Why we can’t ignore the Manning assault allegations

Peyton Manning is not just famous, he is deified. He has transcended the football world, where he accomplished almost everything a quarterback could hope to accomplish, and become something much more: a cultural icon.

He is a late night TV staple, with multiple appearances on Letterman and Saturday Night Live, and his unmistakable smile and forehead have graced more commercials than any other athlete. His fame has reached the point where any negative publicity simply rolls off of him, waterproofed by the public’s adoration. Al Jazeera mounted serious HGH allegations against him earlier this year, a claim that would at least blemish the image of almost any other athlete. But the public response to it was firm and fast in favor of his innocence. How could Peyton Manning, the golden boy from a golden family, do anything immoral?

The latest Manning controversy could meet the same fate. A report of Manning sexually assaulting an athletic trainer at the University of Tennessee while he was quarterback there has resurfaced and is back in the eye of the public, yet there is a distinct lack of attention. It is our obligation to make sure we don’t write this off like we did the HGH scandal. We don’t know yet what actually transpired that day, and there is a real possibility we never will. But to let our preconceived image of Manning blind us from investigating the assault fully would be an undeniable moral failure.

Simply put, we treat victims of sexual assault poorly in this country. We are quick to doubt their charges, especially when a celebrity is the one being accused, and we shame them regardless of whether they told the truth. Jamie Naughright, the victim in the Manning case, said that she “feared for her job…and feared for her life,” in the report she filed following the alleged assault.

That fear is not unique to her. Countless victims end up derided or ignored after reporting sexual assault− Erica Kinsman, who accused then Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston of rape in 2012, didn’t have her case investigated for ten months and endured countless threats when it finally was. If we don’t thoroughly explore Naughright’s accusations against Manning, then we are perpetuating a cycle of misogyny in favor of keeping our favorite athletes propped up.

Manning’s case is also part of another broad problem: the lack of accountability for big time college athletes. We treat 18-year-old kids like kings, and the “student” part in the phrase “student-athlete” is a joke. This culture pervades Division I athletics, and Manning’s alma mater is a perfect example. A Title IX lawsuit is being levied against the Volunteers right now, accusing the school of creating an environment so poisonous that multiple rapes by athletes went unpunished. The football coach, Butch Jones, reportedly told a player that he “betrayed the team” when he helped a women who said she was sexually assaulted by two other athletes.

The priorities at schools like Tennessee are clear; keep your players on the field first, worry about potential crimes second. If the allegations facing Manning turn out to be true, then they won’t be some crazy exception. They will be symptomatic of a long-term institutional failure. Brushing off Naughright would be easy, given the star power of Manning and the long elapsed time since the incident, but it would be a huge miss in addressing the twisted state of college football.

The way our society is currently set up, this controversy should do nothing to Manning. According to a Seton Hall poll conducted after the allegations resurfaced, Manning has a 68% favorability rating. That is as much as Steph Curry and Lebron James combined. Not only did the allegations fail to put a dent in how people view him, that 68% is Manning’s highest ever. Coming off of a Super Bowl win, the number is slightly understandable.

But that doesn’t make it any more acceptable. We need to treat this case for what it is−a serious accusation of one man forcing himself onto a woman. The fact that the man is Peyton Manning, quarterback god, should not matter. For too long, we have ignored sexual assault victims and let athletic privilege run rampant. The Manning case is a chance to turn the page.

Originally published in The Huntington News

Combatting stereotypes with comics

When you hear the phrase “art exhibit,” certain images and memories probably pop into your head. Maybe you remember getting dragged along to stuffy galleries by your parents on long Sunday afternoons. Maybe you remember staring at a blank canvas that was secretly disguised as “modern art.” Maybe you even like art exhibits, and reminisce fondly over spending hours looking at old Renaissance pieces.

Visible Noize, the current exhibition at Gallery 360 here at Northeastern is nothing like that.

The walls of the exhibit are adorned with Afrofuturistic drawings and comics, with everyone from black teenage superheroes to Martin Luther King depicted in the works. While comics might not be the first weapon you think of combatting in racism, the exhibit raises critical questions and exposes major holes in the media and art industry.

John Jennings, an associate professor of art and visual studies at the University of Buffalo and award-winning author and artist, is the primary driving force behind the exhibit. Northeastern University officials reached out to him, and after those initial talks, it took about six months for the exhibit to come to fruition.

Jennings describes the exhibit as a “small retrospective of my work related to various modes of black speculative cultural production,” and notes that it is unique in part because it focuses heavily on the different steps of making a comic. “The show is very centered on process and shows a lot of original analog sketches and also large reproductions of sequential illustrations,” he said.

He believes that there is an undeniable lack of black pop culture figures in our current society, to the point where it is impacting minority children.

“It’s important for everyone to see themselves in the culture that they participate in,” said Jennings. “Any images that we can find that depict what society actually looks like adds to the self-esteem of kids of color.”

