By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) Whatever is and has been going on in the University of Tennessee football program has to stop, as the nauseating headlines keep coming.READ MORE: Celebrating Black History Makers: Sydney Barber Is First Black Female Brigade Commander At U.S. Naval Academy
The bombshell last week was the sweeping Title IX lawsuit filed by Jane Doe plaintiffs that alleged that the school essentially abetted sexual assaults by football players, not only shielding them from specific punishment for criminal behavior via university and state policy but also fostering a culture that all but encouraged them to act as they pleased.
The suit claims the athletic department “acted with deliberate indifference in response to incidence of sexual assault” and that it “deliberately created (and creates) a hostile discriminatory sexual environment for female students.” What’s significant here is the direct, large-scale challenge that sets it apart from the sadly large number of similar cases: It’s not a matter of working up the ladder from one incident to determine who knew what and when, but a specific condemnation from the very top on down.
Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, athletic director Dave Hart and football coach Butch Jones are all named and described as “personally aware,” having deliberately ignored sexual assaults and “failed to take corrective actions.” The suit comes even as Tennessee was already targeted by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights as part of a nationwide investigation of Title IX violations.
The inclusion of Peyton Manning’s name makes it even bigger, and the next wave of ugliness came with a disturbing report last weekend in the New York Daily News that included detailed court documents that accuse the former Volunteers’ quarterback, the school and his family of an elaborate scheme to cover up his sexual assault of a female athletic trainer and engage in a smear campaign against her.
It’s plenty of nasty stuff, now devolving into typically politicized bickering and agenda-pushing that mostly misses the larger point: This has been allowed to happen at Tennessee, all in the name of their beloved football program that hasn’t been nationally significant in years. Continuing to argue strongly for the existence of a diseased culture has been much of the response from fans on social media, a wash of orange-logo avatars from hicksville lashing out at outsiders daring to comment on what new light is exposing in dark, infected corners.READ MORE: Trouble Accessing 1099-G Tax Forms For Unemployment Benefits Online? A Tech Expert Has A Possible Fix
And then more came Wednesday morning.
Offensive lineman Mack Crowder, who played in 11 games last season, was arrested in Florida on felony child pornography and exploitation charges. The 23-year-old Crowder was caught in a child-sex sting by authorities after he engaged in explicit conversations with someone he believed to be a 14-year-old girl, sending “her” photos of a certain body part and arranging to meet her.
If you think this is the first time Crowder has ever done something like this, then you have never spoken to people who make a living trying to catch these monsters. It may be the first time he’s been busted, but it looks like he spent the last five years of his life on a campus that wouldn’t want to bother him as he went about his business.
Knoxville is far from the only college football hotbed that could be providing a welcoming nest for all kinds of deviant behavior. The pattern that seems to exist there has been seen before in other places still firmly in the thrall of the game. The school and the bodies of women there become the protected personal playground for athletes. This is just the most recent, and it has been an alarming week.
Tennessee football. Ick.MORE NEWS: CBS 2 Exclusive: Now In New Home, West Side Mom Says She Never Left Kids Alone Or Without, Says People Don't Know Her Real Struggle