Snowballs, an alleged rape, double standards
Is a real snowball fight worse than an alleged rape?
I pose the question not because I expect anybody will answer it.
My point, rather, is to illustrate how America’s obsession with athletes can contribute to situations that would be laughable if they were fiction.
Except they’re real, depressingly so.
I am, to be sure, culpable.
I graduated from the University of Oregon — one of the two schools in the comparison to follow — and I follow the university’s sports teams with a fervor which even I can admit is not always rational.
But my status as a fan does not foul my sense of perception completely.
Regardless, you needn’t care a whit about sports to be appalled by the difference in the reactions to a snowball fight at the U of O as compared to an alleged rape at Florida State University.
I doubt either event would have attracted much attention but for one thing: both involve football players from the respective schools.
And both Oregon and Florida State are major names in college football.
Oregon has won 56 of 64 games over the past five years.
Florida State will play in the national championship game on Jan. 6.
The Ducks and the Seminoles, suffice it to say, get on ESPN’s SportsCenter pretty often.
What happened at Florida State is that a woman accused a football player of raping her in December 2012.
The player is Jameis Winston. He’s the starting quarterback, and the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most coveted individual award, on Saturday in New York City.
The Florida state attorney announced in early December that Winston will not be charged in the case.
Tests proved Winston’s DNA was on the accuser’s underwear and on her body, but Winston claimed they had consensual sex.
The woman, who was intoxicated, said she doesn’t remember all the details but she denies that she consented to sex.
Of course I have no idea which version is true.
What is beyond dispute is that although a friend of the accuser reported the incident to police the day after it happened, the police department in Tallahassee (where Florida State’s campus is located) didn’t exactly conduct an exhaustive investigation.
The Tallahassee PD turned the case over to the Florida state attorney’s office in November. But that was after reporters got tips that Winston had been accused, and they started asking questions.
Media reports also state that a Tallahassee detective told the accuser’s lawyer that the client could have a hard time of it because Tallahassee is “a big football town.”
According to our justice system, Winston is innocent.
But the Heisman winner isn’t chosen by a sworn jury, and that iconic trophy isn’t handed out in a courtroom.
The Heisman Trust’s mission statement begins this way:
“The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”
Winston’s performance on the football field was quite good.
But surely there is reason to believe that “integrity” is not the most apt attribute to bestow on him.
As for this snowball fight, it happened last week on the U of O campus in Eugene, where snow is about as rare as “Go Beavers” T-shirts.
Students on the generally snow-free campuses west of the Cascades tend to react rather like first-graders when the flakes begin to fall.
I have some personal experience of this.
During my freshman year at Oregon, in early 1989, a heavy snow fell late one afternoon. I watched from my third-floor dorm room as hundreds of students ran helter-skelter across the street, heaving snowballs at each other and at the few cars whose unfortunate drivers had picked that route.
A few students, burdened with more daring than good sense (not a bad synonym for the typical college male, come to that) grabbed a car’s rear bumper and went for a brief, but potentially fracturous, foot-sled down the block.
I might have gone out myself but I lacked waterproof boots.
There was of course no Facebook in 1989.
The slushy melee outside my dorm, so far as I can remember, spawned no headlines.
ESPN never mentioned it.
Last week’s snowball fight, by contrast, received the sort of media (social and otherwise) scrutiny once reserved for fights that involve actual weapons and result in actual injuries.
The U of O incident had neither.
What it did have, though, was football players.
And a video that, in the parlance of our times, has gone viral.
Some of the students involved, including at least a couple of football players, acted stupidly.
Most notably they harassed a retired U of O professor who was driving past and who, no doubt to his later regret, chose to stop, get out and confront students who were pelting his car with snow.
The students’ behavior, which included dumping snow on the professor and in his car, was inexcusable.
But no one was hurt.
(Except maybe some upholstery.)
Which is hardly surprising, considering freshly fallen snow, although cold and wet, is neither sharp nor much of a blunt object.
Every winter day, in climates more harsh than Eugene’s, children sling snowballs at each other, most generally with no deleterious effects except the unpleasant sensation of snow melting down the back.
But with that video available, the local TV stations went all in on the story.
I suppose I should have expected this, considering the Portland media’s strange preoccupation with snow. If weather models even hint at the possibility of frozen precipitation the TV reporters crowd the more photogenic highway overpasses, ready to deliver hysterical, and frequently hilarious, descriptions.
In the end, Oregon football coach Mark Helfrich didn’t treat the snowball fight as a typical case of college students acting like, well, college students.
Helfrich suspended one of the snow-throwing players, Pharaoh Brown, for the Ducks’ Dec. 30 Alamo Bowl game against Texas.
Brown, for what it’s worth, is the team’s starting tight end.
But he’s no Jameis Winston.
Brown won’t be in New York City for the Heisman ceremony Saturday, for one thing.
And for another, the evidence against Brown is beyond dispute.
All they had on Winston was a DNA sample and his perfectly innocent explanation for its presence.
Hardly reason enough to mess with a great football season, or keep the Heisman Trophy from the guy.
Brown, meanwhile, was literally coated in white, frosty guilt.
It’s worth noting that the U of O professor, though understandably angry while he was being harassed by the students, later said he didn’t want to press charges.
The woman who accused Winston, by contrast, hasn’t wavered. She still believes she was raped. Perhaps there will be a civil suit.
Regardless, I doubt the issue will come up when Winston gives his Heisman acceptance speech. Surely no reporter will pester him on the matter.
As for Tallahassee, I think drivers there are awfully lucky that it hardly ever snows in Florida.
Jayson Jacoby is editor