Football stands at the center of American culture, a slice of Americana that in a way reflects the spirit and identity of the United States. When people turn on their TV sets and watch 22 men move together in harmony as they collide into one another with brute force, it serves as a reminder of how this country was born, when rebels led by George Washington fought and died for freedom from the British empire. There is no shame in enjoying a wildly entertaining sport that has a rich history in our country; however, there is shame in the lofty position we afford athletes; a problem no more apparent than in the recent trial in Steubenville, Ohio.
Most have already read or heard about the Steubenville rape case, in which high school football players were accused of documenting the rape of an unconscious 16 year-old student on social media such as Twitter and YouTube during a night of drunken debauchery. Following the initial incident report, allegations spread like wildfire that the boys in question were being covered for because of their status as varsity football players for the vaunted “Big Red.” “The players are considered heroes, and that’s pretty pathetic, because they have been able to get away with things for years because of it. Everyone just looks the other way” said Jim Flanagan, a Steubenville resident.
Rational thinking eventually prevailed in Steubenville, leading to the recent conviction of two young men, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond. Unfortunately, in the trial’s immediate aftermath, coverage gravitated back to how the lives of these gridiron warriors would change, instead of the victim whose life was permanently altered and damaged. CNN field reporter Poppy Harlow’s first report from the scene went so far as to sympathize with the convicted rapists. “It was incredibly emotional, incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened, as these two young men who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believe their life fell apart.” Harlow, along with host Candy Crowley and legal analyst Paul Callan, spent the entirety of a six minute news clip openly pondering what the future would bring for Mays and Richmond.
Dumbfounded and left wondering when topics like the effects of rape on a victim, rape culture, and the dangers of social media would come into play, I was sorely let down when CNN went back to its regularly scheduled programming. Other networks followed suit in their distasteful coverage, with the reliably incompetent Fox News identifying the underage victim by name on air. I kept expecting someone to stand up and say what millions of people tuned in were thinking: should we not be talking about the victim?
I get it: 16 year-olds weeping in a court room create a great lead-in for a broadcast. Everyone was 16 at some point, where pressure and inexperience can lead to mistakes. I do not pledge to be a perfect person, and certainly made many errors as a product of youth that I wish I could take back. However, in this case, these are not actions we can chalk up to youthful indiscretion; this is not tenting a house with toilet paper, underage drinking, or staying out past curfew. Why is the focus on these “promising” young men now facing hardship, instead of on a young woman who was unconsciously violated? A 16 year-old girl was dragged, stripped, and violated by people she trusted, who continued to show their broken moral compasses during their trial. “I would truly like to apologize to _______, her family, my family and the community; no pictures should have been sent around, let alone even taken. That’s all sir, thank you,” was the best Trent Mays could muster in his final statement. Beyond not expressing remorse for the victim, Mays told us he was only sorry he got caught.
Rape is a crime that should not grant sympathy for the consequences the rapist faces. Mays and Richmond will have a long time to mull over their regrettable decisions in a correctional facility, where they will hopefully become better people and grasp the heinous nature of their actions. The rape victim gains nothing except a more cynical view of the world and a loss of trust in her peers.
Sadly, this victim will carry the after-effects with her for the rest of her life, regardless of the lesson learned by the boys. Although the perpetrators were brought to justice in this case, many victims suffer in silence, fearing the social stigmas rape carries with it, on top of the mental and physical anguish they already face. It is our duty, then, to make sure we learn from the events in Steubenville and their subsequent coverage, and realize we have a lot of progresstion to make when it comes to talking about and dealing with sexual assault. We can fawn over our titles, our accolades, achievements, and stature as members of teams or clubs, but who we are boils down to the actions we take. Young men who can not distinguish right from wrong do not seem “promising” to me.
Kyle Neubeck is an English Writing major with a focus in journalism. He can be reached at email@example.com