Every now and again I hear from former students of mine. It’s actually nice to catch up with them. It’s also encouraging to hear how many of them have remained faithful to their beliefs.
Not long ago I heard from one such student who attends a university with a thriving football program. In the course of our conversation, she mentioned to me that while on a date with one of those football players, he attempted to sexually assault her. She then casually moved on to another subject, until I brought her back to this one.
“You’ve got to tell someone,” I urged her. Although she shared no details, I learned that she had; and, in fact, had mustered the courage to do so in a very mature way. She added that if it hadn’t been for her strong Catholic education, she wouldn’t have had the tools to identify this “threat” ahead of time, and navigate around it.
I’ve spoken with this student since. One of the things she’s come to grips with, since leaving high school, is how often campus cultures stand in opposition to everything she believes. And it seems one of the greatest culprits is the cesspool of entitlement leavening college athletics. I was alarmed when she shared the football player’s comment after resisting his advances: “Coach warned us about girls like you.” I guess that begs the question: Did coach “warn” him for the right or the wrong reasons?
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard these complaints — environments riddled with athletes bestowed with such accolades it blinds their ability to find virtue, and leads crowds of adoring young women into believing these athletes are something they’re not. After all, if the college puts them on a pedestal, why shouldn’t they?
My former student told me it isn’t that uncommon for young girls on campus to seek these athletes out — on social media, or in person — in an effort to “win their favor,” a quest for fame, a search to ride on the coattails of an idol. And she shared with me that if not for her strong family upbringing and Catholic foundation, she could have fallen to the same allure.
It made me wonder: where does it begin? Many experts believe it begins in the home. I tend to agree. Often times we parents don’t realize we’ve fallen into the culture’s trap; a quest for the holy scholarship at any cost. In the meantime, we forget that it shouldn’t be coaches’ primary jobs to eradicate that entitlement-mindedness from our kids, but ours. I think somewhere along the line we’ve become so busy, we’ve eliminated the sacred time we need to instill this.
Maybe it begins when families decide early on that seven days a week playing sports is worth more than a few nights at the dinner table together. Perhaps it begins when we have plenty of time for that 7 a.m. practice, but are too tired to drag ourselves out of bed for the 9 a.m. Mass.
In his recent pastoral letter, Archbishop Allen Vigneron heroically highlights the need for families to commit to reclaiming their identity in relationship with God. This includes, “reclaiming Sundays, and creating time for regular family meals to reclaim their sacred nature.” Maybe those entitlement conversations are meant to happen there.
I came up with a solution as I lay in bed the other night, worrying about my own daughters. Maybe I’ll petition the NCAA to change their rules on how they award the national title. Instead of the most wins, they could award it by calculating GPA, plus number of service hours, minus the number of arrests.
Or maybe I’ll just send the right messages to my students and my own kids. “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” The entitlement storm is coming. Put on virtue today so you can weather it.
For young women struggling after a sexual assault, there are plenty of resources that can help. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Paul Stuligross is director of campus ministry at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Preparatory High School.