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The morally tone-deaf handling of the Gee-Gees scandal by CBC and The Ottawa Citizen

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The University of Ottawa hockey team was suspended recently as a result of being implicated in a sexual assault scandal while at an away-game in Thunder Bay on the weekend of Feb 1, 2014. Today, The Ottawa Citizen and CBC both published articles highlighting how terrible it is that this happened—for the hockey team. They couldn’t be bothered to even consider the actual rape victim in either of their articles or CBC’s video.

For clarity, I’m assuming that the guys in these articles are just as innocent of the sexual assault as they say they are. The hockey player in the CBC video wasn’t even in Thunder Bay. This is not the issue.

But even if they had nothing to do with the sexual assault and even if they were completely ignorant of the whole thing, these articles and the CBC video are absolutely inappropriate and morally tone-deaf to the situation.

Names “smeared”

Burns, who wrote an open letter to the president of his university, complains that his good name has been “smeared.” The players’ names have not been smeared. University-level hockey just isn’t that big a deal to anyone who’s outside of it. No one knows their names, and anyone who does will be close enough that they can defend themselves.

Somehow CBC wants us to simultaneously believe that the suspension has irreparably hurt the future of the young man in the video while we sympathise with the lack of closure that he must be facing, due to the fact that he’s going on to semi-pro hockey abroad in a couple weeks. (Wait, I thought his future was ruined?)

Anyway, it’s not like we’re living in a world where being the perpetrator of a sexual assault carries much stigma. (C.f. CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville rape case.)

Betrayed by the university

These hockey players say they feel betrayed by their university. The university did not betray them. The teammate who committed a sexual assault betrayed them. The university is taking an appropriate action by holding off on honouring a team that has been implicated in an accusation of sexual assault. Can you imagine being the victim of the assault and knowing that your school was throwing a party for the hockey team, or holding a special ceremony in their honour?

These athletes won’t get to go to a couple of parties, and they might have to settle for having their jerseys mailed to them rather than being presented at a big ceremony. These are emotional wounds that will heal in time, I’m sure.

Basically, these articles are about some star athlete who, in light of someone having been raped, decided to write a letter to the media, and rather than writing a single word about how terrible it is that someone was sexually assaulted, he complains about how unfair this all is to him. In four words, his letter can be summed up as: “But what about me?”

Even though he’s a big-man hockey player, this whole situation just isn’t mainly about him, and he should have the perspective to see that. No, it isn’t fair that he doesn’t get to go to these parties, and I can understand him feeling frustrated. But by writing a letter like this, he is turning the situation around to focus on the plight of the “poor star athlete who doesn’t get to go to a party,” when in the big scheme of things, that is nothing compared to a woman who has to go through life dealing with the fact that a member of his hockey team raped her.

Media ethics—or, how CBC and the Ottawa Citizen failed

If I was just meeting one of these hockey players and we were hanging out casually, and he was saying how he wished he could go to the athletic department party or have his jersey presented at a special ceremony, I think I would totally sympathise with him. That’s natural—he’s supposed to enjoy those things. That doesn’t make him a bad person.

The problem is that the guy is publicly demanding that he be given these honours, and that in the face of an ongoing rape investigation. And to make it worse, reading over Burns’ letter, it’s not clear that he understands or even cares that someone was raped. It’s not mentioned once. It’s not even an afterthought. The letter, and the articles by CBC and the Ottawa Citizen lack a certain perspective that should be present when considering the consequences of an investigation of a sexual assault.

Despite its handling by the Ottawa Citizen and by CBC, the Big Story here is not (or shouldn’t be) “rape complaint ruins party for innocent hockey players,” and the big moral concern isn’t that younger hockey players might be discouraged from playing. Trust me, kids will play hockey whether you throw fancy parties for them afterward or not.

The Big Thing that we should be worried about is whether or not this kind of story discourages victims of rape from reporting it, and what this says about how we view sexual assault. By taking the focus off the appropriateness of the university’s response and pointing toward the “terrible injustice” done to these hockey players, we are implicitly saying that one complaint of rape is less important than 26 guys being denied the chance to go to a couple of parties. I don’t think that is the message that CBC or the Ottawa Citizen wanted to send, and I don’t think that’s the kind of world I want to live in.


4 Responses to “The morally tone-deaf handling of the Gee-Gees scandal by CBC and The Ottawa Citizen”

  1. TS says:

    Yes, graduating students not getting to go to the sports ceremony is more important than one accusation of rape. An accusation is merely alleging that something took place. Right now we don’t even know if there’s enough evidence to even lay charges.

    You need to Google the Duke Lacrosse Rape situation and see what can happen when people are guilty until proven innocent.

