Fair Play: Sexual Violence and College Athletes

Posted Sep 09, 2019

Since the 1990s, we have seen multiple high-profile, even fatal, cases of violence against women at the hands of male intercollegiate athletes. These events and others prompted the Office of Civil Rights to call upon universities to more appropriately investigate and sanction perpetrators of sexual assault. In April 2011, using Title IX as an imperative, the Office for Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” (DCL) as a call for universities to more swiftly and adequately address incidences of sexual violence by students.

As universities started implementing or revamping programs to reduce sexual violence on campus, it became obvious there was a lack of current research on college athletics to inform their decisions. This led me to conduct my own research on sexual assault within intercollegiate athletics. I wanted to understand the ways in which former college athletes understand sexual assault, as well as their perceptions of their athletic department’s response to occurrences and prevention.

My research on sexual violence was first published in 2015 and again in 2018. Based on this research, in 2017-2018, I implemented a sexual violence prevention program with athletes from a variety of sports: men’s and women’s basketball, wrestling, softball, football, and women’s golf and tennis.

That program, Fair Play: Sexual Violence Prevention for Athletes, was created because many athletes are leaders on their campuses and in their communities. While some research shows that some male athletes may be at higher rates for perpetrating sexual assault, we know that the vast majority of athletes are good students who want to help keep their fellow teammates, students, and community members safe. Fair Play teaches athletes about sexual assault, consent, and rape culture in sports, helps them re-examine traditional gender norms and roles, and gives them tools and skills to intervene and stop sexual violence before it happens.

With grant funding from the Ohio Department of Higher Education, we collaborated with Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO) to facilitate Fair Play. Research done to assess the efficacy of the program is forthcoming in two journals. However, data indicates that, after participating in Fair Play, athletes are less likely to believe in rape myths, have a better understand of consent, and are able to identify and stop the spread of rape culture. In addition, Fair Play participants reported increased knowledge and ability to engage in bystander intervention, which is aimed at preventing violence before it happens. Fair Play is effective in its depth and breadth – participants attend 10 hours of programming – as well as the unique and active learning environment targeted specifically for athletes.

Kristy McCray, Ph.D., is an Otterbein assistant professor in sport management and a former rape crisis center executive director. McCray’s program focuses on college athletes as some research indicates that male intercollegiate athletes are more likely to hold sexually aggressive attitudes and behaviors.

Kristy McCray, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Sport Management

Kristy McCray is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Otterbein University in Westerville, OH

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