Last week, Ryan Lochte and three of his teammates stirred up an international controversy when they lied about being robbed at gunpoint in Brazil. The attention the US media paid to the story is disproportionate to its long-term consequences. The vandalism to the convenience store will undoubtedly be repaired and the perpetrators have already paid for the damages.
Ironically, a story with far greater consequences got too little media attention. At the start of the Olympics, the USA Today and Indianapolis Star detailed a scathing report which showed how allegations of sexual abuse at USA Gymnastics were routinely ignored. Cases, going as far back as the 1990s, remained unaddressed as alleged victims were left to suffer.
After the initial story, which ran right before the opening ceremonies in Rio, attention waned as society prepared to celebrate the quadrennial event. And now that public scrutiny has been replaced with national pride for all those gold medals, can we expect that stack of cases at USA Gymnastics to be prioritized?
Sadly, this is a dangerous pattern in American culture. There are too many examples of those in power abusing that power in order to make sure the boat is not rocked. We have to win the big game or get the gold medal. The star player or guru coach may have made a mistake, but we need to win. The fans expect us to win at all costs, so we will deal with it later…
Or not at all. Consider the case of Penn State University. Joe Paterno was a god up until the year of his death. That was when Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of boys was exposed to the nation, although many in the Penn State power circles knew about it for years and did nothing.
But Penn State is not alone. At Baylor, allegations of sexual assault by football players were purposefully mishandled by the University. At Missouri, an alleged victim of sexual assault committed suicide after her allegations went mostly ignored. Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens was about to get away with a 2-game suspension until his violent attack of a female was released into the media. Only until the ugliness of the incident was visible to the general public was there enough of an outcry to force the NFL to suspend Rice for a season.
Please do not believe these are the only stories. There are countless more, not necessarily on page 1 of the newspaper – if they make the paper at all. There is a pattern here. Fans are hyper fanatical about their sports. This leads to money and power. Power leads to abuse. Dealing with the abuse could impact the money and power. It is better to risk the effect of a cover up than actually solve the problem itself. Why worry? What could go wrong? Fans will still fill stadiums and watch the events. Better to make sure the star player or the key coach is available and can focus on the big game.
Where is our collective moral compass? How did we get to a point that winning the big game or the prize overshadows what is right? The key point is that these examples are systemic, not isolated, within the institutions in question.
The solution? When whispers of allegations are heard, such as what was reported by the USA Today and Indianapolis Star, society needs to be engaged as much as possible. At least to the level of concern over a broken bathroom door and mirror at a gas station.
Otherwise, doesn’t that mean we have a culture of enabling this? Only until things get so ugly, only until we see a muscular football player knock a woman out on a grainy video, only until we get the ugly details of a boy and a coach in a university shower, only until then do we say “enough”.
And then our “enough” only lasts until the next news cycle. That means our “enough” doesn’t address the pattern of abuse, only an instance of it. We do not make it clear that ALL abuse will not be tolerated. When those distant whispers for help come, only until they become very loud screams that we can no longer ignore, do we actually pay attention…
Until the next scandal gets hushed by the roar of the crowd and the pursuit of victory… Leaving those who cannot get their screams noticed to suffer in silence.
An economic conservative till the end, Hughey strongly believes in the power of self-empowerment as the solution to many of society's problems. He is a business consultant for a management advisory firm in the Washington DC area and a contributor to Project 21, a black conservative organization. He also appears on television as a political and policy commentator on TVOne and RT. A graduate of Stanford Univeristy and Harvard Business School, Hughey believes that education and economic awareness are the keys to empower Americans to take back our nation.