    Stop pandering to the feminists point of view. It may score you points with a bunch of man haters but it makes you look like you had your balls chopped off dude.

  2. TS, you are a misogynist douchewad, and despite the fact that your comments do not merit a response, HERE I GO.

    1. You need to Google the fact that false rape accusations are rare. How rare? Really, really rare. If you were a betting man, you’d come out ahead in the long run by always betting on a rape accusation being true. And yes, this is the case, no matter how many times you want to bring up the fact that the scandal at Duke happened.

    Actually, don’t strain yourself. You’ll probably just type “men’s rights groups” into Google, rather than actually looking for good stats on the issue.

    Just click here: http://journals.cluteonline.com/index.php/CIER/article/viewFile/1201/1185

    And then click here: http://www.nsvrc.org/publications/articles/false-reports-moving-beyond-issue-successfully-investigate-and-prosecute-non-s

    2. You need to Google the fact that someone being “innocent until proven guilty” is an aspirational legal principle intended to prevent a government from abusing the coercive powers of the state to punish those who have not been proven to be guilty. It was never meant to be a limit on private citizens or corporations such as the university, and it is certainly NOT meant to prevent us from being compassionate and understanding to someone who is (as far as we know) the victim of a terrible crime.

    Saying that “innocent until proven guilty” applies to me or you or the university is as stupid as if you had said that I can’t criticise the asinine drivel that you typed on my blog “because we have freedom of speech in Canada.”

    3. You need to Google yourself some perspective, and Google yourself up a conscience while you’re at it.

    4. About me “looking like I got my balls chopped off”: Just because you are insecure about your own genitals doesn’t mean that I’ve got the same problem, short stack.

  3. TS says:

    I didn’t say anything in my comment that would lead anybody to believe I’m a women hater.

    You know nothing about me. I could be married with three daughters.

    I hate rapists. If anybody on the University of Ottawa hockey team took part in that, they should rot in jail for a long time.

    I just don’t think anybody should be punished before we know the facts. That’s all!

    That doesn’t make me a misogynist.

  4. I should have had a cup of coffee ready to sip when I read your comment so that I could spray it everywhere when I read it, due to the sheer ridiculousness of you trying to say that your comment wasn’t dripping with hatred for women.

    So what if you do have daughters or a wife? I bet you have a mother too. Even if you do have women in your life (poor them), you would still be a misogynist, because of the sorts of things you say and believe.

    Parenthetically, don’t ever try to turn the people in your life into your own personal “get out of jail free” cards just because they aren’t straight white males. They are not pawns in your argument. They are people, and you don’t get to use them that way. Try to keep that in mind next time you plan to use the existence (or the hypothetical existence) of your “black friend” or your “gay friend” to prove you’re not racist or homophobic. Just don’t.

    What makes you a misogynist is the fact that you still see all of this primarily as “punishment” for the hockey team, and in terms of how bad it must be for them. You pay lip-service to some sort of abstract disapproval of rape (How great-spirited of you! What a high moral bar you set for yourself! Would you like a cookie or a gold star or something?) but the victim of the rape isn’t even on your moral radar.

    You express your condemnation of rape in terms that make it sound like the biggest problem here is that a rape is evidence of a character defect for the rapist, who deserves to be punished, and that this is a matter of justice regarding the hockey players only. Try to see this from the victim’s perspective.

    This whole thing isn’t about punishing the hockey team. It’s about being sensitive to someone who is the victim of a terrible crime. That is the highest priority here. You say you want to hold off on “punishing” the hockey players, and yes, I am all for that. No one should go to jail without due process. But even if this was a false accusation (which is not at all very likely if you look at the stats), the downside (I refuse to call it a “punishment”) to erring on the side of sensitivity to a rape victim is that these guys missed a couple parties.

    Missing a party is not a big deal, and it is certainly not a punishment for rape. The fact that you can even make that mistake is very troubling.

    The alternative is that the university risks worsening a rape victim’s suffering by honouring the hockey team and throwing them big conspicuous parties.

    If you are not okay with erring on the side of sensitivity to the victim of a rape and your only concern here is that big-man hockey player has a good time, then yes, you are a woman-hater. Own it.

    Wrapping up, if you want to know what you wrote in your comment that tipped me off to the fact that you hate women, it was partly the fact that you took my position as “pandering to the feminists’ point of view” (as if there was a problem with that) rather than “being a normal human being”, and that you have such a morally skewed perspective of the world that you saw it as an attack on men.

    Trust me, the men will be just fine. Even though they have to miss their party.

    P.S. If you want to post again, I’m going to ask you to do so using your real name.

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