Sexual Violence in Intercollegiate Athletics: A Historical Perspective of Male Athletic Entitlement

Lorin Mordecai – University of Connecticut School of Social Work


Sexual violence within intercollegiate athletics is an understudied area of research in social work. Feminist theorists suggest that sexual violence reinforces male dominance as a result of living in a patriarchal society. Male college athletes participating in commercialized sports develop a sense of entitlement due to public admiration for their heroic athleticism. The college sports culture at large Division I universities sets the stage for sexual aggression and exploitation of women. This article seeks to identify themes of male athletic entitlement that perpetuates violence against women through a feminist perspective. Using a historical qualitative analysis, articles from major newspapers were collected from 1950 to 2016 that reported on incidents of sexual assault committed by male college athletes. Several themes emerged including multiple perpetrator sexual assaults, recruiting parties, recruitment of athletes with a violent past, racial hierarchies, threats to victims, and organizational culture’s mishandling of sexual assault. Even though these trends provide a glimpse into the college sports broadcasted by the media, they highlight the underlining structures that enable gender-based violence. Gaining a better understanding of these trends will allow social workers to address sexual violence perpetration by male college athletes in big-time college sports.