Last week, the president of the University of Missouri passed an executive order stating that unless a faculty member is legally bound by confidentiality, he or she must report claims of sexual assault to the school’s Title IX coordinator. This order comes in response to an incident in 2010 in which the university did nothing in the face of knowledge that some of its football players might have raped a fellow student-athlete. As ESPN’s Outside The Lines (OTL) reported in January, despite evidence that at least one member of the athletic department staff knew of the alleged rape, there was never an investigation and law enforcement was not notified. The victim, Sasha Menu Courey, killed herself in 2011.
This is an all too common story in sports: Just today, in fact, The New York Times published a deeply-reported investigation of an alleged rape by Florida State’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston was accused of raping a freshman at a bar near campus in 2012, but a prosecutor quickly dropped the case citing lack of evidence. “In his announcement, the prosecutor…acknowledged a number of shortcomings in the police investigation,” the Times reports. “In fact, an examination by The New York Times has found that there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university.”
In Missouri, Rolandis Woodland, a former Mizzou football player, spoke out against his former teammates in the OTL report. While at Missouri, Woodland and Menu Courey dated for a short time and remained close friends. Woodland says she contacted him the morning after her assault. “She was distraught and crying, confiding to him that something bad had happened to her without saying exactly what,” OTL reported. Shortly before her death, Woodland says Menu Courey sent him a video of three of his teammates in a dark room with her. Woodland describes what he saw:
You could see her saying “No, no,” hysterically crying…. She uses the name of [redacted player] when she tells him to get off of her, and he says, “It’s only me.” They dim the lights and you could see them switching [assaulting] her but you cannot see who was switching because the lights were dimmed. About three minutes into the tape, she pushed whoever was on her off of her and ran out of the room.
He told OTL that following her suicide, he “angrily confronted three of [his teammates]” and that “one of them admitted being with her sexually…but denied it was against her consent.” That tape is now lost but Woodland stands by what he saw and what Menu Courey told him.
The OTL revelations generated a spike in media coverage, but it was short-lived, with the exception of local reporting in Missouri. Much of the national response focused on explaining away Missouri’s culpability or gauging the university’s response to the claims, with only a few pieces directly discussing the problem of campus sexual assault. Coverage of the case faded soon after the Columbia Police Department announced they would investigate the case and the University of Missouri Board of Curators agreed to allow an independent counsel to investigate.
Just a few weeks after Outside the Lines published the story about Menu Courey, another former Missouri football player, Michael Sam, went to OTL to announce that he is gay. Coverage of the story dwarfed the coverage of the rape and death of Menu Courey, with outlets ranging from ProFootballTalk to The New York Times praising the University of Missouri, its football program, the players and Sam himself. And rightfully so. The university administration, Sam’s teammates and coaches, along with students at Missouri knew Sam was gay since August of last year. But, according to ESPN, Sam chose to wait on making a bigger announcement until at least after the end of the season, and his decision was honored. Once Sam made that announcement, stories appeared with titles like, “Missouri’s campus celebrates Michael Sam’s announcement,” “Mizzou fraternity shows support for Michael Sam” and “Michael Sam gets standing ovation at Missouri basketball game.” (TheNation.com, notably, used the occasion to call attention back to Menu Courey.) When the NFL draft takes place in early May, Sam will be one of the most-watched players.