The Fumble of A Lifetime
Former sports- scholar’s troubles turn a spotlight on the higher education community and whether officials should be doing more to groom their athletes for life off the field
BOULDER, Colo. — In 1992, Rae Carruth was given a football scholarship by officials here at the University of Colorado at Boulder. It was a chance for a rose to grow out of the hard cement streets on which Carruth grew up in the tough Oak Park neighborhood of Sacramen-to, Calif.And he blossomed.In the classroom, he maintained a B average. On the field, he was equally impressive, garnering 54 catches for 1,116 yards during his senior year.Just the kind of kid who might qualify for Black Issues’ annual Arthur Ashe Sports Scholars Awards. Not surprisingly, he did. In December 1993, Carruth made fourth team of the magazine’s football scholars.And his success didn’t end there. The Carolina Panthers drafted him in 1997 as a first-round pick, giving him a $1 million signing bonus and making him a starting wide receiver.But like every rose, it seems Carruth was destined to wilt. Last December, he was charged with first-degree murder along with three other men in the brutal slaying of his pregnant girlfriend, Cherica L. Adams.The high-profile case is one in a barrage of professional athletes accused of various criminal acts — a barrage that has left sports officials, fans and those who believe in the transformative power of education shaking their heads at the sad outcome of so many fallen heroes.The whole ruckus has prompted sport academicians and sociologists to run statistics while other officials in the higher education world question if institutions could do more to groom the athletes they churn out.
The Fumble“Rae was an outstanding student when he was here at the University of Colorado,” remembers Dr. Evelyn Hu-Dehart, chair of the ethnic studies department. “He majored in English, graduated with honors and talked about wanting to write a novel.”George Hoey, who played professional football himself, was assistant athletic director at the university while Carruth was there. He says Carruth was a very likable young man who didn’t get into any trouble while on campus. Friends say he had a special fondness for children and even befriended a young deaf boy.A stark contrast to a man who police say conspired to kill the mother of his unborn child because of financial woes and naive associations with a seedy crowd.Police reports say that on November 16, the 24-year-old Adams was shot four times in the neck and chest by a man in car that pulled up next to hers. She called 911 on a cellular phone and was taken to the hospital in critical condition. She was 30 weeks pregnant. The baby, Chancellor, miraculously survived. Adams did not.But based on the information she and other suspects gave police, Carruth, now 25, awaits trial on charges of conspiracy to commit murder.The case has shocked almost everyone who knew him.“Rae, he’s not a conflict guy; if anything, I think he avoids conflict,” Maurice Henriques, a Boulder teammate, told The New York Times. “The Rae I knew would never be involved in something like that.”
Getting Away With ItAnd yet, surveys indicate that athletes have a higher propensity towards violence.A 1998 University of Massachusetts study examined 20 Division I football and basketball teams and found that the players were more abusive to women than other college students. From 1991 to 1993, male student athletes comprised 3.3 percent of the male population at 10 major universities but accounted for 19 percent of the men reported to campus officials for sexual assault. Of those, 76 percent were football or basketball players.Another study at the University of Arizona reinforced the findings by concluding that male college students who engaged in formal athletics were more likely than other men to feel hostile towards women and engage in sexual aggression.Richard Lapchick, the executive director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sports in Society, says that it is not completely clear whether athletes are more prone to battery than other men in America’s violent society. However, he says that part of the problem may be that student athletes are much more likely to get away with it. And Todd Crossett of the department of sports management at the University of Massachusetts says that athletes get plenty of “institutional support” to overcome the consequences of their misdeeds. He cites the egregious case of Lawrence Phillips, who played for the University of Nebraska and brutally beat his ex-girlfriend who played basketball for the same school. Phillips was suspended for more than half the season, then reinstated in time to play in a bowl game, which led to his being drafted into the NFL. His traumatized girlfriend, Kate McKewan, was unable to play well, lost her athletic scholarship and ultimately left the university.
