“Put in the spotlight was the local football team, which, critics said, allowed players to brazenly operate seemingly above the law for years. Social-media accounts, self-made videos, photos and classless text messages exposed an entire world that seemed like a Hollywood script of a high school team out of control.
It also exposed a teenage culture of weak ethics, rampant alcohol abuse and poor family structures that wound up dooming Mays and Richmond, both of whom had promising futures and no criminal past.”
The first phrase of the second paragraph of the above quote from the Yahoo sports article on the rape trial of two Steubenville, Ohio high school football players says it all. This was an incident which attracted national attention, and created a lot of controversy because of the way different media outlets reported the outcome. The live television coverage showing the two sobbing defendants being judged delinquent and sentenced prompted some reports to sympathize with them, and weight the tragedy in their favor. That caused an outcry from advocates of the victim, who have felt that she has been abused not only as a direct result of the rape, but also because of the anger directed toward her because of the prominence of the football program in Steubenville. For those directly involved, defendants, victim, family members, classmates, and the community at large, the outcome is most definitely miserable. For the rest of us, observing from the sidelines, perhaps some benefit can come by learning some lessons which lead to a change of attitude toward the way children are raised in our society.
Using back roads, I can make it from my house to Steubenville, Ohio in less than 45 minutes. So it became a regular Friday night destination for me after moving to the Pittsburgh area, because high school football is one of my favorite forms of both entertainment and relaxation, and it didn’t take me long to find out which area teams provide the best show. Steubenville is a gritty, working class mill town that has seen significant population decline and economic hardship because of the decline of the steel industry. Through an almost 50% decline in population over the past three decades, the high school football program has maintained its reputation that goes all the way back to the early part of the 20th century, partly because the enrollment has declined as well and allowed the school to play in a smaller classification, and partly because its reputation in the area means that families who have high hopes for their son’s football careers will move into the school district from surrounding communities in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania so they can play for Big Red. The atmosphere inside Harding Stadium on Friday night is electric. It’s as big a deal as it is anywhere else in the country (including Texas) and Big Red’s reputation brings in opponents from several other states. The local schools can’t compete, so that’s opened spots on their schedule for schools from Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New York, and even Canada. When the Massillon Tigers come to town, one of the few Ohio schools that will play them, it is standing room only in the 11,000 seat stadium.
That kind of success, combined with the economic circumstances and the decline of the surrounding community have led to a celebrity status surrounding the high school football team, especially for those players who are the better athletes and whose names are associated with the team’s success. The coaching staff is also accorded the same status. That has contributed, along with other social factors, to what many people see as an attitude of “living above the rules” among many of the players, and that eventually led to the rape of one of their admirers.
That’s part of it. But that’s not all of it. Let’s talk about the “teenage culture of weak ethics, rampant alcohol abuse and poor family structures” that the author of the Yahoo article mentioned. Steubenville is not the only place where these circumstances exist.
There’s universal acceptance in our society of the “party culture” of teenagers, “party” being the operative word. That’s what kids do, right? They’re bored, they have nothing to do, and they have few interests outside of their own entertainment. For many of them, school cramps their style and interferes with their pursuit of their own personal interests, or, more likely, the low quality of the education they are receiving is gradually convincing them that it is a waste of time. There’s also a very harsh and very judgmental culture of acceptance, or rejection, based on superficial things which set people apart and determine who’s popular, and who isn’t. The anxiety this causes can be fatal for some kids. So the weekend party scene becomes the means to entertain boredom away, and the ticket to acceptance. Alcohol is a huge part of the experience. It contributes to entertainment, it relieves anxiety about social interaction, and getting falling down drunk helps with peer acceptance. But it’s O.K. because they’re just doing what kids their age do, right? Except… when it leads to the rape of a girl who is too drunk to know what is happening to her.
Now I’m going to climb on my soapbox. This is primarily a parental responsibility.
When I was in junior high, one of the local television stations ran a short message every night, just prior to the 10 P.M. news. “It’s ten p.m.,” said the announcer. “Do you know where your children are?”
Mine certainly did. Ten o’clock, weeknight, and I would be at home, no question about it. Homework would be done, and anything I was expected to do around the house would also have to be completed. And it didn’t matter if I’d had to stay after school for extra-curricular activities, the expectations that my responsibilities would be fulfulled still existed, and I would be at home at ten. If it were a Friday night, there were other options. School events and church youth group events were acceptable. A party, with a purpose such as a birthday or some other celebration, was acceptable as long as there was adult supervision. A party at a private home without adults being present who my parents at least knew was absolutely out of the question. I had two close friends with whom my parents would let me ride, and who could be in the car with me when I was driving, and that was all. If something ran over the expected time, I was expected to make a phone call. There were consequences for breaking these rules. And what I saw, in my parents, and their expectations, was not a mean-spirited intention to be killjoys, but loving protection in immediate circumstances, my reputation, and my future. They were not my “best buddies,” they were my parents. Eventually, we became the best of friends, but not until I had grown up and didn’t need them to be my parents.
The father of one of the boys in the rape case admitted that he hadn’t been there for his son. But he’s not the only parent involved in this whole tragic situation. It doesn’t seem that anyone had much control over their children, and there wasn’t much in the way of accountability for their whereabouts. That’s why this incident occurred, and that’s why there is a lot of crying over the outcome. Perhaps the culture of football-crazed Steubenville was a contributing factor in a couple of football players thinking they lived above the rules, and maybe they thought that they could do something like this and get away with it because they were members of the football team, but looking at the circumstances, the bottom line is that they were left without supervision, to do their own thing, influenced by alcohol and by peer pressure, they made a choice based on where they were in the moment, and now they will pay a permanent, and very dear price for what they did. Football caused the media attention. How many similar situations take place all over the country, all the time, without the media hype?
The Yahoo article writer got it right. Weak ethics. Rampant alcohol abuse. Poor family structure. Resolve those issues, and put some guidance and supervision over social media outlets, and perhaps some people can learn from this experience, and avoid making the same poor choices.