His drawings certainly seem to do that. A vivid and huge comic strip hangs on one wall and sticks out as particularly powerful. It depicts a hero in a crackling array of colors, narrating his purpose. One quote in particular stands out: “I fight because the whole of time and space is engineered so that I can’t win.” It is a startlingly honest and aggressive statement, one that accurately reflects the struggle of being black in America. It is not hard to see the effect they could have on a child who has traditionally only seen his heroes depicted as white males.

Kyle Taylor, a black first year student, believes Jennings’ art is working towards a more equal representation in media. “He is definitely taking a step in the right direction by using minorities so prominently,” Taylor said.

And while Jennings’ work is certainly different than most mainstream cartoons and graphic novels, he ultimately hopes that it will become a normal representation. “These images are not only necessary, but should be naturalized,” Jennings said.

The current state of diversity in pop culture may not be ideal, but Jennings is optimistic about the future. “I do see [representation] improving,” he said. “Even if it’s because of the rapid increase of people of color in our country and how that increase will create more markets.”

Taylor believes that art such as Jennings’ is a good preliminary step, but more effort is needed. “[We need to] consciously keep making an effort that promotes black people and minorities normally as opposed to having every black art be some kind of statement,” he said.

As for future endeavors, Jennings hopes to do more of the same. “I think that my work will most likely stay in the same vein,” he said. “I intend to try and get out more of my ideas by changing my formatting for my stories, methodologies, and also by more collaborations with other creators who are like minded.”

Right now, Jennings’ work is unusual in a whitewashed field. But if he has his way, art like his will no longer stand out as unique. It will simply be normal.

Originally published in Woof Magazine online

A Northeastern student’s perspective on gun control

Death has become routine in this country.

News alerts detailing active shootings and multiple casualties are no longer unexpected occurrences. They are an entrenched part of American life. We have apple pie, we have baseball and we have mass shootings. We run through the same tired motion every time: first comes widespread shock,  then comes the pleas from President Obama to improve gun control, mental health, or both. It dominates headlines for a few days and then fades away into a debate that everyone knows will go nowhere.

This is the new American tradition. For a country that has had more mass shootings than days this year, the logical assumption is that we would be doing everything we can to end this sickness.

We do not.

Instead, we wallow in our grief and then promptly assert that guns don’t kill people, people kill people; a timeless and idiotic argument that has somehow stopped any attempt at gun control in its tracks.

We are enamored with guns – with bullets – and then we pretend to be surprised when someone uses one to destroy the lives of multiple humans. We aren’t playing with fire anymore. We live in it. We get mad when it burns us, but do nothing to put it out. Our infatuation is so extreme that  there are 129,817 places where you can buy a gun in this country.

There are 36,569 grocery stores.

It is a colossal failure of reason. Keeping civilians safe is the number one priority of the American government, and yet we watch scores of our own people die every month because we want to preserve the liberty of owning a firearm. Even when the most vulnerable of our people die, like the victims at Sandy Hook or San Bernardino, gun-rights proponents and the National Rifle Association (NRA) stand strong in their beliefs, because they believe it is their right to own as many killing machines as they please.

They do have that right, thanks to the Second Amendment. But if they really want to keep it, then every pro-gun supporter and policymaker must take on the responsibility of that right: ensuring it doesn’t infringe on other’s rights to safety.

According to the Washington Post, we have not had a week pass since 2013 without a mass shooting event. That means every week someone has lost their husband,  wife, son, or friend. The damage lasts far beyond the immediate murder: the collateral effect a shooting has on families and friends is almost as unspeakable as the crime itself. So when gun-rights supporters argue for their liberty to own firearms, they have a moral obligation to deeply consider what is lost with every gun death.

And if they still want their guns after that, then there is no hope. This is the single greatest moral issue of our time, and there is no ambiguity about it. If we can’t bring ourselves to address it, then we have failed as a nation. It should be noted, addressing it cannot mean arming more citizens, as some have suggested. Increasing the proliferation of guns will only mean more blood, and lead to a dangerous increase in vigilante attitudes. A bullet is a death sentence, and there is a reason we do not allow citizens to make that decision.

We college students do not have the most power in the world. With many of us assuming thousands in debt, we may even feel powerless. But we are not, if only because of one big thing; We can vote, and that is an ability we are not taking advantage of enough. In the last presidential election, less than half the population in our age bracket voted. In off-year elections, it’s even worse. Collectively, we can substantially sway the vote and help shape our government. We can address what is important to us simply by checking off a box for a certain candidate. Massachusetts is already a fairly liberal state, but a significant chunk of the student body is from other parts of the country. Absentee voting, especially in states that have no definitive lean, lets you voice your opinion in a more impactful way than it might here.

Increased advocacy could also be a key instrument of change. It sounds corny, but writing to your congressman (or any politician) can help, particularly when it is done in a large volume. Participating in protests and starting or signing petitions are other possible outlets. We as college-age students are blessed with energy and passion, and channeling it towards these could yield positive change. Passivity is a choice, not a natural state.

After every mass shooting, Facebook and Twitter are filled with posts that express outrage, sadness and deep sympathy. If those emotions are truly genuine, we as a whole can take them farther than the black hole of social media.

If we truly do care about lessening gun violence, this is where we start.

