Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nike still sponsoring athlete accused of sexual assault

Yesterday in the New York Times, Timothy Egan wrote an opinion piece about recent events concerning Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has been accused of rape by a 20 year old woman last month in Georgia. This comes in addition to a rape accusation from less than a year ago, after which the charges were dropped, and further accusations from a third woman. Roethlisberger has not been charged with any crimes, but the allegations led to a six game suspension from the NFL, and local Pittsburgh sponsors have dropped the star athlete. But Nike has stuck by and continues to use the athlete to sell products.
Egan's article is mainly directed towards the shoe company, highlighting corporate responsibility and siting the continuing sponsorship of Tiger Woods as another example of poor moral corporate character. He also compares the case with that of Michael Vick, who was dropped from Nike after pleading guilty of conducting a dogfighting operation in 2007. The message, says Egan, is that abusing animals is unacceptable, but "cruelty towards women is OK."
Other sports writers have also contributed their opinions to the discussion, including Fox Sports' Jason Whitlock who strongly accused the women of lying about their experiences by saying "Statements made by drunken sorority girls are not facts" among other things. His article focuses on the poor judgment of Reothlisberger, who should have known better than to have public sex with such a high profile position. He uses 'common sense' advice that women are generally told to follow at frat parties to avoid getting raped as a means of accusing the girls of behaving irresponsibly, and uses an email that he received from a former sorority girl to make the case the girl's accusations were probably just a means of excusing themselves for embarrassing, sexually aggressive behavior.
Another interesting part of the whole deal is the comments section of Egan's article, almost all of which fall into 4 categories with few exceptions:
1. Egan is totally right and they will never buy Nike again
2. Egan is totally wrong - how dare he assume guilt in a case that was never actually brought to court? Innocent until proven guilty, after all.
3. The concept of "corporate ethics" is a myth and Nike's stance is hardly a surprise
4. Comparing the sexual assault case for Reothlisberger to the (assumedly consensual) adultery of Tiger Woods is an unfair comparison
One comment (number 17) is particularly telling of some of the common misconceptions about sexual assault in today's society. It accuses Egan of making claims where he is not qualified and says "If this football player had *raped* this girl, you best believe he would be charged." Unfortunately, the statistics tell a very different story, with the US Department of Justice finding that between 1992 and 2000, only 67% of sexual assault cases were ever reported. And while statistics can certainly be flawed, these results are certainly telling of a trend which the media tends to ignore.
A sum up of the events can also be found on

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Question of Humor

Last season on SNL (the current season just started 3 weeks ago), a repeat sketch emerged that caught my eye.

The sketch features cast member Kenan Thompson as an ex-con, brought in to the police station to give a speech to three young male trouble makers about staying out of trouble. The dialogue of the sketch follows a very dependable formula. Thompson (plus the guest of the week as another ex-con) starts talking about how small misdemeanors turn into bigger crimes which can land a guy in jail. Thompson offers his own story as an example, and retells the plotline of an iconic movie – the Sound of Music, the Goonies, Back to the Future, etc. When one of the kids calls him out on the stolen plotline, the ex-con’s pull him out of his chair or otherwise get in his face and tell him that this is NOT a joke. Here Kenan starts talking about rape in prisons, using pretty graphic imagery and yelling loudly. The thing about this part is that he describes the rape almost exclusively using puns from the movie he just summarized. For instance, in an episode with Taylor Swift he uses the Back to the Future to describe the “1.21 Jizzawatts” awaiting the young man in jail.

I’m afraid I couldn’t find available clips on the internet that would play in Canada, but all three installments of the sketch, called Scared Straight (with guests Taylor Swift, Tracy Morgan, and Charles Barkley) can be viewed from the US on Hulu.

The clip brings up some interesting questions, particularly because of its nature. The puns themselves are pretty silly – and do not require the violent scenario in order to be valid sexual puns about innocent movies. The guests themselves look equally ridiculous, especially Taylor Swift, acting like tough punk ex-cons. I would say that there are (just an opinion though) a handful of very funny elements present in the piece, not the least of which is Bill Hader fighting back laughter towards the end of the sketch. However, the sexual assault allusions make me uncomfortable.

The issue here is using sexual assault and humor. The sketch walks a funny line though, because it isn’t quite saying that sexual assault is funny, but using sexual assault as a excuse to make silly puns about iconic films. However, by using the puns, it creates a dialogue whereby the inclusion of sexual assault is funny . . . Its altogether a little confusing.

There are several questions being raised here:

What does the sketch say about sexual assault? How far is too far? What makes something funny? Where is the line between harmless and harmful humor?

I imagine that because everyone has a different relationship with humor that the answers will vary, but this is also a conversation that goes far beyond a few SNL sketches.

Share your thoughts, comments, additional questions!