Several University of Oregon football players used their brief moment in the spotlight Thursday, after routing Florida State 59-20 in a College Football Playoff semifinal, to simultaneously mock the Seminoles' racist war chant and taunt losing quarterback Jameis Winston over rape allegations against him.
Two years ago, a woman accused Winston of sexual assault. He was never charged—not because there was no doubt of his innocence, but because the police and university didn't bother with a proper investigation. Almost two weeks ago, he was cleared of violating the student code of conduct, clearning the way for him to play in the Rose Bowl. The rape victim, meanwhile, was outed by Winston's lawyers and regularly harassed by FSU fans.
Now, the Oregon players will be disciplined for drawing attention to the matter.
"We are aware of the inappropriate behavior in the postgame," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "This is not what our program stands for, and the student-athletes will be disciplined internally.”
The players were scrutinized on Twitter, too, as some sports commentators found the "no means no" chant treated sexual assault as a joke:
Wow rape jokes are funny to Oregon players too. Crazy how people don't take it seriously. Sad to see.— Jdan (@NFLGoodwitch) January 2, 2015
If I need to explain to you why the "no means no" chant isn't funny, then it's best you don't tweet me.— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) January 2, 2015
Was the chant unsportsmanlike and tasteless? Yes. But it was also absolutely necessary because it drew attention to sexual assault—both in college and in football—at an unexpected moment. FSU surely would like to see the allegations against their Heisman-winning quarterback swept away, but these Oregon players are helping to ensure that doesn't happen. In order to change a system that rallies to protect accused rapists, we will need more than presidential action and campus and police reform; players will need to take action, too. On Thursday, that came in the form of a chant during a post-game trophy celebration—a chant that seemed like a rape joke to some, but a show of solidarity with the victim to others. We can debate their intentions, but Oregon's players shouldn't be disciplined for raising the issue. They got people thinking and talking about sexual assault, a conversation that too many authorities are trying to avoid.