Originally published in Woof Magazine online

Win Twitter, Win the Election (Maybe)

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

Social media is a vortex.

It is impossible to not run into the vast, whirling, and omnipresent force of social media in your day-to-day to life. We are in the midst of the social media boom, and it is no passing fad.

But Twitter and Co. has infiltrated the world to an extent beyond just the trivial. Social media has seeped into the world of politics and rooted itself firmly as a tool and presence in presidential campaigns. We saw it starting in 2008, when Barack Obama’s “Hope” slogan and logo went viral and plastered itself all over the Internet. In 2012, both Mitt Romney and Obama made social media a critical part in voter outreach. But now, as the 2016 elections loom, social media has simply woven itself into the fabric of campaigns. A candidate’s ability to grasp and manipulate social networks is no longer a side benefit; it is a prerequisite.

The intersection of media technology and elections has been here for a long time now. From FDR’s radio-transmitted fireside chats, which made listeners feel like a cozy acquaintance to the President, to the Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy televised debate, where JFK charmed a nation with his handsome and confident demeanor, tech has been a critical link between the people and their leaders.

Philip D’Agati, an associate professor of political science at Northeastern, thinks there is no doubt about social media being on par with TV and radio in terms of impact. “Social media is providing another medium for campaigns and elections to carry out,” said D’Agati. “Also, on a different level, its really allowing voters to reach out to each other,” he continued. The numbers back up that assertion, too. The percentage of voters who followed a candidate on a social media platform has more than doubled since 2010, according to a recent Pew Survey. And young and tech-savvy voters don’t buoy that stat; the percentage of voters ages 30-49 following a candidate online has more than tripled than 2010 as well.

If the numbers aren’t convincing enough, proof lies in the candidates who have stirred up the most excitement. Bernie Sanders has rocketed into contention with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton through a keen appeal to the masses through social media. His #feeltheBern hashtag and live-tweeting of GOP debates have led to packed arenas. He takes no money from super-PACs, and is kept afloat financially purely through the people and their donations. For sophomore Conor O’Shea, an international affairs major, this social media success is due to an understanding of what people really want. “Instead of saying, ‘Oh, young people want to see kids in our Snapchats,’ it’s ‘Here’s where you can volunteer, here’s where you can get involved,” said O’Shea.

On the other end of the political spectrum, Donald Trump has proven to be quite possibly the perfect fit for Twitter and its 140-character snapshots. His controversial soundbites (Shots at fellow candidates, the name-calling of the current administration, to name a few) are explosive enough to be all over the Internet and short enough to be quoted and paraphrased in millions of tweets. With more than 4.3 million followers, he has turned politics into entertainment and molded himself into a toupee’d ball of endless attention.

Some of the other candidates who have suffered from stagnation or decline in the polls could have their social media presence, or lack thereof, to blame. Clinton, who has maintained relatively high numbers in the polls mainly because of a lack of mainstream Democratic choices, has seen her lead wither away in the last few months due to both questions about the private email scandal and an inability to generate excitement. Some think Clinton lacks the “it” factor on social media. “When I look at Hillary Clinton’s twitter, it’s more of a laugh. You kind of have to laugh at it. It comes across as disingenuous,” said O’Shea. Jeb Bush, another established political name, has fallen perilously close to non-relevance because of similar issues. In a GOP field studded with controversial candidates and theatrical antics, Bush hasn’t been able to distinguish himself on social media. Both he and Clinton have tried to appear savvy and hip, with Bush announcing his intention to run through Instagram and the pair even having a “Photoshop war” on Twitter, but they have failed to significantly capture the attention of the online audience, a development that could come back to haunt them at primaries and beyond. .“People are more likely to remember what color tie Donald Trump wore yesterday rather than [the candidate’s Twitter] exchange,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor of the political newsletter The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report, in an interview with the publication Digiday in August.

With the constant influx of tweets, shared stories, and video clips, it is easy to lose track of one paramount question: is the heightened prevalence of social media creating a more superficial election environment? The answer varies based on who you ask, and more than likely, there is not one true answer. According to D’Agati, the appetite for tweet-sized pieces of info to hook onto has always been there. “Before, people were looking for the soundbite anyways. Social media has certainly taken the enterprise of, ‘keep it short, keep it quick, keep it simple,’ to another level, but that idea was always there,” said D’Agati. But for Gavin Davis, a junior journalism major, social media has irrefutably slanted importance away from thoughtful political discussion and more towards attention-grabbing statements. “Look at Donald Trump. He makes his entire livelihood off of snippets. He’s almost [hiding] from the big issues, and never really says anything real,” said Davis.

Social media has removed the distance between the candidates and the people permanently. Donald Trump’s latest tweet shows up right next to the tweet of that guy you knew in high school, and Sanders’s photo of him on the campaign trail is next in line on your feed after that picture of someone’s lunch. Social media is past being just a frivolous time-waster. It has become a key political tool, a connecting service that can spur one candidate to victory and send another to the bottom of the polls. There is no escaping the vortex, and it is here to stay.

Originally published in Woof Magazine