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Wednesday, March 2, 2005
The sexploitation of sports

By Adrian Wojnarowski
ESPN.com

Open season never seemed to end in Boulder, Colo., where Gary Barnett and his merry and merciless band of Buffaloes seemed to have some run of the campus' coffers and ladies, the grand jury testimony like a Chinese water torture on common decency. Somehow, Barnett survived one staggeringly renegade operation, only to have testimony surface again that spoke of female trainers used as sex props and shoe boxes of money as slush funds for coaching bank accounts.

It always comes back to football and females as object, football and a culture in which kids are raised listening to too many coaches call them parts of the female anatomy, dehumanizing girls at every turn until it's easy to understand why coaches and ballplayers end up treating them like objects. We've been talking about it for years, but it never changes.

This story won't die. Nor should it.

According to testimony in the Colorado football scandal, two female trainers reportedly told a grand jury that they were sexually assaulted by an assistant football coach, and one had been "coerced to perform sexual favors for players and recruits repeatedly." After one Colorado co-ed after another told horror stories of life with Barnett's boys, there was still just one low-level indictment, and once again the questions arise about a football program where these charges never fade away, a football culture where these stories pop up like weeds in the cracks of sidewalks.

Colorado is the symptom of the greater problem. Across the board in sports, women are treated like part of the spoils that come with success. Of course, they come with losing too. Truth be told, athletes are conditioned to believe that women simply come on a silver platter. And that's whether they're willing or unwilling. This seemingly endless Colorado scandal has been despicable, living proof of all of that.

Do you want to know one of the best little sports stories of the past couple years? What Bob Knight did upon arriving at Texas Tech.

As soon as he took over in Lubbock, Knight stopped the nonsense that should've been stopped a long time ago on America's campuses: Those "hostesses" escorting recruits around campus on official visits. For years, kids would tell you what was happening with some — not all, but too many — of those girls on trips. Knight doesn't have the best track record when it comes to talking about women, as "A Season on the Brink" was packed with a lot of disturbing references. But Knight did walk into college football country and end one of those foolish traditions that sends all the wrong messages to prospective college athletes.

This is college sports' problem, but it is Colorado's nightmare. That hasn't changed, and the leaking of this grand jury testimony could bring back the microscope to what exactly has gone on there. Barnett handled everything wrong, all the way back to the beginning of female kicker Katie Hnida's charges of sexual abuse on the team. This is old territory, but Barnett has been extraordinarily fortunate to keep his job.

If these charges turn out to be true — never mind the new detailing of a slush fund for the coaching staff — Barnett should be done there. If his program created a climate where an assistant coach believed he was empowered to attack female trainers, well, I don't know how Barnett survives that.

Of course, he's survived a lot at Colorado, more than anyone would've believed. And with him survives a whole way of life in college football. Across America's campuses, women remain the easiest of prey. Fall or spring, it's always open season on them.

Adrian Wojnarowski is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. His book, The Miracle Of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley And Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty, is available on Amazon.com, and in bookstores across the country. He can be reached at ESPNWoj8@aol.com.