Power and control are behaviors and symptoms when discussing harassment, domestic violence, and rape culture. And unfortunately, this power is seen in various industries. Recently, the world of sports has been in the headlines, pushing serious questions about how we can protect our players and supporters. While many professional athletes have been speaking out and inspiring empowerment for all in the sport, there is still a long way to go for reform.
For example, take what happened with Manchester United and player Mason Greenwood. Greenwood is a world-class academy prospect who plays for one of the largest sports teams in the world, Manchester United. He was signed at the age of six years old and came up through their youth system to start for the first team. In January 2022, Greenwood was arrested on suspicion of raping and assaulting a woman and a few days later on suspicion of sexual assault and threats to kill. He was arrested after his partner leaked disturbing audio and picture content of negative experiences with Greenwood. Subsequently, he was suspended from Manchester United and was dropped from sponsorship by Nike. After his arrest and over a year of court proceedings, his case was dropped due to the complainant withdrawing the charges.
While Manchester United launched its own internal investigation that spanned over the course of six months, they explored whether the club had grounds to terminate his contract. In a roar of public backlash, Manchester United still had been actively considering adding him back to the team with the final decision to ‘mutually consent’ in parting ways. Yet, Greenwood’s sports career continues.
In the Women’s World Cup of 2023, the news of Spain’s 1-0 victory over England was overshadowed by the President of the Royal Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales, after he kissed Jenni Hermoso on the lips on stage during the post-match ceremony. Rubiales disregarded the act as inappropriate. “It was a kiss between two friends celebrating something,” he told the broadcaster COPE on Sunday. He called those who criticized the act as “idiots and stupid people.” His announcement of resignation from the RFEF did not go without a fight. Before the announcement, he constantly defended his actions, hoping a sincere apology would hold his position as he insisted his action was “spontaneous and consensual.” But Hermoso is taking action against Rubiales. Following the game’s celebrations, Hermoso had said in an Instagram Live broadcast that she “didn’t like it,” referring to the kiss. In her official statement, she explains, “It is essential that our national team is represented by figures that project its values of equality and respect in all areas. It is necessary to continue advancing in the fight for equality, a fight that our female players have led with determination, bringing us to the position we are in today.”
At Michigan State’s Football Program, head coach Mel Tucker, one the highest-paid coaches in all of sports, was accused of sexually harassing advocate Brenda Tracy. Tracy is known for her work in educating athletes about sexual violence through her organization, Set The Expectation. What started as a partnership for good turned into violence that they both preached against. USA Today reports Tucker’s heinous behavior of engaging in non-consensual phone sex leading Tracy to file what has been an ongoing Title IX investigation. The Army of Survivors, a global leader in advocating for survivors of sexual assault in sports, issued a statement calling on the deeply troubling inaction and failure of Michigan State University to take sexual abuse seriously. Prolonging the Title IX process is not only dangerous and detrimental to the school’s contracted employees (Tracy), but it also fosters a precedent that sexual harassment is disregarded for those at MSU — a behavior we have seen in all of these recent news stories.
When we discuss the power dynamics in sports, we cannot negate the notion of accountability when it happens. The Army of Survivors has adapted the original power and control wheel from the Domestic Violence Intervention Project to identify abuse in sports, but rape culture has many nuances. Sports fans, employees, universities, organizations, and all must do their part in believing survivors and speaking out about the violence they are impacted by. The integrity of sports depends on it.