A difficult year for women

This has been a particularly rough year for women.

From Sandra Bullock to Elin Nordegren to Dwyane Wade's estranged wife, Siohvaughn -- who filed a lawsuit this week against the NBA superstar claiming his relationship with actress Gabrielle Union is causing their two sons emotional distress -- a lot of women's lives are being played out publicly like a bad country song.

You would have had to be born with a black heart not to have a modicum of sympathy for those three women, because it seems as though their biggest mistake was trusting men who presumably pledged to be faithful to them.

A lot of time has been spent lately chastising men, especially athletes, for their behavior and the unbelievably bad decisions they make -- and rightly so. Technology and the 24-hour news cycle have exposed the enabling world that professional athletes inhabit, forcing many of us to realize that our preconceived ideas about athletes are shockingly provincial.

But if the entitlement of professional male athletes and the problems that entitlement cause are being exposed by a number of recent high-profile news stories, it's fair to say that those stories are uncovering a number of serious issues that are impacting and sometimes derailing young women, too.

We can begin with the case involving Lawrence Taylor, who was charged Thursday with third-degree rape of a 16-year-old runaway and with patronizing a prostitute. The age of consent in New York, where the alleged crime occurred, is 17; third-degree rape is the charge levied when the victim is younger than that age.

Details are still emerging and Taylor's attorney has proclaimed his client's innocence. But police claim the 51-year-old Hall of Famer paid $300 to have sex with the teenager, who was reported missing in March and for the past several weeks had been living with Rasheed Davis, a 36-year-old parolee whom police have accused of using physical violence to force the alleged victim to have sex with Taylor.

As disgusted as I am at Taylor's alleged role in this situation, I am even more disgusted at the circumstances that brought this case to light. Why was this teenage girl living on the streets? Why was she shacking up with a man twice her age who appears to be a pimp? Where are her parents?

Pinpointing Taylor's wrongdoing, if the allegations prove to be true, is easy. Figuring out why a young girl turned to street life is much more complicated, and therefore easier to dismiss. How she wound up in this story is at least as compelling and important and tragic as the part played by the Hall of Fame superstar.

From street life to campus life. On Friday, a public wake was held for Yeardley Love, the slain University of Virginia lacrosse player who was allegedly killed by her former boyfriend. George Huguely, who played for the men's lacrosse team at Virginia, told police he shook Love, causing her head to hit the wall of her room repeatedly.

Sadly, it apparently was not the first time Huguely had been violent. He was tasered, handcuffed and arrested for an earlier encounter with a female police officer in which he'd apparently been drinking and became aggressive. And since Love's death last weekend, associates of both Love and Huguely have come forward with reports that people had to come between the two of them during a dispute at a campus party.

If only those associates had spoken up then like they are now, Love might still be with us.

Unfortunately, women aren't always completely innocent in some of these situations. Sometimes, they're capable of exhibiting decision-making as poorly chosen as the behavior of the athletes they encounter.

I remember being a 20-year-old college student and doing my share of partying, but I don't remember gulping shots with strange men or wearing a name tag with an acronym that suggested I was down to knock boots with anyone.

I say this not to degrade the woman who accused Ben Roethlisberger of sexually assaulting her in a Milledgeville, Ga., bar. And in no way do I believe that when it comes to rape, women "ask for it," or that suggestive behavior and drunkenness is an open invitation to violate someone.

But if we're going to criticize Roethlisberger for his boneheaded actions and accuse him of being enabled by his fame, how can we ignore that many of today's young women exhibit the same invincible attitude that we see in troubled, superstar athletes?

No doubt there is something sickening in our sports culture that allows wealthy athletes to overindulge, and it's disappointing. But I'm just as disappointed that so many women seem eager to be a part of it. The women who slept with Tiger Woods knew he was married. Some probably knew he had young children. Of course, he was wrong to commit adultery, but what does it say that so many women willingly participated? Since when did sleeping with a married professional athlete become worth sacrificing decency and self-respect?

It's true that professional athletes have been pursuing women since the caveman invented fire; but as sports has grown into a billion-dollar business, it has bred a dysfunctional culture that influences more than just athletes.

VH-1's latest reality show success is "Basketball Wives," which chronicles the lives of several women who have been romantically involved with NBA players. The drama is entertaining, but it's also disheartening that some of the women on the show are so lacking in self-esteem that they endure humiliating treatment from pro ballplayers in exchange for a luxurious lifestyle.

If an impressionable woman watched all of this unfold from afar, she would probably think today's woman is a moving target. Certainly, there are a number of positive role models for women to emulate; but the recent sex scandals with Tiger Woods, Ben Roethlisberger and Lawrence Taylor prove the collateral damage isn't one-sided.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.