An ongoing default in the minds of the society we live in today promotes and accepts the image of women as victims of the untold stories. Women who work in different areas of expertise continuously face gender inequality: they are being stepped over in every possible scenario, are verbally and physically abused, and sexually assaulted. Although this is common for women working in every field, many athletes in the sports world encounter sexual assault at its highest, especially those who play in the elite level.
Here is a look at the stories you have never heard, and the ones that you did but moved on with your life:
Mike Tyson, 1991
One of the most scandalous cases was about Mike Tyson, a former American boxer who had the title of the youngest heavyweight boxing champion 1986, raping Desiree Washington, the Miss Black America pageant contestant, in a hotel room in 1991. A day later, Washington reported she was raped by Tyson right after checking into an emergency room at the Methodist Hospital (Indianapolis Monthly, 2017).
The incident took place at a time when America was starting to become conscious about “date rape”. Right before Tyson’s attack, in 1990, America was shaken by the story of Katie Koestner, an 18-year-old college student, who was raped by her date as a freshman in college. At the time, her parents, peers, nor the police believed her, as Koestner describes how date rape was not a thing that was recognized by the society “In 1990, rape was still stranger rape. It was not about people you liked, or you were dating” (BBC, 2016).
Later Koestner’s voice was heard when the Time picked up her article and she was on the cover of the magazine in 1991. Similarly, Tyson’s attack took place right after the incident Koestner went through became publicized. This resulted in the journalistic details of Tyson’s attack becoming a “national sensation” (Indianapolis Monthly).
Cristiano Ronaldo, 2009
Ronaldo’s is a case that had shockingly tepid coverage. According to the Der Spiegel exclusive article, Kathryn Mayorga, a model who worked at the Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, was invited to party with Ronaldo in his suite. Later that same night in 2009, Mayorga was forced to have sexual intercourse with Ronaldo even though she repeatedly said no. Next morning, she went to get a medical examination and visited the police immediately after the examination (Spiegel, 2017).
However, she couldn’t just go and talk about what had happened to her. Mayorga was forced to sign a settlement deal, provided by Ronaldo’s agency Gestifute, ensuring she would not talk about that day, and as a result, she received a payoff to forget about her accusations. According to the Der Spiegel interview, Mayorga signed the settlement “out of impotence, [and] the inability to stand up to him” (2017).
Just recently, in September 2018, Mayorga found the courage within herself to speak up about the traumatizing incident. Since the very first article that was published on the incident, Ronaldo’s agency Gestifute continuously sought to prevent any media coverage on the case, and later released the following statement “the article is nothing but a piece of journalistic fiction” (Spiegel Online, 2018). The 2018 Spiegel Online Article also gives details on the legal process and mismatching formal investigation responses by Ronaldo both in 2009 and 2018 about the allegations. The case is yet to be resolved.
Larry Nassar, 2015-2018
A far-reaching abuse case in the history of sports, the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal, is still a topic that remains on the headlines today. As more survivors find the courage to open up about the scandal, the updates are still inherent. The perpetrator, Larry Nassar, who was a former USA Gymnastics (USAG) physician, sexually abused more than 300 victims, the majority of them being underage (Vox, 2018). The victims included Olympic medalists Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles, and McKayla Maroney.
Although the USAG fired and reported Nassar after receiving a testimony of an athlete stating her concern about him in June 2015, an Indianapolis Star investigation reported that “top executives at USAG routinely dismissed sexual abuse allegations against coaches and failed to alert authorities” (IndyStar, 2016). As the Washington Post stated, “the investigation, reported by the Indianapolis Star, found that USA Gymnastics routinely brushed off sexual abuse claims as hearsay, enabling coaches to molest gymnasts as young as 7 for years” (Washington Post, 2016).
The first public statements on the Nassar case were recorded as early as September 2016, however, the incident went viral when McKayla Moraney used her Twitter account as a channel to share her own abuse story. She stated that she was molested by Nassar every time she went for a doctor’s visit since the age of 13, up until her retirement from the sport in 2016 (ESPN). The USAG had Moraney sign a confidentiality agreement to cover up the scandal. In 2017, Moraney broke her silence, filing a lawsuit against Nassar. Later in 2018, Jacob Moore, a male gymnast, filed a different lawsuit against Nassar, stating he was sexually abused and harassed. Jacob Moore’s sister Kamerin Moore was also one of the many victims (CBC, 2018).
Larry Nassar was sentenced up to 175 years of prison when the judge said, “I have just signed your death warrant”, easing the pains of the many victimized women, (and man), for decades (CNN, January 2018).
Notes from The Guardian’s Bryan Graham
A 2017 article written by Bryan Graham, at a time when the Nassar scandal was still fresh, stated that there were numerous sports media coverage and research available to the public in this issue and yet they were still “invisible” (The Guardian). Regardless of the fact that the Nassar scandal was not the first of high-profile sex abuse scandals in the sports world, it involved so many women unlike others such as the Baylor University scandal.
In his article, Graham explored the reason for this visibility issue and discussed whether it is due to the sports media being inadequate, later, stating that this was not the reason at all. Graham claimed, “the most distressing reason of all is that the abuse of women is normalized in our society. The Nassar scandal fits into our framework of how we understand a sport like women’s gymnastics. On some level we expect women to be victimized, so it’s not surprising when they are [victimized]” (The Guardian). As Graham would agree, the problem in this particular case and many others can be seen observing the society we live in today and their faulty understanding of women in sport, the carelessness they might have towards an unpopular sport during non-Olympic years, and the acceptance of the image of women who are bound to be victims.
Upon reflecting over his many articles on the cases of female athlete abuse, I was able to have the chance to connect with The Guardian’s Sports Journalist, Bryan Graham, and do an online interview. When I asked Graham about the common challenges sports journalists face when reporting on the abuse cases, he answered, “In the case of gymnastics, the victims are often under 18 years of age and media access is tightly controlled even for uncontroversial questions or requests such as interviews with athletes” (Graham, 2018). He added that the nature of the situation makes it hard for the survivors to discuss it thoroughly because of the shame and grief associated with the crime.
Moreover, Graham stated his opinion on whether the journalistic coverage of sexual abuse involving superstar players changed the public perception, particularly the Ronaldo case, he said that it was a “yes” to some extent, and added, “Yet I’d say 1) it varies widely on a case-by-case basis and 2) that superstar athletes are far more immune to the negative aftereffects due to the male-dominated nature of the space”. His answer supported that there is often a set of lawyers and agencies that cover up the crime with contracts and money.
A recent Huffington Post UK article made a bold statement saying, “The voice of sport in 2018 moved beyond leaderboards, cup finals and breaking records. We saw a real watershed moment; rather than behaving as a detached and compartmentalized entity, sport offered a voice on issues that intersect at all levels of society” (Gold, 2019). I cannot possibly agree with it as society still seems to be blind towards certain news, and neither can you.
I asked Bryan Graham about the impact of the Me Too and Time’s Up movements in the sporting world, he replied, “I feel the world of sports has, unlike virtually every other major public sphere, not had its #MeToo or #TimesUp moment so far”.
There are other stories yet to be told but the change doesn’t seem so close to the sporting world.