Opinion submission: Senior cross country runner's perspective on Wallys

By Brent Knutzen | April 18, 2018 1:08pm

Brent Knutzen pictured (right). Photo courtesy of Brent Knutzen.

My name is Brent Knutzen. I am a senior here at the University of Portland and a member of the Men’s Cross Country and Track team. As an attendee of the Wally awards, I felt compelled to write in and share my experience, and to both explain and apologize for my reaction to the night’s events.

As detailed in Olivia Sanchez’s piece, the introduction to the Wally awards was far from the comedic and light-hearted monologue we have experienced over the last four years. Instead, It was a disgusting insight into the sexual pursuits of the presenter under the guise of a comedic speech.

While I can attempt to understand and empathize with the feelings of everyone in the room, it is impossible for me to fully do so. Everyone sees the world through a unique lens that is shaped by their upbringing, personal experiences, race, gender, etc. All of this being said, I would like to provide an insight to the feelings I personally experienced and apologize for my inaction.

Like most, I initially laughed and clapped at the emcee’s remarks. As the speech continued and the jokes of the emcee got darker, I began to feel embarrassed and disgusted. I began to physically shake and try to do anything I could to shift my attention from what was going on. I began texting my friends who were not at the event and shared my experience with them. I told my tablemates that I wanted to leave. I fumbled around on my phone as I hoped he would either get off the stage, or be removed. When asked afterwards about the experience, I told others it was the most awkward and uncomfortable experience I have ever had in my life.

Looking back on this event, I, like many others in the room, I was deeply disappointed with my inaction. I sat there, listened to the remarks, and did nothing. I failed to leave. By doing so, I presented him with a platform--and one more audience member--to which he could share his remarks. A few minutes after the speech was given, I personally was presented with an award. With the stage, microphone and attention given to me I did nothing to address the situation.

When my name was announced for my academic award, I had the short trip up to the podium to gather my thoughts about what I would say. I chose to honor the culture of my sports, the work I have contributed to our school and community and what a privilege it is to be an athlete here at UP. I applaud the efforts of the coaches who decided to address the emcees opening tirade; I personally know how difficult it is to convey your feelings accurately under such duress.

While I in no way want to justify my lack of action, I would like to explain it. When the emcee was giving his speech, I personally did not feel I had the authority to do anything about it. I believe this was not only felt by myself, but by many in the room. The authority to stand up and do something was dispersed amongst the 300+ people in the room. I also believe this dispersion extends to the administration and coaches. Having had conversations with administrators who were in tears by their inaction, I can assure you they too feel remorseful for what took place.

I would like to formally apologize to everyone in the room for not taking the next step, which would have been to address the remarks of the emcee. The fact that we collectively as an athletic department allowed the Wally awards to be a platform for such misogynistic and grotesque comments makes me sick to my stomach. We as a department can, and will, do better. After having discussions with senior administration in the athletic department, this is not something they intend to brush past. After having a meeting with an associate athletic director, he expressed that rather than silencing conversations, the administration wants to start a compassionate dialogue with athletes and students. They want to “use this as an educational experience and learning opportunity for the Department.” Finally, they “plan to execute actions that make long term sustainable change within the Department.” All of this with full cooperation and transparency with the student body.

I would also like to share with all who were not at the event, and  who do not know myself or my teammates, that this is not the sort of ‘locker room’ talk or team culture that is acceptable to the members of the men’s cross country and track team. I would invite everyone to take time to reflect before forming conclusions or opinions based on what took place Sunday night. Think about how we as an athletic department, and a university can do better. Try not to allow the dispersion of responsibility have the same effect on you as it did everyone in the room that night. It is uncomfortable to recognize gender and racial bias within ourselves and that we have  allowed ourselves and others to perpetuate a culture in which it can thrive. Pointing fingers and inaction is easy; myself and everyone else at the event experienced how hard it is to take onus and create change.


Brent Knutzen is a senior Biology major and can be reached at Knutzen18@up.edu.