Today is Christopher Columbus Day, a symbolic celebration of our country’s lifelong commitment to the erasure of Native Americans without their consent. Two days ago was Stanford football’s Set The Expectation game, a symbolic celebration of football’s commitment to present itself as an upstanding, positive institution while it exploits players’ bodies and in many cases severely derails or takes their lives, without their consent. The Senate, thoughtful as always, chose to celebrate “Setting The Expectation” by sending a lying, partisan, alleged sexual assaulter who didn’t get consent to the Supreme Court where he will try to take away women’s reproductive rights, without their consent. America: at least we’re consistent.
Over the last year and a half I have questioned the morality of American football. I’m going to save a lot of what I have to say for a later column. For now, I want to make clear two things. One, college and professional football players do not – and are unable – to give informed consent. Two, football’s hypocrisy mirrors that of our country’s. Maybe they should be able to play, maybe it’s okay for the sport to exist. The piece that matters to me is that players don’t know the health consequences of playing. They might not ever really be able to know, considering how hard it is to imagine getting dementia at 40 or becoming depressed at 25. Football is fun. It brings people together. Besides CTE, it also cultivates valuable life skills in its players. For many college football players failed by shitty schools, football is their only path to a college degree. I don’t want to take away anyone’s opportunity to play football. What I want is for players to know what they are getting themselves into before they commit. Because playing college and potentially professional football is a lifelong commitment.
Another lifelong commitment is an appointment to the Supreme Court. We already know what value Kavanaugh places on consent, whether that be sexual assault or reproductive rights. When faced with the choice of doing a thorough investigation to gather more information on someone who has just become one of the nine core arbiters of justice for our country or scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee chose the latter. (To be clear, I think Democrats like Senator Feinstein also acted brazenly and politically by trying to weaponize a traumatic story, again for political gain, as opposed to seeking justice first.) Maybe a thorough investigation would reveal that Kavanaugh is telling the truth and has never committed any sort of crime. While that’s unlikely, given that false report rates for sexual assault are the same as most other crimes, between 2 and 10%, it’s not impossible. Why didn’t the senate take its time, then? Why didn’t they give themselves and the country the chance to be informed before making a lifelong decision?
Getting consent can be hard. Being honest can mean admitting that we are not as great as we say we are. Stanford claims to be a home for intellectual vitality. A cutting-edge research institution that develops the leaders of tomorrow. The place where the wind of freedom blows. It must be hard to feel that wind when your skull is compressed in a helmet-to-helmet hit. The “Intellectual Brutality” football shirts look a little less funny every time I see them. A little less funny and a little more true.
The US is the land of the free and the home of the brave. Oh we do have brave people – Dr. Ford comes to mind. And we often are a global example for freedom. Two days ago, though, we showed how far we still have to go.
If football really wanted to Set The Expectation, they would devote a lot of their million-dollar earnings each year to researching health impacts of the game. They would give players detailed explanations of the costs of playing. They would stop skirting NCAA-imposed hourly limits and instead be leaders. They would treat consent the way the SARA office teaches us: informed, affirmative, ongoing, can be revoked at any time. You can’t give consent if you don’t know what’s going on. Likewise, we look to the Supreme Court as moral leaders for our country. If it takes every scrap of questionable behavior getting thrust into the spotlight to attain such a status, good. It’s hard to be a leader. That’s the type of expectation that we need.
Contact Jack Golub at golubj ‘at’ stanford.edu