In July, the University of Tennessee reached a $2.48 million settlement with a group of women who sued the school for creating, in their opinion, a “hostile sexual environment” in which sexual assault by student-athletes was met with indifference.
Tennessee would like to put this incident behind them – and it will certainly try to do just that – but the issue of sexual assault on college campuses likely won’t be far from the minds of the powers that be.
“I think there will always be discussions about it because it’s on every athletic director and head coach and administrator and president’s mind these days if the proper processes are in place and everybody’s been educated on those kind of sexual-harassment issues and things,” former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “So yes, I think it’ll always be out front, just like it is in corporate America. I think it’s behind Tennessee now. I think there is a whole bunch of people that would have loved to have gone through the process and fought it and everything, but in this day and age, you cut your losses (to) not have to go through all that media mess and get on to what you really need to get on to – and that’s educating athletes and getting ready for the season. I think that was the settlement. Sometimes it’s so hard to say that was the right thing because instinctively you want to fight (and say), ‘Well, that’s not true. We can win that.’ But the time and the money that it would have spent to do that and the media carryover – it would have been the conversation. Instead of talking about winning the (SEC) East, there’s going to be somebody always wanting to talk about this issue that’s distracting – and coaches, presidents and athletic directors don’t like distractions.”
From Tennessee to Penn State to Baylor, several high-profile universities have been rocked by sexual-assault scandals in recent years. Fulmer believes that these schools, more often than not, genuinely learn from the error of their ways.
“I think there’s great lessons,” he said. “Most of the time, if they’re the right kind of people, they’re going to get better. This is something across our country – not just at Tennessee, but across our country – that is a much bigger issue and needs to be addressed and has to stay at the forefront. That’s up to the presidents, athletic directors, head coaches and administrators of all sports to make sure that it is at the forefront of training and education processes, staying out of circumstances where you’re going to get yourself in trouble. I think generally people do a pretty good job with that around the country. We’ve harped on it and worked on it a lot, but you still have things that pop up from time to time unfortunately. The kids – male and female – have got to be mature about how they handle themselves. If they’re going to get themselves in issues, they probably need to be somewhere else besides college athletics.”