Harvard cancels men’s soccer season for long-running practice of sexually ranking the women’s team

The evidence that would bring down the Harvard men’s soccer team was hiding in plain sight for years: publicly available emails, in the men’s own words, showing them sexually ranking new freshmen members of the 2012 women’s soccer team.

“She looks like the kind of girl who both likes to dominate, and likes to be dominated,” one of the men’s players wrote of a female in his eight-page “scouting report,” sent to his teammates, which assigned number rankings and potential sexual positions to the women.

Of another player, he wrote: “She seems to be very strong, tall and manly so, I gave her a 3 because I felt bad. Not much needs to be said on this one folks.”

Many of his comments are too crude to print, but they seemed to meet approval from his teammates: Of several who responded to the author’s “report,” one man wrote, “hahahahaha well done.”

Worse still, the messages suggested that the “scouting report” wasn’t a one-time act of collective sexism, but a yearly ritual.


The messages had been publicly archived on a Google group-emailing service, Google Groups, and sat unnoticed for four years — until Harvard’s student newspaper, the Crimson, found and published the comments last week in a story that rocked one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning. (The Crimson’s report did not identify the individual men behind the emails.)

On Thursday, Athletics Director Robert L. Scalise canceled the remainder of the men’s 2016 soccer season and banned them from post-season play, citing an investigation by the University’s Office of the General Counsel that turned up evidence of more recent “scouting reports” of the freshmen women.

“Based on that review, I understand that this practice appears to be more widespread across the team and has continued beyond 2012, including in 2016, and that current students who participated were not immediately forthcoming about their involvement,” Scalise wrote in a message to Harvard’s athletes.

Scalise said the department would work with the campus Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response to educate the men’s soccer team and other athletic teams, adding that “Harvard Athletics has zero tolerance for this type of behavior.”

The 2016 men’s team apologized Friday in an open letter in the Crimson, saying that “no woman deserves to be treated in this manner.”

“We accept responsibility for the mistakes and serious lapses in judgment that have led us here, and, in addition to accepting the sanctions from the Athletic Department, are shifting our focus toward the concrete actions we can take to address the fundamental issue of sexism in our community,” said the apology, which was attributed collectively to the team.

A reporter for the Crimson, C. Ramsey Fahs, discovered the soccer team’s publicly available Google Group and the emails while “doing some digging on an entirely different issue,” the Crimson’s student president, Mariel Klein, told the Los Angeles Times.

Members of the men’s soccer team changed the group’s settings to “private” after the Crimson contacted them for comment, said Klein, who called the crude report “a powerful document to see” in light of recent discussions on campus about sexism and sexual assault.

Harvard President Drew Faust said she was “deeply distressed” to learn about the men’s behavior and supported the team’s suspension, adding, “The team’s behavior and the failure to be forthcoming when initially questioned are completely unacceptable.”

The postseason ban includes the Ivy League championship and the NCAA tournament, and the suspension ends a promising season. The men’s team had been leading the Ivy League standings and was ranked 15th nationally in the NCAA’s RPI ratings.

“We are beyond disappointed that our season has ended in this way, but we respect the decision made by our administration,” men’s coach Pieter Lehrer said in a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times through the university. “Actions have consequences, and character counts. We accept responsibility for our actions, and I know that we will use the experience of this terribly unfortunate situation to be better.”

Members of the women’s squad who had been featured in the 2012 report said they had initially brushed off the news but said the story became more unbearable after it picked up traction in the mainstream media, which they blamed for latching on to the story because of Harvard’s name.

“The sad reality is that we have come to expect this kind of behavior from so many men, that it is so ‘normal’ to us we often decide it is not worth our time or effort to dwell on,” six women’s players wrote in an op-ed for the Crimson, expressing disappointment that “close friends” on the men’s team had been quietly carrying out the sexist practice.

But the women asked the men and others to join them in hoping the story would lead to a more “productive conversation” on so-called “locker room talk” that extends far beyond the world’s locker rooms.

“We are human beings, and we should be treated with dignity,” the women wrote. “We want your help in combating this. We need your help in preventing this. We cannot change the past, but we are asking you to help us now and in the future.”


Follow me on Twitter: @mattdpearce


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