The Crucible that is Griz Nation

By W.T.FUCHS

When newspapers hit porches Friday morning, no doubt most in Missoula sat rapt over coffee, poring over sobering headlines: “3 UM Football Players Allegedly Involved in Sex Assault on Campus.”

In sketchy detail, allegations levied last week paired University of Montana Grizzly football players with rape and the date-rape drug Rohypnol.

One female student had already been reported to be in talks with police, and allusions of others possibly coming forward was only exacerbated by midweek news that an independent investigation into sexual misconduct had already been launched on campus.

Currently, no one knows if the independent investigation into sexual misconduct, and the allegations of rape are related. It’s very possible that isn’t the case.

But the association of Grizzly football players with such an allegation sent the court of Missoula public opinion into a shock-and-awe frenzy just 12 hours before the school’s NCAA semi-championship football game last Friday.

Keeping in mind that complex stories take time to emerge, and a conflicting Associate Press story refutes these allegations, the level of outrage at the mere suggestion any local scion of sport could be capable of something this reprehensible was not only palpable, it spurred an almost mob-like mentality in online news threads.

Mind you, at no point did the newspaper story name names of any kind – and no further updates have been written.  Yet, an overwhelming number of people were up in arms over the fact that the local paper would dare even report allegations of this kind with the word “Griz” in any part of the story.

Witches in the Gallows - Photo courtesy of IMDBIt’s Monday now, and whether this story will take ferocious shape, or will simply pan out to be ‘tempest in a teacup’ journalism, there is an equally unsettling fact to facehere:

That a seemingly peaceful community can succumb so totally to hateful polarization that it exhibits shocking insensitivity.

I admit, this world holds few surprises for me and I’m shocked by very little. Today’s news headlines tell the tragic tale of a society turned upside down:  Children locked in cages and starved to death; clergy and coaches abusing children for years, unnoticed; decapitations of handicapped children; and impossibly brutal home invasions.

My own mother used to sum it up by saying:  “The world is going to hell in hand-basket.”

And, of course, she was right.

Yet, in some odd way, despite headlines holding few truly shocking revelations, I find that I am ever shocked by what people do in response to these stories.

That humanity has so horribly and tragically disfigured itself, by caring less for people than pets, by preferring the company of celebrity to the regular man, and for affording benefit of doubt to a celebrated athlete over a victim, is as reprehensible as the stories a paper reports.

We are all innocent until proven guilty, but if allegations of sexual misconduct or rape pan out, we’re in big trouble.

But maybe our troubles only really begin there.

Worse, is the fact that we might actually think that it’s okay to disparage a woman for delaying coming forward to report what might have been the most terrifying night of her life because we’re hankering for a stadium dog and a first-down.

Friday’s swirl of online chatter was a lot like that:  Most were less concerned with how something like this – if true – would disfigure a woman’s life, and much more concerned about the impact her story might have on a beloved football squad, as it bears on advancing in a playoff.

The media got away no better, and had hell to pay for having dared report allegations before a full-blown investigation had been conducted – as if breaking news must suddenly take on a new tenor because “Griz Nation” says so.

One Missoula girl – who looked no more than 20 – jumped into the fray on the newspaper’s Facebook page to say this:

“No names. No kit done. No complete details on the events….why are the girls just now making these accusations?! Hmm?!”

(Yes, my dear, I’m sure you’re right. Ten days is far too long. Listen up, you…you…victims:  “Get over your depression!!  Get out of bed, and get on with it, why don’t you?”)

Shortly after, on the young woman’s own publicly displayed Facebook page, she wrote:

“And the girls didn’t even come forward till what a week later? And no reports filed!!!! How dumb it really upsets me! Like the Griz are doing amazing and we have some great players you know the girls just want attention.”

I hope this woman is never victimized by the men she so fiercely protects. I hope she never has to suffer the humiliation and indignity of wondering whether she was raped, raped in private, raped in front of a crowd, or raped by the crowd.

Then again, maybe she was victimized long ago and no one listened.

I’m no psychiatrist, but experts say victims of past sexual abuse find comfort in dissociation, and in alignment with perpetrators – even if that means throwing her fellow woman under the bus for having dared be victim.

Or perhaps for reminding her of what she’s tried too many years to forget herself.

Others joined in and were no better…

On the story’s actual comment thread at the newspaper’s site, a poster with the handle “Glacier X” asked:

“Why couldn’t the Missoulian print this article until Monday – which I beleive is pretty tactful. College football is $1 billion dollar industry. I’ve been told that each Griz game at home, brings into the Missoula economy around $1 million…”

In the same comment thread, “GrizzEdd” added:

“What the hell are they thinking putting this out on the day the Griz are playing for a chance at a NC. Yellow Journalism… I think not… this is BROWN Journalism…  No need to sensationalize these things and berate/convict people before the truth comes out.”

Time was when just being a football player carried ample cache – no drugs necessary.

Time was when being a fan meant simply going to games and rooting for a team, not total hostile meltdowns over the worship of a stranger wearing a number on his back.

If I was shocked at allegations levied, I’m doubly shocked that potential victims were so wantonly and openly persecuted for talking with police, and might now find it absolutely impossible to press charges over something that did happen, let alone live in this town.

After all, it’s hard to be “left for dead” twice – once in the name of rape, and once more in the name of  ‘cocktail weeny’ tailgates.

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Editor’s note: This is part of our new, ongoing editorial commentary on local and regional news coverage. We want to hear from you! Join us, weigh in, and be the voice of Missoula you can’t be on other local websites.  Like this post by W.T. Fuchs?  Chances are you’ll also like the post “As Long as it’s Not Pajama Jeans…