Defenses both casual and calculated are under siege. Sexual abusers and harassers are being called out, even punished, for what men got away with for decades, centuries if you prefer. Charges of sexual assault and harassment now tend to stick.
Take the case of “Lefty” Driesell, an outspoken media darling whose teams won 786 games at Davidson, Maryland, James Madison and Georgia State. The 85-year-old Virginia native and 1954 Duke grad will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in early September. Yet, for all his on-court achievements, Charles Driesell hasn’t escaped the shadow of his actions in early 1983, for which he received a “formal reprimand” from Maryland president John Slaughter.
The coach had made repeated phone calls to persuade a female student to withdraw her charge of attempted sexual assault by Terrapin co-captain Herman Veal, according to the woman. Eventually Driesell apologized for conduct apt to get him fired today.
Allegations against Veal, who said the sex was consensual, resulted in a student judicial board placing him on disciplinary probation. The junior was sidelined as the ’83 postseason dawned. An affronted Driesell asked the accuser, who subsequently complained about his calls, “How could you do this to me?” and warned her name “would be dragged through the mud.”
When the university women’s center criticized the coach’s intervention, he declared with bald honesty: “I don’t care about the women’s center; I’m a men’s center.”
Some 10 months later, the Terrapins with Veal and Driesell visited Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke students’ foul language and a barrage of panties and packaged prophylactics infamously saluted Maryland’s appearance and scandalized observers.
But that diversion didn’t blot out memory of the happenings at College Park. Unwilling to recognize a statute of limitations on promoting victories ahead of reporting sexual violence, this past April The Diamondback, Maryland’s student newspaper, published an editorial titled “After #MeToo, Lefty Driesell’s legacy deserves greater scrutiny.”
The editorial board noted “even old allegations reveal a cultural failure that’s still alive today” and pointed out “Intimidation of sexual assault victims can have a chilling effect, especially when it’s coming from a person with power.”
Then, unflinchingly applying contemporary standards to a cold case 35 years past, the paper said of the venerated coach’s Hall induction: “As fans celebrate this long-awaited honor, they cannot ignore the grim details of Driesell’s tenure. The epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses will not be resolved unless everyone, regardless of their position or stature, is held accountable.”
Well, not everyone.
“The one place that the me-too movement has left untouched is elite athletes who are currently competing,” says Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a lawyer and Title IX activist who heads Champion Women, a nonprofit advocating the rights of female athletes. “While they’re competing, they have a source of power called fans. And fans are not rational, and they perceive that an allegation of rape against, say, Jameis Winston, is an insult to themselves.”
Winston, protected by an incurious and feckless police investigation and a supportive fan base, evaded a credible rape charge at Florida State. He was suspended for a game early in the 2014 season — for standing on a table and crowing sexual insults outside the student union. The modest punishment conveniently came well after the quarterback won the 2013 Heisman Trophy and led oh-so-tolerant Jimbo Fisher’s squad to a national championship.
In January 2016, FSU paid Winston’s accuser $950,000 to settle a civil suit over the school’s indifference to her reported sexual assault. Neither the school nor Winston admitted wrongdoing — he claimed the sex was consensual — and boosters paid most of the fine and court costs.
Oregon State’s ace pitcher Luke Heimlich, who as a teen pleaded guilty to sexually molesting his 6-year-old niece, went undrafted by pro baseball clubs. Winston, legally untainted and without apparent remorse, was the No. 1 selection by Tampa Bay in the 2014 NFL draft.
But Winston’s sense of entitlement didn’t remain submerged indefinitely.
Less than two years after he became an instant starter for the Bucs and only two months after the FSU Title IX case was settled, he emulated Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s brag on an “Access Hollywood” tape by grabbing a woman’s crotch. The Uber driver complained, and after considerable delay, the NFL announced its own investigation found the driver’s account was “consistent and credible.”
The NFL suspended Winston for the first three games of this coming season. Keeping to his familiar pattern, Winston admitted no wrongdoing. Acting as though all this were new to him, Winston dubiously declared the incident was “uncharacteristic” and promised to swear off alcohol. Precedent suggests otherwise.
The NFL, which has floundered coming to grips with sexual misconduct within its ranks, didn’t do much better with former Panthers owner Richardson. Yes, it fined him $2.75 million. But its investigation admittedly “did not seek to confirm or reject the details of each specific allegation made regarding Mr. Richardson.” Why make a powerful perpetrator feel uncomfortable?
Following a tired script, Richardson ducked public acknowledgment of reported lecherous advances on female employees. The billionaire further protected himself by buying the silence of recipients of his unwanted attentions. As our president is accused of doing with porn actress Stormy Daniels, Richardson had his victims sign nondisclosure agreements to keep everything under wraps.
The NFL probe didn’t confront the practice of rich men paying women to abet escape from sexual transgressions, a defense overdue for obsolescence.