Student athletes’ fame creates precendent for leniency

Three University of Minnesota basketball players have been suspended for the rest of the season after one player tweeted explicit videos involving him and his teammates. The two videos depicted the players engaging in sex acts with women and the videos—and the Twitter account—were deleted shortly after. It is unknown why the videos were tweeted, but in the age of Internet revenge porn and the ease of hacking personal information, it’s a wonder why these athletes didn’t receive a harsher punishment. By tweeting the videos, the privacy of the players and the women involved was surrendered to a huge public audience.

The issue that many have with this situation is the influence that it has on aspiring athletes. One day, many of the athletes that we see and hear about will be obsolete and another generation of young athletes will emerge. This next generation could be the face of major league programs as early as 18 years old—as young and generally immature teenagers.

Social media has a huge presence in the lives of teenagers and young adults. The University of Minnesota basketball players have giant social media presences—some college athletes have well over 20,000 followers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Many of these followers could be young high school athletes who look to these players as role models—and in return were exposed to graphic and explicit sexual material.

Situations such as this and the many sexual assault and harassment cases that occur in high school, college and professional sports with minor consequences to the athletes show how athletes often receive special treatment and act as if they are above the law. A clear example of this is the recent filing in a Title XI lawsuit claiming that the University of Tennessee athletic department administration were aware that five football players committed sexual assaults, but allowed the athletes to remain in school and on campus without consequence.

This culture of protecting athletes to preserve sports programs or to protect university reputation can affect the way athletes view themselves and their actions. Athletes can tweet or Instagram incriminating or sensitive content and can get away with it, all without receiving serious criminal consequence. The student-athletes at Minnesota deserved to be suspended, but if the women in those videos choose to press charges or sue for breach of privacy, how far will administrations go to protect their athletes from further punishment?

When athletes—and influential celebrities in general—are protected from harsh consequences after committing inappropriate or criminal acts, it sets a precedent for future behavior. Young people often learn from experience and this experience sets a poor example for how socially, legally or morally negligent student-athletes of the future can act before receiving real punishment.