Ohio State player groped during the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, NCAA has done nothing

It’s more than unsportsmanlike conduct

On New Year’s Eve, the Buckeyes faced off against Clemson in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. Over the course of the game, Clemson defeated Ohio State with a whopping score of 31-0. Somehow, however, that was not the most devastating and violating thing to happen on the field that day.

During the second quarter, three Clemson defenders brought down Curtis Samuel, Ohio State’s halfback. As is common with sports, and football specifically, physical contact was made – even required to complete the tackle. However, long after the play’s completion, Clemson’s Christian Wilkins went out of his way to prolong contact with Samuel’s, to put it nicely, genitals.

It would be easy to brush off what Wilkins did as ‘boys being boys’ or ‘just part of the game,’ but football players should not be held to a different standard just because they’re on a field. What Wilkins did is more than unsportsmanlike conduct.

Maybe you think that sexual assault is too harsh a term for what Wilkins did to Samuel – after all it did happen in the heat of a game. I’m arguing that it shouldn’t matter where, when, or how it happened.

According to the United States Department of Justice, “Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” The definition continues to clarify what specific acts fall under this term: “forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.”

Giving #42 the benefit of the doubt, his original hand placement easily could’ve been an attempt to balance himself, or maybe it could have been an uncomfortable accident as he attempted to stand up after the play. However, he then deliberately chose to move his hand further down between Samuel’s legs and grope the Ohio State player.

His intent was to fondle Samuel. And to do what, exactly? Intimidate? Humiliate? Impose his power physically onto another player to show his dominance?

Maybe each of these tactics is correlated with playing a sport, but they are also power plays for sexual assault and intimidation. In the video, you can see Samuel recoil from the violation. It’s uncomfortable to watch, and it should be. What Wilkins did was wrong and he should be punished. But has he been? No.

Not punishing Wilkins sends a dangerous message to athletes. On one hand, it offers athletics as an excuse to act however you want to without fear of reprimand, because it’s just what happens during the game. On the other, it expresses that even with video evidence and millions of people watching, you can get away with unwanted touching.

The NCAA has a long-standing history with covering sexual assault cases and letting their players off easy. College football has been unequivocally linked to increased rape on college campuses during game days and journalist Jessica Luther has an entire “Playbook” dedicated to unraveling the ways the NCAA has created a system that not only fuels player’s criminal behaviors but is also incentivized to.

In cases such as Florida State where the football program helped to cover up not one, but two rape charges against Jameis Winston, it is easy to be skeptical about the events that took place and allegations made. (Although it should be easier to take the woman’s word for it, considering the unlikely statistics of women lying about being sexually assaulted.)

However, when a football player goes so far as to grope another player on national television, it should be difficult to ignore and it should be punished. But the NCAA doesn’t appear to be doing anything about it, despite the incredible amount of media attention the clip of Wilkins has gained since the game on Saturday.

According to David Hale of ESPN, Wilkins apologized for his actions, explaining what he did as “silly,” and “stuff you do when you’re competing.”

It’s unfortunate that we feel more comfortable blaming our bad decisions on extenuating circumstances like alcohol or a game, when really we should be blaming the people who commit the crime.

Despite his actions, Wilkins is still set to take the field in Clemson’s game in the NCAA Championship against Alabama on January 8th.

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