Prevention ProgramsGiven athletes’ demonstrated propensities to get into trouble, universities and sports leagues have been confronted with the practical issue of designing intervention programs to help manage their considerable investment in young men who could have the world at their feet if they would only behave. The National College Athletic Association has designed one program aimed at doing just that. According to Lorri Hendricks, the NCAA’s program coordinator for educational outreach, their Champs\Life Skills program is currently used by 324 of the NCAA’s 1,050 member schools, with 30 to 50 new schools added each year.“Champs\Life Skills offers student athletes training in many different areas, including academic counseling, personal development and career development,” she says. “Some of our approach to dealing with violence on campus is covered in our diversity training, where we make kids aware of the passive violence of the hurtful words they use to describe people of other ethnic backgrounds or the opposite sex.” Hendricks says that in the area of sexual assault, the NCAA most often uses a workbook called Rape 101 – Sexual Assault Prevention for College Athletes, developed by Andria Parrott, along with several videotapes developed at the University of Maine. “My workbook is deliberately designed so that a facilitator can get young men to give honest answers, not just what is politically correct — which is not easy,” Parrott says. “For example, we ask athletes to complete a series of questions such as ‘I expect sex from a girl when I_________.’ The answers we get include, ‘when I buy her a few drinks after the game, when she hangs all over me after a party,’ etc. “The most productive session happens when people tell the truth and the other athletes confront their teammates with the danger of their assumptions,” Parrott says. “I often find the players who have sisters are the most likely to understand.” Parrott also says that a well-trained aggressive facilitator is absolutely critical to the program’s success. “I recently ran a session where I asked a group of football players when did ‘no’ mean ‘no.’ And at first I got the standard PC answer that ‘no always means no.’ But then I began to act it out,” she says. “I asked these guys, ‘Well what if I was a girl and you were kissing me on my neck which is really sensitive, and I really liked it, but I was saying no like this, ‘Noooo oh noooo, oh no, nooooo, noooooo.’ They admitted that unless she actually kicked them in the balls or scratched their eyes out there was nothing she could say that would make them stop.” At critical points, a facilitator helps the students re-enact the situation so that it ends in a positive way.Another popular program is the Mentors in Violence Prevention program, which was developed in 1993 by Northeastern’s sports in society center. The program looks at student-athletes as more than just potential perpetrators. It actually considers them leaders on campus and uses what it calls an “empowered bystander approach” to help both male and female students and athletes prevent rape, battering and sexual harassment by their peers in high schools, colleges and professional sports.
The Problem of CommitmentActually, the biggest problems may not lie with the athletes but with the coaches and teams who may still be unwilling to make a serious commitment to solving their players’ abuse problems. “The obstacles to targeting this population have included the lack of interest by athletic departments, unsupportive coaches and administrators’ fears of drawing negative attention to athletic programs,” Parrott says. One of the most notorious cases involved the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis. After being rocked by a series of scandals which started with three basketball players being charged with rape in 1986, the university started a campus program against sexual violence in 1993. But between 1993 and 1998, at least 40 accusations of criminal sexual misconduct or domestic abuse were lodged against male university athletes. Jamie Tiedemann, the woman who directed the anti-violence program, charged that the athletic department refused to support the training or take it seriously. Two program supporters told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that, “some athletes were so hostile during training sessions that [program officials] no longer wanted to conduct the sessions and wanted to bring in a nationally known outside group instead.” Additionally, Tiedemann charges that the men’s athletic director, Rufus Simmons, expressed concern over the $8,000 cost and other issues, and eventually refused to return her phone calls. Tiedemann further charges that Simmons himself attended sessions where athletes misbehaved and refused to stop the behavior or take it seriously.Darren Meeker, an athletic counselor at Ohio State, who is the author of Positive Transitions for Student Athletes, Life Skills for Transitions in Sports, College and Career, notes that conflicts between counselors and coaches are a growing problem. “There is no doubt that coaches highly value aggression, and that student athletes also don’t have much free time,” he says in the book. “As a result, people who counsel athletes on these matters can often find themselves in the tough situation of being caught between coaches who are primarily concerned with winning, and college administrators, who may also want to win but are afraid of scandals.” Larry Hawkins, president of the University of Chicago’s Institute for Athletics and Education, agrees that that college and professional teams are not doing anywhere near enough to help their players deal with violence or any of the other intense pressures and personal problems associated with high level competition. “At these levels, sports are a multibillion-dollar, viciously competitive industry,” he says. “And any player or parent who thinks that these people really care about players as individuals is going to get lured down in the quicksand. Sports consume players like a roaring bonfire. As long as the leagues have enough wood to keep the bonfire going, no one really cares what happens to the logs.”
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