Gender and Sexuality Column

Harvard sports teams prove locker room talk to be insidious

/ The Daily Orange

Just when we thought we’d surpassed the era of “burn books” and “Mean Girls,” the 2012 Harvard University men’s soccer team proved us wrong.

The team has been suspended for the rest of the season: According to the Harvard Crimson, the team created a “scouting report” in which every member of the women’s soccer team was ranked based on her looks and hypothetical sex positions.

The measures taken by the university have unfortunately come late as the reports seem to be a four-year-long tradition buried under a culture of silence. Punishment was only given after the 2016 women’s soccer team fired back — and rightfully so — in an open letter to their sexist classmates. So given that Harvard has a reputation as one of the leading institutions of higher education, the school’s lack of immediate action seems to condone this behavior. The time lapse also sets a negative tone for other universities to follow, especially when it comes to sports teams.

Women athletes are already outnumbered, heavily criticized and unappreciated as it is. Diminishing the talent of these young athletes by ranking them based on beauty and sexual value is discouraging and plain disrespectful.

This is not an isolated incident: Earlier this month, as reported by the Crimson, Harvard’s men’s cross country team was found to have their own version of the scouting report in a spreadsheet. The document also made comments about women athletes’ appearance.

Women’s objectification isn’t unique to college campuses, but more often than not, this is where it begins. And if universities continue to be a breeding ground for this kind of sexism, it promotes the idea that women — no matter how talented they are in their field — are nothing more than their physical appearances.

Mary Graham, a sport management professor at Syracuse University, discussed the effects these team-made scouting reports could have on young athletes.

“Body image issues affect many women, including women student-athletes,” said Graham. “What happened at Harvard is an example of the types of pressure that can lead women to compromise their health and fitness to achieve some kind of ideal, sexualized body.”

Beyond the harm that was caused to women’s teams, Harvard’s soccer and cross country teams are just another instance of what has become known as “locker room talk.” Men continue to degrade their equals sexually and minimize the effect of this sexist rhetoric. But this is not something society, especially its institutions, can just write off with the “boys will be boys” argument. These boys will grow up to be worse versions of themselves and we can’t turn a blind eye to this behavior.

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Graham said that while Harvard is stepping up its educational efforts with the men’s soccer team, the measures are only a start. Ultimately, Graham said she believes that the coaches, athletic staff and anyone else who interacts on a daily basis with players need to be held accountable.

“It is likely that someone else besides the players knew this was occurring,” Graham said. “Harvard and other educational institutions could implement a clearly-defined reporting process, anonymous if needed, for concerned individuals to communicate their concerns and have them investigated.”

Harvard University is often held on a higher pedestal than other universities and sets an example for other universities across the country to follow. But in this case, it’s best that universities view Harvard as an example of what to avoid.

Ivana Pino is a sophomore political science major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at ivpino@syr. edu.

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