Let’s Call The Harvard ‘Scouting Report’ Violence, Because That’s What It Is

By Shireen Ahmed

Another day, another crushing blow to our faltering faith in humanity.

In the wake of discovering a detailed “scouting report” penned by the 2012 male soccer team, which describes freshmen female soccer players in demeaning, derogatory, and explicit language — “Yeah . . . She wants cock” is a particularly charming epithet in its pages — Harvard has canceled the men’s remaining 2016 season.

It seems this kind of clandestine “scouting” is not a dark relic of the past, but continues to plague the school today. Last Tuesday, The Harvard Crimson published a piece detailing the abuses that persist within the Harvard Athletics system:

“The ‘report’ appears to have been an annual practice. At the beginning of the document, the author writes that ‘while some of the scouting report last year was wrong, the overall consensus that’ a certain player ‘was both the hottest and the most STD ridden was confirmed.’”

Harvard Athletics Director Bob Scalise confirmed the presence of this report, calling the misogyny “widespread across the team,” in an email penned to student athletes. The realization that this was not an isolated incident but a bastardized tradition is what spurned the cancellation.

The mea culpas are abundant, but the rhetoric isn’t quite right; let’s call this “scouting report” violence, because that’s what it is.

***

The nine-page scouting report compiled information and photographs taken from the internet, flanked by sexist commentary and rankings, which listed the women from 1 to 10 in terms of physical appearance. The “report” detailed suggestions of sexual positions, adding for one particular player that she “looks like the kind of girl who both likes to dominate and likes to be dominated.” 

Other comments included cruel jabs and criticisms of players’ bodies — including the likening of one player’s teeth to ‘Gumbi’ (sic) — their posture, and their gender presentation . One woman was deemed too masculine, according to the author of the document. “She seems to be very strong, tall and manly so, I gave her a 3 because I felt bad. Not much needs to be said on this one folks,” he wrote. 

While reading the Crimson article, I couldn’t help but feel enraged, and also intensely protective of the women; I was also simultaneously saddened. I remember the feeling of being among a group of rookies on my own University soccer team. I remember the trepidation and the concern of how senior players might look at me, let alone judge my skills on the pitch. 

I know the feeling of hoping your male counterparts support you as athletes and as friends. It would have been a crushing blow to find out that the men’s side, with whom we traveled and represented our school, thought of me or other players this dismissively, this crudely. To find out two or 20 years later would still be disturbing and upsetting. 

Six players from this year’s women’s soccer team replied to the breaking news of the 2012 report with a brave and poignant letter published in The Crimson. The letter, penned by Kelsey Clayman, Brooke Dickens, Alika Keene, Emily Mosbascher, Lauren Varela, and Haley Washburn (all Harvard Class of 2016), detailed their initial “surprise and confusion.” They powerfully articulated how this incident prompted them to speak out despite their attempts to subdue the “embarrassment, disgust, and pain” they have experienced by the words and actions of the men’s team.

The letter in The Crimson was unapologetic and undeniably just. Among the many salient points these women made is that, while initially shocked, they ultimately perceive this type of behavior to be normal. Toxic masculinity in sports is so commonplace that abuse and vulgar commentary does not give women too much pause.

This is the same toxic masculinity that fuels rape culture and sexism in sports. It is rooted in the same systems that silence survivors of emotional, physical, and psychological abuse. It bullies athletes into thinking that “locker room talk” is a part of sports culture. It isn’t and it doesn’t have to be

This “scouting report” is not only offensive; it is abusive. It is a form of violence. It strips these women of their bodily autonomy, reducing their worth — despite being some of the brightest and talented women in the nation — to sexual objects. Worse yet? It comes directly from a nearly all-white team of men in one of the best funded and most highly reputed institutions in the country. Harvard may tout itself as a veritable bastion of intellectual rigor, a place where pillars of societies are forged, but they’re fostering the very same culture of sexism that pervades the rest of the nation, Ivy-laden walls or not.

Not shockingly, no former players from the men’s team who were contacted by The Crimson chose to comment. They stayed silent. None of the members of the men’s soccer program chose to report this document to coaching staff or administration — not even the men who the six women considered friends. They were complicit.

