“Rape” as a football drill command. We should know better.

Dear Brenda,

My son is 15 years old and during his football practice at our public high school the coach uses the word ”rape” as a command for a drill. The boys will then attack and tackle each other.

I think this is very unhealthy and that it promotes violence and aggression. This is 2011 and we should know better. The principal thinks that it’s fine.


Dear Concerned Mom,

Fear of rape is a cold wind blowing ?all of the time on a woman’s hunched back. – Marge Piercy

For a coach to use the word “rape” as a command for a drill in which the young men attack and tackle each other is unacceptable. Not because I think the members of the football team are mindless jocks who will have a Pavlovian response whenever the word is mentioned outside of football practice. It’s because as the Coach conditions their minds and bodies for a game of football, he is also desensitizing these young men to weight this word carries. Rape is an aggressive and violent act. Obviously the Coach is trying to generate a certain level of aggression he believes is necessary to play the game, however, while doing so he is creating an equivalency in their minds that is inappropriate and completely unacceptable.

The principal’s reaction was dismissive. Perhaps he or she is reluctant to address the issue in an honest and forthcoming way because they’re more interested in winning football games. Perhaps he or she is more interested in winning than in using their influence and the influence of the Coach to send a clear message about language, power and sex. The Coach and the Principal have missed a teachable moment and these young men lose because they don’t receive a mature message about the power of language. This happens too often. Adults rationalize unsuitable behaviors, language or treatment of certain groups and the most impressionable members of our society walk away from experiences like this with a certain coarseness, a lack of sensitivity. And while the rates of juvenile sex offenses continue to increase, this Coach and Principal believe that it is okay to not address this seriously.

So what’s a Mom to do? Here’s the deal:

  • You are your son’s first role model. Talk to him and tell him exactly how you feel about the Coach using such a loaded word in such a cavalier fashion.
  • Tell your son that you are going to take action because you believe it’s wrong. If your son balks at the idea of you taking action, let him know there are other places and leagues he can get his football fix and that this is something you strongly believe in and this is what people do when it is something they believe in, they take a stand.
  • Write a letter outlining your concerns and your demands to the school superintendent, and then copy to the members of the school board, the PTA, the school principal and coach, the executive director and the communications director of the local rape crisis center and the local newspaper.
  • Request to speak at the next school board meeting. Read your letter. Demand a response.

Good luck.

– Brenda