Former college football place kicker Katie Hnida visited the University of Indianapolis to speak to students on April 8. Hnida is well known in the sports world as the first woman to score points in Division I college football. But beyond that, she came to UIndy to speak about her experience with sexual harassment and rape at the hands of a former teammate.
During the early portion of her talk, Hnida introduced herself to the students and recounted her involvement in football before college. Her journey began at Chatfield Senior High School in Colorado, where she was on the varsity football team all four years. During that time, she was also voted homecoming queen and took part in the ceremony in her football uniform.
Hnida’s success in high school led her to receive Colorado’s “Sportswoman of the Year” award, as well as Teen People’s “Number One Teen Most Likely to Change the World” award. She attended the University of Colorado from 1999-2000 and was the first woman in CU history to make the football team. She then transferred to the University of New Mexico, and she played football there for three seasons.
Hnida became the first woman in NCAA history to score in a Division I football game on August 30, 2003.
“It had been raining. I was soaked. I was cold. It was the end of the fourth quarter, and we were blowing this team out,” Hnida said. “What ended up being really special was the next day. I opened up the paper and found out it was my teammates who got me into the game.”
She ended up scoring two extra points and sealed her place in college football history. Her shoes and uniform are currently on display in the College Football Hall of Fame.
The bigger message Hnida brought, more than an inspirational story for those who face adversity in sports, was the story of her struggle with sexual harassment and rape during her time at the CU.
During her stint at CU, Hnida faced numerous instances of sexual harassment from her teammates. Teammates would ridicule her about her breasts and ask how she wore pads. The problem escalated and Hnida was raped by a teammate. This led her to transfer, but she did not tell anyone about the rape until a year later.
In 2004, she publicly spoke out about the events that had occurred during her time at CU. She chose to speak out when she learned that, at the time she was raped, other women had faced the same terrors.
“A part of me could not live with that—the fact that I knew other women were suffering,” Hnida said. “I was trying to make sure I was okay emotionally and figure out where I wanted to go in terms of prosecution and my own healing. Coming forward was very traumatizing. But knowing that there were other women who were not being listened to, I knew that if I came forward, through a reputable source, it would force them to listen.”
Hnida did not end up pressing charges against her attacker, but she has become an advocate for those who have or who know someone who has been sexually harassed or raped. In her talk, she emphasized that it is important for victims to tell someone, whether it is a family member, friend or someone else they can trust.
“The hardest thing I did was not telling anyone, and I think that is common for victims. Living with that inside of you, I think, slowly starts to kill you,” Hnida said. “I feel like it [telling someone] takes the weight off of you.”
Hnida said that those affected can visit her website, katiehnida.com, as well as Mariska Hargitay’s foundation website, joyfulheartfoundation.com, which has helped millions of victims.
“I think it’s really important to keep the conversation going,” Hnida said. “There have to be ways that we can pull together and make [available] resources and tools, so that this is not such a big problem.”