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Littlefield: Harvard University's Men's Soccer Team Has 'Teachable Moment'02:02
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"They have too much confidence in themselves and in each other to feel diminished by insults," Littlefield writes of the members of the Harvard women's soccer team. (Michael Fein/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
"They have too much confidence in themselves and in each other to feel diminished by insults," Littlefield writes of the members of the Harvard women's soccer team. (Michael Fein/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
This article is more than 2 years old.

“I can offer you my forgiveness.”

That’s a sentence at the end of the exceptional letter written by six women who began playing soccer at Harvard in 2012.

It’s a simple sentiment, but an important one, given the witless cruelty to which it serves as response.

In 2012, members of the Harvard Men’s Soccer team took part in what was apparently a tradition of rating the female soccer players according to appearance. The men assigned the women numbers and speculated on the sexual positions for which each might be best suited.

That story appeared in The Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, this week.

The women also wrote, “we do not pity ourselves,” and “we know that the only way we can truly move past this culture is for the very men who perpetrate it to stop it in their tracks.”

The spirit of resistance to oppression is in this letter, but what makes it even more significant is the determination of the women to move beyond outrage. They have too much confidence in themselves and each other as women and as athletes to feel diminished by insults. As they write, “We know what it’s like to get knocked down. To lose a few battles. To sweat, to cry…and even still, we keep fighting; for ourselves, yes, but above all for our teammates. This document might have stung any other group of women you chose to target, but not us.”

I see in that letter a welcome quality of hope. That’s because the women who wrote it chose to end it with a statement at once gracious and powerful. “I can offer you my forgiveness,” they wrote, “which is – and forever will be – the only part of me you can ever claim as yours.”

The story and the letter provoked Harvard to investigate the 2012 incident and discover that the male soccer players rated the members of the female team in 2013, too…and in 2014, ’15, and ’16. Harvard President Drew Faust, citing, among other things, the male players’ “failure to be forthcoming when initially questioned,” cancelled the men’s season, thus creating, as the cliché has it, a “teachable moment.”

This segment aired on November 5, 2016.

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