Yesterday, in Steubenville, OH, the verdict came down guilty for two 16-year-old high school football stars in the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl. The assailants were found guilty, in large part, due to social media. There were pictures, videos, tweets and text messages that all indicated and, ultimately, proved that the victim wasn’t able to consent to sexual activity and that the perpetrators very well knew that the victim was in that state. (There’s a video circulating that shows another student referring to passed out girls as “dead” girls that can’t feel anything, which is an incredibly disturbing view of the American teenager in our culture) You can read the full story of the case here.
There are plenty of articles out there exploring the clear attempt of a cover up due to high school football’s role in the culture in Steubenville and I think that cover up is an expression of a growing trend in the United States. This trend is sports as religion and the elevation of athletes in society where they’re fed a sense of entitlement, that the rules don’t quite apply to them. It’s reminiscent of the Penn State story, where sports become more important than even the lowest forms of moral decency. Not only is this evidenced in the not-quite-provable existence of a cover up but even more concretely in the response of the media, and CNN in particular, to the guilty verdict and their one track focus on the assailants rather than the victim.
Paul Callan of CNN said:
The most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law and, by the way, the laws in most other states now require such a designation in the face of such a serious crime. That will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
This kind of mourning for the rapists of a 16-year-old girl is so incredible in its minimization of the victim and her plight. What truly haunts someone for the rest of their lives is living and surviving through a rape and all in the public’s eye. No one would be lamenting the future of these two boys if it weren’t for football and the Friday Night Lights community they’re all surrounded by.
Sports culture and it’s impact on this case is only one of a myriad of questions and issues arising from Steubenville. There’s the problem of alcohol abuse by teenagers, the hyper-sexualization of our society at every age level, and the attitudes of men towards women that seem to be regressing. I can’t unpack them all right now, but I hope we get a chance to address them as a community here in the near future.