And this, too, is what perpetuates this cycle of violence. Abusers can be friends, classmates, and fellow athletes.

The letter written by the women players called “on the men of Harvard soccer and to the men of the world” as allies to stand united, and combat and prevent this type of behavior . . . to do something

It is unreasonable and inefficient to ask women to stop being victims of misogyny instead of demanding that men stop being misogynistic.

The six women insist that “We cannot change the past, but we are asking you to help us now and in the future.” Clearly, these women care about their college, the students, and their sport. They are suggesting ways to have meaningful conversations in order to cut out misogyny from the sports programs and beyond. They are using their experience to educate and curb the harmful misogyny that often threatens an environment in which women may thrive. They are leaders, and exactly the people that Harvard ought to be proud of. 

In sharp contrast, the unequivocally insulting “scouting report” hardly reflects the Harvard athletics mission statement:

“Harvard values the lessons that have long been taught by athletic participation: the pursuit of excellence through personal development and teamwork, ethical and responsible behavior on the field and off, adherence to the spirit of rules as well as to their letter, leadership and strength of character, and sportsmanship — respect for one’s opponents, acceptance of victory with humility, and acknowledgement of defeat with grace.”

While Harvard Director of Athletics Robert L. Scalise was quick to condemn the “report,” he did not offer any helpful statement about what might be done in terms of including education seminars for student-athletes or eradicating this type of violence. He also added this would not be “a media thing” and that Harvard would settle it internally.

“We’re not insulated from these types of things,” he said. “These things exist in our society. Society hasn’t figured out a way to stop these things from happening.”

Scalise’s comments are typical of men who do not want to make an effort to fight against campus misogyny in a way that needs to happen. “Society” isn’t the offending party — it is the specific author and the rest of the 2012 men’s soccer team. They are products of the Harvard community.

Media should definitely call this what it is: a system of violence within collegiate sports communities.

Scalise’s further added: “Whenever you have groups of people that come together, there’s a potential for this to happen.”

This comment is patently unacceptable from an administrator who is on a campus that has a heightened climate of sexual assault. In a statement released on Tuesday, University President Drew G. Faust announced that Harvard’s General Counsel would conduct “an immediate review” of the document.

The men’s soccer team did release a collective apology, although given the circumstances under which it was written, it seems an act of desperation than of actual contrition.

The Harvard men’s soccer team sat at the top of the standings among the Ivy League schools before their season imploded. Hopefully, the consequences of the team will be more severe than missing a few remaining soccer games — despite vacuous and ignorant criticism of Harvard’s decision to end the season.

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In order to prevent and fight various forms of violence against women, a campus must commit to a plan and be accountable for outcomes. This might include educational campaigns for coaching staff and administration. It might involve more committees and investigations.

Perhaps it should include conversations that have student-athletes listen to women and see how they react when they are spoken of as such, in a vein similar to the “Mean Tweets” campaign that my friend Julie DiCaro wrote of when she experienced abuse.

Maybe it involves reading Jessica Luther’s acclaimed book Unsportsmanlike Conduct that addresses the rape culture of college football. Her research and findings focus on college football, but can certainly cross over to college soccer (and every other sport), where men in sports are guilty of perpetuating a framework of the allowable subjugation of women.

As Harvard probes the “scouting report” incident (aka cesspool of misogyny), I can only hope that the University acts upon the findings further than to simply suspend a season that by November, is almost finished.

A simple “sorry” is insufficient, and a muddled apology is not a tool to be used for what the six players respectfully requested. What’s needed is for Harvard to take this issue that plagues campus athletic departments and to ensure it will not happen again — from any team or club.

Faust’s more recent statement is quite telling. She wrote that she “was deeply distressed to learn that the appalling actions of the 2012 men’s soccer team were not isolated to one year or the actions of a few individuals.” Even an isolated case is extremely problematic. But the practice of entire teams of men assigning female athletes to horrible misogynist assessments means that the character of the soccer program is rotten to the core.

Harvard needs to re-build it with the guidance and direction of an administration who take it seriously — whether one man is involved or 22.

***

Lead image: Modified from Wikimedia.org

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