Imagine you’re the parent of a college athlete who has the potential to go pro. Automatically you know your son is more popular and under more scrutiny than the average guy on his campus.
As a parent, you’re already worried about his academics, sports performance, and behavior in and outside school, but now in the age of the #MeToo movement you have an added concern.
Vice News interviewed the moms of college athletes who said the #MeToo movement has changed their parenting approach. In a time when culture is “hyper sensitive,” parents of young athletes feel the need to have uncomfortable conversations about relationships and sexual consent.
A big win on Friday night often means a rush of booze, girls, and partying. In this environment, both guys and girls are susceptible to bad judgement.
One mom told Vice:
“I feel worried all the time.”
When asked about the role of the mother of a college athlete in the context of the #MeToo movement, mom Tara Jones responded:
“I think the role is mainly to get them to understand that we’re women so we have the perspective of women. We respect women’s issues and we’re cognizant of the issues that we face. But at the same time we have sons who we have vowed to protect all of our life and our life is dedicated to them. So we have to approach it from kind of the same standpoint.”
The mothers explained that they sometimes have to remind their sons that they are “different,” and that they’re a “big man on campus,” a “brand” that is not only representing themselves, but their school.
And the mothers and moderators agreed that sometimes the “big man on campus” is a target of false sexual harassment allegations.
“If you look at the picture of college football, the first thing you see is dollar signs. That’s just it. It’s money. Sometimes these girls (when they make false accusations, that’s not always the case). But in a case where there are false accusations, they see there’s a lot more repercussions for someone who is a college football player and has more to lose.”
After broaching the topic of false accusations, the moderator asked the mothers to put themselves in the shoes of a mother whose daughter said she was sexually assaulted by a college athlete.
Jones, who was actually a victim of sexual assault when she was young, said that as a mother of a young man, she’s now conflicted:
“Every opinion I have is still based on the athlete’s mom. But I will say, the most frustrating feeling in the world is (when I was younger when it happened) was to feel like nobody would believe me.”
To that point, the U.S. Senate conducted a survey of 440 colleges and universities and found that these institutions often downplay or dismiss potential victims’ reports of sexual assault. According to a March 2017 article published by “The Conversation”:
A U.S. Senate survey of 440 colleges and universities found that staff or administrators sometimes discourage victims from reporting, downgrade an assault’s severity, delay proceedings while athletes finish their season or graduate, or simply fail to follow up altogether.
In the boys’ defense, Jones also explained that young men don’t always know what defines sexual misconduct:
“These boys don’t think what the definition of sexual assault is to her (the victim). It doesn’t matter what you define it as, or if you think she wanted it, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if she was sending you signals and meaning one thing, it doesn’t matter. What matters is, what this girl feels like happened to her.”
The article published by “The Conversation” seems to echo that point:
On average, athletes are more likely than other students on campus to identify with hypermasculinity and to accept “rape myths” to justify sexual assaults. Evidence also suggests they’re more likely to be confused about consent and admit to having committed acts of sexual aggression.
The athletes’ moms said they now have to discuss sexual consent more thoroughly with their sons. The moderator asked about what sexual consent means today.
The moms agreed that it is a “fine line.”
Mom Stacey McCall Harris said the movement is so big that it creates “fear” amongst college athletes:
“Now it’s hard to develop relationships with someone that can be genuine because there is so much fear.”
The moms agreed that the “fear” is in some ways a good thing because it reminds them to think twice, but it’s not all good. Mom Deana Koeneman explained:
“It’s kind of sad because a relationship should be able to be developed and you should be able to be dating and make out a little bit. And have him touch her and have her say no don’t do that. It shouldn’t be like, ‘can I put my arm around you now?'”
Jones jumped in:
“Or, can you sign right here that says I can kiss you?”
The moderator questioned whether, in a generation prone to “overcorrect,” we are now overcorrecting this, too. And how do parents shape their sons for the future in the era of #MeToo? Jones responded:
“There’s a lot of discussions that we have to have with sons. And what we’re doing is shaping men for the future. And it’s like where do we draw that line between a mom and a son and, ‘yea I’m raising my son but I’m raising someone’s husband. I’m raising someone’s possible boss. I’m raising someone who is going to influence another woman or young person and my opinions no longer matter.'”
Though they know their children are bound to make mistakes every now and then, the moms all agreed that when it comes to decision making — in regards to sexual consent or otherwise — “You have to be smart. Surround yourself with good people.”