” A recent ABC News story quotes the man as follows:

“I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen,” Mourdock said during Tuesday’s Senate debate, choking up. Mourdock’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, opposes abortion except in cases of rape and incest.

Both of these men were speaking out against abortion, of course, and should never have ventured into the treacherous realm of female anatomy and certainly should have avoided entirely the general subject of pregnancy where their credentials would never pass muster. But then perhaps they shouldn’t have been speaking about abortion at all because the founders were quite clear about wanting to separate religious from political issues and abortion is clearly a religious issue.

The founders also wanted what Jefferson liked to think of as the “best and brightest” people in the country to be elected by a carefully controlled process that would guarantee that the people at large, whom they didn’t really trust, were unable to elect others like themselves. If that ship didn’t sink soon after launch, it is assuredly at the bottom of the lagoon by this time.

But I also recall when President Richard Nixon, who once bragged that he had never had a course in political science, nominated G. Harrold Carswell to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court. When confronted by the charge that the man was “mediocre” and not fit to be on the highest court in the land, Nebraska’s U.S. Senator Roman Hruska famously said “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?” Well, we know that “mediocre” was a euphemism for “stupid,” and it was clear at the time that the mediocre citizens already had someone who represented them in the highest office in the country, not to mention the Senate, and furthermore the Supreme Court is not supposed to be a representative body in the first place. Perhaps Messers Nixon and Hruska both should have taken that course in political science.

In any case, pity the poor founders: they can get no rest in their graves for all the leaping and spinning they must be doing these days given the mess we have made of their great experiment.