Tonight, Joe Mixon of the Oklahoma Sooners will take the field against Auburn in the 2017 Sugar Bowl. His participation will be a tangible example of a hidden secret in society–powerful men rarely protect vulnerable women. Of course the “men” in this scenario does not refer to Mixon. The men are the head coach, athletic director, and university president of Oklahoma who turned a blind eye to Mixon’s actions.
In 2014, Joe Mixon was in an altercation with a woman. During the dispute, Mixon punched the woman causing her to fall and hit her head on a table. She broke several bones, was hospitalized, and required surgery. Sadly, the event is not surprising. Men regularly use their strength at the expense of women and children.
However, what followed is also not surprising. Powerful men at the University of Oklahoma not only downplayed the event and minimized Mixon’s sentence, but also worked hard to suppress the video tape of the event. Why?
Flashback to #AsktheQuestion
In 2014, two weeks before the Mixon event, I wrote this article. My goal was to have reporters ask football coaches at the SEC Media Days if they would promise not to allow any player with a history of physical or sexual assault on their team. My hope, in part, was to get the question in the discussion so that the following week Bob Stoops would be asked the same question at the Big 12 media days. I targeted Stoops because he had just accepted a transfer player, Dorial Green-Beckham, who had a history of assaulting women. The question was not asked at media days, but eventually nearly every SEC coach took some form the pledge. Meanwhile, Stoops and his bosses were using their power to protect Joe Mixon.
It took two years, but last month, the gruesome video of Joe Mixon assaulting a woman went public. It was shocking. It begged the question–why would powerful men go to such extent to protect an abuser, but not to such lengths to protect women. (See: 3 Ways to Protect Your Child from Abuse)
Why Men Protect Men
Powerful men have a habit. We protect institutions at the expense of women and children. I don’t think we mean to. It’s not a conscious decision to threaten our daughters by protecting men who could hurt them. Instead, it’s an unconscious habit because of years of sexism, personal interests, the realities of power, and the bias of the legal system. Unfortunately, it’s far less risky for a man to protect another man and an institution than to risk their reputation to protect vulnerable women and children.
Sexism. Generations of sexism has downplayed the realities of sexual assault. It’s easy to discredit someone making a complaint. Society tends to blame victims and excuse perpetrators. Sexual harassment is downplayed as “just words.” Sexual assault is minimized as “just a kiss.” Rape is overlooked because “she probably enjoyed it.”
Personal Interests. Men are quick to protect institutions over women and children, because if the institution is hurt, they are hurt. Since they are in charge, they have a vested interest in the organization. Part of their task is to protect the organization. This personal involvement makes it tempting to downplay accusations by employees and protect employers. We lean toward players over allegations made by people who aren’t part of the team.
Power. The powerful abuse the vulnerable. The nature of power gives them a great advantage if any allegation is made. Those making decisions for institutions are more likely to know the accused than the accuser, would be more affected by losing the accused than the accuser, and the accused would be more able to afford better legal counsel than the accuser.
Legal Bias. What’s often overlooked is that the legal system is biased against women and children. Why does the law protect men? Because men write the laws. This allows a team or company to say, “we handled it legally” all while willfully enabling abusive behavior. While leaders must be wise to avoid lawsuits where possible, if others want to sue you for doing right, a leader must be willing to be sued.
All of these reasons create a climate where men in power protect institutions and themselves at the expense of women and children. It’s why Joe Mixon will be on the field tonight. It’s why Penn State empowered a predator for several decades. It’s why the Catholic Church overlooked abusive priests for centuries. It’s why women regularly change jobs because telling the truth is often ignored by men in power. (See: Dealing With the Accused and the Accusers in a Small Town)
There was a day in which physical and sexual assault by men against women and children was commonplace. It was such a part of everyday life and so little would be done about it that there was little use or need to mention it. But that day has passed. While abuse is still present, gone are the days of silence. Every day society is getting better at believing women and prosecuting men. But there are still remnants of the past. Men are still tempted to protect institutions at the expense of women and children. We must do better.