By now I imagine everyone has heard about the girl who was allegedly raped by football players in Steubenville, Ohio this Summer. If you haven’t here is an article from the New York Times that will tell you everything you need to know. You can read it and come back. I’ll wait here.
OK. Good. You read it. Thanks. Now we can talk.
I grew up in one of those little “football towns” in Ohio, much like Steubenville. Steubenville is just 114 miles southeast of Wadsworth. One of my teachers was from there.
Wadsworth, where I grew up, is just as obsessed with high school football as these reports say Steubenville is. So it is not difficult at all for me to believe that the players on the city’s Big Red high school football team were just like the ones on our team the Grizzlies. Those guys walked around town like they owned the place. They could get away with anything and know that the entire town would back them up. They’d hassle and threaten me in the halls of school and nobody would say a word to stop them, least of all the school’s administrators. The football team was everything. The city spent millions on stadiums and sports equipment while the rest of us had to make do with tattered text books that had been out of date for decades. So when I hear accusations that the coaches and the administration of Steubenville High covered for these guys and that those who spoke out against them felt threatened, that even the police shielded them from the consequences of what they’d done, it all rings true to my own experience.
Which is not to say that I know what happened that night, that I know who’s guilty and who’s innocent. That is something the people of Steubenville have to work out for themselves. And I hope they will.
But whether things went down exactly the way those who are accusing the football team members of rape say they did or not, one thing I know for certain is that those accusations are entirely plausible. This article sickened me. But it did not surprise me in the least. I’m amazed there aren’t more cases like this coming to light. My guess is that there are plenty more out there. I remember a girl in my high school who went to lots of our football players’ parties telling me about how she ended up half-naked on the lawn in the snow late one night, wasted out of her mind. She told the story like she thought it was funny. Even then I wondered what else had been done to her that evening.
That’s why if I were still living in Akron I’d be heading out to the Occupy Steubenville rally they’re holding today at the Steubenville courthouse. It’s not that I think that the rally will finally bring about justice. And I also find the lynch mob mentality of some of those involved in drawing attention to this case disturbing. Lynch mobs are always convinced that they’re on the side of justice, whether they’re going after football players that they’re certain raped a teenage girl or going after a black man who may have held hands with a white woman. The cause ceases to matter very quickly once the lynch mob mentality starts to get going. That’s why we have to be very careful. You and I are just as susceptible to that sort of thing as anyone else. And it’s easy to fool ourselves when we’re certain we are right.
Rather, I’d like to be there because I know this sort of thing goes on all the time. Usually nobody ends up getting raped. But damage is done on all sides in these little Ohio “football towns” when young men are taught that they can do no wrong and when the rest of the young people in those towns are told that the local football heroes are their lords and masters. Everyone ends up with a completely distorted view of reality. This is especially true for the football heroes themselves.
I’d also like to be there to send the message that this kind of abuse is never OK. No matter how drunk or apparently slutty a woman may seem to be, it’s not acceptable to take advantage of her. Some of the videos I’ve seen circulating of some of those allegedly involved in what happened in Steubenville clearly demonstrate that even they do not understand this simple fact. And if they don’t understand it, how many others out there also don’t get it?
I’m in Seattle, Washington tonight for the showing of Shoplifting from American Apparel. It’s at 7:30 at the Northwest Film Forum. Be there or be in Steubenville.
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