By: Nancy Armour – usatoday.com – September 21, 2018
An independent investigation of the Mavericks front office found accusations of domestic violence and sexual harassment over a span of 20 years. USA TODAY
Sexual harassment at the Dallas Mavericks. Alleged domestic violence at Ohio State. Sexual abuse at Michigan State, Baylor, Penn State and too many other places to mention.
While the circumstances of all these crises are different, the root is the same: Male privilege. The inability of the men — and yes, with very few exceptions the people in power in professional and college sports are men — to even consider the experience of women or how they might be contributing to the horrors they encounter.
“I’m just sorry I didn’t see it. I’m just sorry I didn’t recognize it,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told Rachel Nichols in an interview Wednesday on The Jump.
“In hindsight, it was staring me right in the face and I missed it.”
Because he never thought to look for it. Never bothered to think he needed to, frankly.
And therein lies the problem.
Privilege is a tricky topic, one that often puts people on the defensive. “I’m not sexist!” —or racist or homophobic — is usually the response when the idea is raised. Or they will point to the challenges they face — financial or socioeconomic, perhaps — as proof they can’t be biased.
But privilege is not always conscious. It’s the advantages you are given, the advantages you have been conditioned to expect, based on something completely out of your control.
“The privilege is saying, ‘As a male, I’m automatically given that elevated importance,’” said Ann Emmerling, the executive director at Blackburn Center, which is dedicated to ending domestic and sexual violence.
Where it becomes toxic is when those with privilege view those without as somehow less worthy. When that privilege becomes a sense of entitlement. When the privilege helps perpetuate an oppressive power structure.
It’s the head of an organization feeling free to proposition and touch employees without permission, as former Mavericks CEO Terdema Ussery did, and no one thinking of how helpless it made women in the office feel, how destructive it was to their sense of security and self-worth. It’s a judge giving Brock Turner a laughably light 6-month sentence for his sexual assault conviction because anything harsher “would have a severe impact on him” — ignoring that the assault had already had a severe impact on the victim, and will continue to do so for the rest of her life.
It’s Urban Meyer claiming to respect women yet not even understanding the basics of domestic violence, his misguided notion that he was somehow “saving” a family actually putting a woman and her children in harm’s way. It’s NFL teams signing players with histories of abusing women because they can put the fear of God in a quarterback or kick a 58-yard field goal, not caring about the message it sends.
“Absolutely there’s a connection between the culture that sees violence against women as not only inevitable but in some cases acceptable. Where that comes from is a culture that sees one set of people as more important, more privileged, than another,” Emmerling said.
Abuse of privilege occurs in business, academics and the arts, as the #MeToo movement has shown. It occurs in our government, as we’re seeing with some people so willing to discredit Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.
And no question it occurs in the male-dominated world of sports.
At the professional level, there are very few female owners or even high-level female executives who could recognize male privilege and have the power to do something about it. It’s not much more diverse at the college level, particularly in the elite programs.
In her interview with Cuban, Nichols pointed out that the Mavericks business office alone was 70 percent male earlier this year, and none of the team’s top-level executives were women. He has since hired Cynthia Marshall as CEO.
“I gave her carte blanche to do what she needed to do because it’s not right,” Cuban said. “It’s not even good business.”
That’s an important step, said Kim Susser, a lawyer and expert in domestic violence. The only way to eliminate privilege and the abuse that results is by changing the culture that fostered it in the first place.
“Start by listening to women,” Susser said. “Create a culture where women aren’t afraid to come forward with allegations of sex assault, harassment, domestic violence, rape; where they don’t have to worry that they will lose their jobs or reputations.”
Most importantly, hold men accountable. Raise the next generation to realize that neither your gender nor the color of your skin has any relevance to your intelligence or ability to do a job.
“More important than the money is the example we can set,” said Cuban, who is donating $10 million to groups that focus on domestic violence and promoting women for leadership roles. “The goal, even more than the money, is for me to get out there and teach others from my experiences.”
Then maybe someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, no woman will have to fear going to work or school. We will reward people for their talent and hard work rather than the happenstance of their birth.
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