Occupy Steubenville

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millions on stadiums and sports equipment while the rest of us had to make do with tattered text books that had been out of date for decades.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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11 Responses

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  1. Alizrin
    Alizrin January 5, 2013 at 10:25 am |

    While reading about this case (on Slate and Atlantic Wire) I could not help but compare it to the recent case in India. I felt that the perspective of the press here in the US when describing the case and the local law enforcement in India smacked slightly of “well, that’s in a third world country, but here in civilization we don’t have these issues.” Well, guess what, this kind of thing happens here too! The “civilized” world likes to think that they are more enlightened and responsible about the way women are treated and how their civil and human rights are ensured, but as we can see, NOT TRUE! (Another similar case was the recent one in Texas where many many men and teens in a small town were repeatedly raping a young girl, photographing it, and inviting her back for more, when it was exposed, because one of the middle school kids mentioned it to a teacher, there were many people who had the typical reaction — well look at how the girl dressed, and why wasn’t her mother vigilant in protecting her.) Just like Indians are saying today — as long as we have a culture in the USA which does not value women, we are going to have men around who will abuse women, take advantage of women, attempt to control women’s minds and bodies, deny women health care, and minimize the value of women’s contributions to the job market through less prestige and lower pay.

  2. ookami
    ookami January 5, 2013 at 5:11 pm |

    kids + kids = kids
    kids + bad parents = criminals

    1. Alizrin
      Alizrin January 5, 2013 at 6:08 pm |

      Not true! That is such a misguided way of looking at things, plenty of great parents end up with children that commit crimes, plenty of horrible parents end up with children that grow up to be perfectly law abiding citizens.

  3. Serenity
    Serenity January 5, 2013 at 8:28 pm |

    In this country, as much as we may deny it, we do seem to idolize many of the “wrong” people and/or for the “wrong” reasons. Athletes certainly do deserve some admiration for all the hard work they do to perfect their skills, but do they deserve idolatry? Movie stars, the same thing. We don’t just appreciate and admire their work, their talent – we idolize them. It seems we want to turn people who entertain us into gods. People who make a lot of money are treated like gods, but people who live decent honest, caring lives are often ignored, even treated badly.
    When a society starts setting rich, famous, athletic, beautiful and entertaining as qualities that matter most then moral decay is almost certain to follow. I agree with Alizrin. this isn’t just a bad parent scenario. this is a sick society scenario. I would be at Occupy with you Brad. Not because I am certain the football players are guilty, but because I believe we need to rethink our values in this society. We pretend to be one kind of nation, but when something like this happens, we are seen for who we truly are and what we truly hold dear.

  4. AnneMH
    AnneMH January 6, 2013 at 7:27 am |

    I am pretty far from both places so I can’t be there, but I wish I could be at the movie. For the occupy event, I guess I would be off to the side meditating because I don’t know what else to do, but it makes me very sad.

    I see that in some ways not much has changed, I like to be hopeful and look at how many people are treated better but I may be too hopeful. I also grew up in the midwest where football was a way of life. So whatever is dominant is equated with good. I am still surprised when I hear people assume a kid is ‘good’ because he or she is an athlete, or that a person is good because they are a Christian. Then they do something pretty horrible and everyone is shocked. I even sometimes hear that people are surprised my kids have manners, a few people have said this to my face, because they have all had mowhawks or dressed themselves in surprising ways. It shouldn’t surprise me anymore but often times no one looks beyond the simple first impression. We may have made some progress in looking at race or sexual orientation, however for all the apparent improvement how much have we really come with women’s rights? And what does that say about how far we have really come in any area.

    I realized a few years ago that often the person in charge of a large company or organization was not in that position in spite of their mental defects but because of them.

  5. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote January 6, 2013 at 3:12 pm |

    In Petaluma, California, a family is grieving the loss of their daughter, Alyssa Byrne, who left a concert venue at a junior college in South Lake Tahoe and succumbed to the elements while walking to her hotel. The weather was cold, 0 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, the altitude was high (6000 feet), and she may have been drinking.

    I read the whole article, Brad, and I do think it’s a tragedy in every respect. I guess your point was that we have a twisted society, that teaches its children to value success in every respect and does not teach its children to value cooperation and social support.

    I guess I would say that while that is true, we do have people like the late Michael Jackson, who said that persons who have a gift have a responsibility to help other people to find their gift.

    Especially young people want to explore what they need to survive in this life, in this world; I would contend that feeling alive is keeping what we need to survive close at hand, and the practice of zazen is exactly that. It’s not a simple as food and shelter, and there’s always stretch involved; if we turn our back on the experience of our necessity, the world turns us around to face it, that’s been my experience too, but it doesn’t have to be about fear and anxiety.

    Think I’ll take a walk.

  6. Khru
    Khru January 7, 2013 at 12:03 am |

    ookami : Your last sentence is a complete Non sequitur.

  7. bayesian
    bayesian January 7, 2013 at 3:45 pm |

    For me, I believe I have to avoid feeling hate or anger at these crimes. I believe that working yourself or others up about these crimes is almost as bad, and sometimes worse than apologizing these crimes or attitudes or failing to fight these crimes.

    Same goes for child molestation. There was some incident a few years back here in Germany where the name of a suspect in a child murder/rape case was leaked over facebook. Then a small mob gathered outside the police station, demanding the suspect to be turned over, so that they can kill him. That’s pretty far out there for Germans, btw. The man turned out to be innocent. Would these people have killed him? I would hope not. This kind of transformation is scary to imagine.

  8. Alizrin
    Alizrin January 8, 2013 at 8:02 am |

    It is a conundrum of how a”peace-loving” Buddhist should respond to these types of things. Yet I think they should not be ignored. I agree that ALL the people involved can be approached as people suffering and therefore need compassion, but that does not mean that we should not say anything about their problematic approach (through aggression) to dealing with their suffering. Yeah, those football players might not realize that their night of carousing and drinking and abuse of a young woman is the result of their aggression, but it was. Does that mean I should just shrug my shoulders and say “I am a buddhist, I do not react in aggressive ways, I do not make judgements, I only respond with compassion . . . “? Well, how does that square with karma and right speech and action? I don’t know how the balance works between being a buddhist and working to prevent ongoing injustice, but I know that ignoring problems in the name of being a buddhist is just using buddhism as an excuse for inaction and putting one’s head in the sand.

  9. AnneMH
    AnneMH January 8, 2013 at 9:42 am |

    Right Speech does not always mean being silent, Right Action does not mean letting a perpetrator free, You can have compassion while still having consequences to actions under the law.

  10. A-Bob
    A-Bob January 8, 2013 at 10:01 am |

    Brad has stated in the past how political action can sometimes be self-indulgent behavior done mainly to feel good or for personal gain and not necessarily to effect change. I’m not sure what made this incident different for him other than it hit close to home and reminded him of his own high school difficulties.
    Kids can be very cruel. Hell, adults can be very cruel. Usually for reasons they don’t understand. But the hopeful thing is that they can understand and someday might stop the cycle.

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