We’ve discussed a fair amount of the privilege granted to professional and college athletes because of their athlete status; whether it’s the University of Montana football team or any one of a number of professional athletes who have been embroiled in sexual assault scandals, these athletes often seem to exist on a higher plane than the rest of society. Out of the New York Times this week comes a story about the same level of privilege being granted to athletes, except that this time it’s a high school football team, and the sexual assault was documented thoroughly via social media.
The full article in the New York Times is worth the long read. But if you don’t have digital access to the Times, the summary is this: two star high school football players in Steubenville, OH allegedly sexually assaulted a high school girl who was too drunk to consent and was mostly completely unconscious during the encounter. Other people took photos and videos, and those made it online and were then deleted. Now the legal case against the alleged perpetrators is hinging on screenshots and web caches. The town itself is torn between the elevated stance it gives the football team (essentially the only thing going for the town of Steubenville) and the horror of the alleged actions of the two players.
Bill Miller, a painter who played for [the football team] in the 1980s, said the coach was to blame because he was too lenient with players regarding bad behavior off the field. “There’s a set of rules that don’t apply to everybody,” he said of what he called the favoritism regarding the players. “This has been happening since the early ’80s; this is nothing new. It’s disgusting. I can’t stand it. The culture is not what it should be. It’s not clean.”
This is more than just a plot line on Friday Night Lights. (And frankly, I wish Coach and Mrs. Coach were around to tell these kids what’s what.) Despite pleas from the police, few people have come forward with evidence regarding the assault, and the coach of the team seems to act like he is above the law. Despite suspending the two players who were accused of the assault (but not until 8 games into a 10 game season,) others who may have been involved continued to play:
[O]thers who were at the parties and might have witnessed the suspected assault continued to play on the team. Saccoccia, [the coach,] a 63-year-old who brims with bravado, was the sole person in charge of determining whether any players would be punished. [He] told the principal and school superintendent that the players who posted online photographs and comments about the girl the night of the parties said they did not think they had done anything wrong. Because of that, he said, he had no basis for benching those players.
Approached in November to be interviewed about the case, Saccoccia said he did not “do the Internet,” so he had not seen the comments and photographs posted online from that night. When asked again about the players involved and why he chose not to discipline them, he became agitated. “You made me mad now,” he said, throwing in several expletives as he walked from the high school to his car. Nearly nose to nose with a reporter, he growled: “You’re going to get yours. And if you don’t get yours, somebody close to you will.”
So yeah, that sounds like a great example of how to deal with authority. We’ve discussed before how schools create this environment where athletes can’t do wrong, but seeing it here even more pronounced at the high school level just explains how athletes get to the pros having learned all of this. If they’re not held accountable in high school and college, how can we expect them to be accountable in their profession?