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Sex Sells, Even to Football Recruits

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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Wednesday was Signing Day, when the nation's top high school football players officially declared which colleges will get to exploit their free labor for profit. Each year Twitter shows off the lighter side of these announcements, producing numerous memes, jokes and reactions.

And then there was this tweet by Soso Jamabo, who committed to UCLA and gave us some insight into his priorities:

Source: Twitter

Jamabo might be forgiven for showing us just where his head is, which is pretty much where every other 18-year-old guy's head is, too. Many pointed out that the tweet references the Childish Gambino song, "You See Me." Most of the press took this as just another instance of Signing Day whimsy. #AsianGirlsEverywhere ended up trending on Twitter in the U.S.

So sorry to be the house mom during rush week, but I think this warrants just a bit more discussion. Among everyone who saw this tweet, almost nobody batted an eye. A few who did: ESPN's Mina Kimes, Bloomberg View's Katie Benner and myself.

What do the three of us have in common? We're all Asian women who work in predominantly male industries with problems of sexism, harassment and abuse. The reaction to Jamabo's tweet underscores just how natural it is for some men in these spheres to continue to think of women as nothing more than window dressing. I can already anticipate the comments that I'm being too sensitive, that I should grow a sense of humor and quit it with the self-victimization. But it's a little hard to do that when you spend your days constantly bombarded with reminders about the real victims of a culture that too often sees women as a punchline.

High on this list are the recruiting "hostesses" colleges use to lure prospects to their school. Some schools have men and women in this role, but most of them predominantly use pretty women, as detailed in this Atlantic piece by Jessica Luther. The women's duties include giving campus tours and answering questions about student life, and in some cases "providing entertainment" after hours. Hostesses often throw parties for underage recruits, a recipe for disaster. Since the hostess practice came to light, many women have come forward with claims that they were assaulted by recruits and current players at these parties.

Some former hostesses deny that sex plays a role in their duties, but others insist that they knew they were there to entice teenaged boys. A former University of Tennessee hostess described her mandate to "lead on 17- and 18-year-old guys just to get them to come to the school" to the writers Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian. In their 2013 book "The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football," they argue that "the promise of an intimate relationship is the sort of thing that can trump sold-out stadiums, state-of-the-art facilities, Nike deals, and schedules packed with nationally televised games."

Hostess programs add another element of endangering women to a college football landscape that already has its fair share of problems with sexual assault. This was most recently illustrated by the Vanderbilt rape trial, which resulted in the convictions of two former players. The victim told police that she had been asked to get together "15 pretty girls" by then-coach James Franklin, while a current player testified that he had been matched with a hostess. It's unclear if this had any bearing on the actual attack, but it supports the characterization of the "ease and availability of women" to football players touted by the defendants' defense teams.

Jamabo likely wasn't thinking of any of this when he sent his tweet, and I wish him nothing but luck and good health during his college career. But it's not so easy for some of us to dismiss a tweet that's emblematic of how easy it is for people to dismiss women, especially Asian women, and especially in sports. 

To contact the author on this story:
Kavitha Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net