An Open Letter To Dan Turner
Dear Mr. Turner,
I am going to go ahead and make an assumption here: you and your wife are good parents. You both probably made sacrifices to give your son a bright future. You made sure he went to good schools, that he had access to and excelled in extracurricular activities. Maybe I am being overly generous, but I suspect you went to endless competitions, paid large sums to give him every advantage and probably taught him a lot about how to navigate upper and middle class American society.
I am sure you were both shocked when your son was arrested. I am certain your worlds were torn asunder and that your family suffered through this court case. You struggled to make sense of all of this and closed ranks to weather the storm. And you wrote that letter. Even after hearing in court that your son, Brock was caught in the act – and convicted by a jury of his peers – you wrote about rib eye steaks, pretzels and chips. And it was perfect.
Much has been made of the letter you sent, begging for leniency in your son’s sentencing. People have been outraged at how you attempted to paint your unrepentant son as a victim without acknowledging his guilt or his victim in any way. Many see your focus on the small discomforts your son has faced in this ugly scenario as highly inappropriate, tone deaf and unbelievably callous. Who cares about Brock’s appetite when what is important here is that he forced himself sexually on an unconscious person next to a dumpster, they say.
But I think Brock’s snacking habits are incredibly important and that is what I want to talk to you about. You see, without meaning to, you have pinpointed EXACTLY why your son did what he did.
Fun fact: in every hierarchy of social animals, control of food sources and mating rights are the markers of social status and power. Your charming anecdote of having to hide YOUR pretzels and chips from Brock could not be clearer to me: you, the father, the alpha, the teacher and mentor, had to hide your own snacks from your son because he would eat them when your back was turned. This is perfect. This is everything.
Mr. Turner, you meant to humanize your son to the judge and instead you prove without a doubt that you raised the kind of man that would see opportunities for himself in the weakness of others. You raised a “winner,” didn’t you? You raised a competitor, a striver, an achiever, a potential Olympian.
You taught your son that ANYTHING he wanted was his for the taking.
There is nothing wrong with wanting your children to succeed and raising them to do so. But to teach strength without teaching them that the strong should protect the weak, to lionize competition without emphasizing compassion, to shower a child with privilege without truly impressing upon them just how fortunate they are….? This gives us the Brock Turners of the world. Men who believe that if they can grasp it, they can take it. Entitled men. Unthinking, self-serving, acquisitive men. You know… “winners.”
I want to believe that when you gave your son the world on a platter that there were side orders of compassion and accountability there. I WANT to believe that the paragraph above this one is not one that needs to be tattooed on foreheads everywhere. But, your letter, your clear inability to come to terms with Brock’s crime and the almost comical cognitive dissonance between actual facts and your opinions about your son… Well. I am having a hard time with that.
Perhaps you have heard the terms “rape culture” and “white privilege”? Your son is the clearest example of the two that I have ever come across. Where a white man can be literally caught with his pants down by two witnesses - heaving his body over an utterly unconscious and non-consenting woman - can run away, be convicted, be guilty beyond all doubt, and STILL not just avoid prison entirely, but have an entire cast of apologists defending his right to face no punishment. The dissonant focus on his swimming career. His portrait, not his mug shot – blond, smiling, be-suited – gracing articles that included references to his achievements, but not hers. What about her potential? Her abilities? For the record, I have been moved and inspired by her strength, intelligence and worth.
I would ask you, father of this all-American athlete who can literally do no wrong in your eyes, if you also notice how it seems like elite sportsmen are so often the beneficiaries of this special kind of protection from consequences? These specimens, often strong enough to force other strongmen into physical submission; why do we find it so hard to believe they would take sex from a smaller woman without her consent? What is it about the men that engage in what is essentially a ritualized form of warfare that inspires this deference? Prized for their ability to literally take what they want, celebrated for their sacraments of violence on the field, worshipped as kings of force: these are the pinnacles of masculinity in our culture. Isn’t it time for us to look at how incredibly toxic that vision of manhood is? How it has hurt your son as well as his victim and so many, many others?
You know what? I believe you that Brock isn’t a mustachio-twirling villain who camps out near dumpsters to drag young women into the dark. But it’s possible for good people to do bad things. Your son has done something despicable and vile and he needs a punishment befitting his crime. You attempting to protect him from the consequences serves only your own clear desperation to make this all go away. And serves it poorly. You looking away from someone else’s child sprawled on the dirty ground, violated and used by your son, is no kindness to him.
I know your letter wasn’t meant to be consumed by the public the way it has. Even though your words clearly found the target you intended, (to overwhelming public outrage) both you and judge Aaron Persky missed the most valuable thing you conveyed about your particular kind of fatherhood. I hope you can see it now.
It’s hard for most of us to care about Brock’s appetite when ours has been utterly destroyed, but his snacks – those snacks that he habitually steals from his loving, enabling, BLIND father – his snacks say it all.