Hi there. Robert Funke here. You may have seen me tweeting as @VandyVendidad, usually hexes called up from the bowels of hell to destroy the souls of football/basketball opponents. But since the arrests of four Vanderbilt players for allegedly raping an unconscious Vanderbilt student, I've had a hard time feeling good about my allegiance. I think Franklin and the administration were wise and responsible to kick the suspects off the team and hand the case to Metro. And yet I still can't bring myself to get fired up about beating Ole Miss.
It makes sense. If a Vanderbilt football player dropped out after his freshman year to go free Tibet, I'd be proud. When they're kicked out for revolting crimes, I'm ashamed. It's that simple.
The prevailing wisdom among our SEC foes seems to be that with quality recruits come a lot of disciplinary issues. I think this is
bullshit malarkey. I don't think 4-star recruits are more likely to rape unconscious women than 2-star recruits. I wouldn't even guess that football players in general commit sex crimes at a higher rate than, say, ZBTs, or chemistry majors, or left-handed people. I think that rape and its acceptance is a general problem in American culture, and we only heard about this one because it came from our athletes, who face more accountability and media scrutiny than most groups.
So I proposed to the administration of the Women's Center that they partner with athletics for some sort of... anything. Fundraising. Volunteer drive. A patch on players' uniforms. Whatever, as long as it shows real public support for survivors of sex crimes, or works to prevent future incidents. The point was to give fans who are depressed by recent news something to be proud of, morally. The point was to show that Vanderbilt football stands with survivors of sexual violence.
I would say getting the football team involved with women's issues is more important now than ever, but that wouldn't be true. It would have been a lot more important before the alleged incident, and it might have prevented it.
The email got passed around, was seen by deans and provosts, and I got a response from the Vanderbilt administration that said:
While Vanderbilt would not initiate or promote a fundraising drive as a response to the recent incident, I am happy to provide the giving link for you or anyone who would like to support the work of the Office of Student Life, the Provost’s Office, or the Women’s Center. For anyone wishing to make a charitable contribution to Vanderbilt, the online site is:
One can specify an area mentioned above, or any other. Thank you again for your outreach.
Here is my response:
To whom it may concern in Vanderbilt administration:
Just so we're clear--though it sounds like it was a pretty quick conversation--I wasn't asking for a way to quietly give Vanderbilt money. I get calls and letters begging me to do that plenty as it is, despite the fact that I'm the very picture of a broke millennial with a six-figure education.
To add insult to injury, there’s not even an option for donating to the Margaret Cuninggim Center. People would have to type that in themselves, and God knows it’ll never be spelled the same way twice.
Here’s the thing about time and wounds and healing: we’ll be back to business as usual soon enough, provided the dampened enthusiasm that’s depressing ticket sales doesn’t drive Coach Franklin away or otherwise deflate what had been a promising season, and provided more arrests aren't made. As it is, rape is just one of those things that happens, and we deal with it. Just recently, I heard a radio host ask him something like: "With this hanging over your heads, how do you keep players focused on the most important thing right now: Ole Miss?" (For what it's worth, Franklin handled the question with grace and humility and did not accept the premise.)
This is a status quo that Vanderbilt has an obligation to reject. But even if you don’t, consider this email I got on a thread with UT fans:
"[...]take it easy on Vandy. They raped us last year, and have continued to rape more during the offseason... They're going to rape their schedule, they're going to rape their practices, and they're going to rape their classes.
They are evening [sic] raping the headlines of national news: [a link to an ABCnews.com story]
Who ya with?"
If you think Vanderbilt is flying under the radar, you're wrong. At this very moment, for me and many, many fans, this is a true statement:
"I love Vanderbilt football, but I’m hesitant to show it, because the most famous Vanderbilt players in the media at this moment are alleged gang-rapists."
That statement is true, right now, for me, today. I don’t live in Nashville, and I won’t wear Vanderbilt apparel publicly. What I’m proposing is that that become this:
"Despite what you may have heard, supporting Vanderbilt football NECESSARILY MEANS fighting to protect women in our culture, and I am deeply proud of this fact."
This is NOT an admission of guilt, and for Heaven's sake, "guilt by association" isn't a thing when you're associating with victims. Privately encouraging private donations does not accomplish anything. Only public support does.
To worry that this looks compensatory is cowardice. Vanderbilt shouldn't do this because players gang-raped a girl. Players gang-raping a girl should remind Vanderbilt that this is what it should have been doing all along.
Here’s another way to put it:
Suppose you’re hosting a friend for the weekend, and he goes next door and rapes your neighbor. What do you do?
You kick him out of the house. (VU has done this.)
You end the friendship. (VU has done this.)
You hand him over to the justice system. (VU has done this.)
And then you have a choice. You can EITHER:
a) Hide in your house and hope the neighbors stop talking about you, OR
b) Work to make sure that this doesn’t happen again, to your neighbor or anyone else’s, and in doing so, show the neighborhood that your former friend's crime does not define you, which, like it or not, happens to be the opinion of all your neighbors in the SEC.
Vandy football gives back to the community. This much is true. And while the photo-ops at the Children’s Hospital are great, maybe consider some photo-ops landscaping around a women’s shelter. Or something. You just slashed the price of season tickets; maybe give a portion of sales to the Cuninggim Center. Or Take Back The Night. Or whatever. Hell, just sew a patch onto the players' uniforms! If you need me to come up with a specific plan, so be it, but you should be better at this than an LA screenwriter.
I hope I'm not the first to let the administration know that rape and sexual violence occur quite regularly on campus, your campus. In making the decision to hold its breath until this thing blows over, the administration decides to be among those (many) institutions that contribute to a culture of quiet enablement.
Your less-than-proud alumnus,
Robert Funke, Class of '09
Robert Funke is a screenwriter living and working in Los Angeles, California. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/rffunke; he's usually much funnier than this.