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UW basketball player investigation: Athletes need some education

As a recent UW matter suggests, athletes could use some advice about relationships with young women they have just met. All young men, in fact, should check a woman's age before making certain moves.

As kickoff approaches, I can’t wait to witness that timely public-service announcement during Super Bowl XLV in which some well-known jocks and other celebs appear in a series of close-ups, each stating a simple message:

Unless you know for sure, ask for I.D. before you have sex. He or she may be underage and that might set you up for criminal charges, maybe even jail sentences. Card ‘em first, date ‘em later.”

It’s a simple message that would have special resonance in Seattle and environs, where it’s been about a month since it was revealed that a University of Washington basketball player was being investigated for possibly having sex with a minor.

But no such public-service announcement is planned amid the other commercials that will air with the typical mix of ads that either are or are intended to be humorous and/or avant garde.

Friday (Feb. 4) it was announced by the King County prosecutor’s office that no felony charges will be made against the player, still unidentified publicly. The Seattle city-attorney’s office may charge the man for a misdemeanor of giving alcohol to a minor.

The investigation of the alleged Jan. 8 incident involving a 16-year-old girl has consumed many observers. The case is believed by some to be responsible for the apparent malaise that has set in for the Husky basketball team, which has lost its recent three games.

If so, that could be the least of the consequences, especially if the two apparent principals in the incident sustain ongoing legal or emotional problems.

In a more enlightened world, nothing associated with an incident such as has been alleged would need to happen. If adult men and women could be persuaded to protect themselves and others simply by knowing the laws and asking for valid age identification, an effort could be underway to consign to antiquity the pejorative term “jail bait.”

Obviously it wouldn’t eliminate adults having sex with children. But it could benefit those who unwittingly have sex with persons they believe to be much older than is claimed. Such is the opinion of a friend who, along with her criminal-defense-attorney colleagues, believes there would be much to gain by asking for I.D. before sexual liaisons.

This isn’t, of course, to condone or make light of behavior such as that alleged in Seattle by the 16-year-old girl (and disputed by the adult male). Rather it’s to acknowledge that – gasp! – young people have sex and typically they don’t wait for someone else’s chronology to kick in. According to the Kinsey Institute, men lose their virginity on average at age 16.9; for women it’s age 17.4.

But problems occur when trying to guess ages. Much has been cited about young people perennially looking or acting older. Inevitably social-messaging and other cultural phenomena have been blamed for precocious sexual activity among young people. But what’s new? The Elvis phenomenon was being similarly blamed more than half a century ago.

The “card ‘em first, date ‘em later” public-service message some would support isn’t about a moral imperative. Instead it’s the simple acknowledgement that some – certainly not all – could spare themselves and others the legal, physical and emotional consequences of having sex with minors were a simple idea stated plainly by well-known persons who are admired. As such it’s no more radical an idea than appointing designated drivers or advocating using condoms.

Here again, it won’t have happened during Super Bowl XLV. But maybe before the Roman numerals of the nation’s greatest secular spectacle advance much farther, someone will see the wisdom of not waiting another V, X, or L years before providing some vital prime-time advice.

Since 1994 Senior Lecturer Mike Henderson, a veteran writer and editor for The Times, Post-Intelligencer, (Everett) Herald, Seattle Weekly and Crosscut, has been a member of the faculty of the University of Washington Department of Communication. He considers himself to be the only journalist ever to interview actor Gene Hackman inside San Quentin prison while wearing a pair of Hackman's pants. He can be reached at mikh48@hotmail.com.


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