Commentary: Steubenville rape case, Notre Dame reveal cultural flaw
Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 23:01
I like to think I have a pretty good sense of right and wrong, and while I’m no saint, even the worst of us agree some things are morally deplorable.
Murder. Rape. Sexual assault.
I can’t think of a situation where any of those are ever OK. That statement probably triggers the more “creative” types to invent an extreme gun-to-your-head circumstance where they would be acceptable, but I prefer to operate in a reality where those situations don’t exist.
That’s why I was disgusted when I came across two separate but equally disturbing stories in a very short period of time.
The first was the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case that has been dominating headlines lately. For those out of the loop, here are the Cliffs Notes.
A pair of 16-year-old star football players — Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays — from the pigskin-crazed town allegedly raped an unconscious girl while out at a string of parties back in August.
The two boys have been charged in juvenile court with rape and are under house arrest until trial next month.
Now the small town has been divided into two equally outraged camps, one enraged that the 16-year-olds are being let off easy because of their starring roles on the football team and the other that thinks their status as football players is turning a misunderstanding into a fierce national debate with two teenagers bearing the blame.
The second story involves the Notre Dame football team, which lost to Alabama in the BCS National Championship game Monday.
In a piece by Melinda Henneberger in the Washington Post, the Notre Dame graduate explains why she did not root for her former school’s beloved and storied football team against the Crimson Tide.
I encourage you to read the full story, but Henneberger’s eloquent piece outlines her belief that “two players on the team have committed serious criminal acts — sexual assault in one case, and rape in another,” but the powers at be at Notre Dame did not adequately investigate the case.
“Lizzy Seeberg, a 19-year-old freshman at Saint Mary’s College, across the street from Notre Dame, committed suicide after accusing an ND football player of sexually assaulting her,” the story read.
After the incident Seeberg allegedly received a number of threatening messages, one of which said, “Don’t do anything you would regret. Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.”
Both stories are obviously complicated with their own intricate storylines differentiating them, but that doesn’t negate — at least to me — the common thread between them: sports are playing a villainous role in each.
They’re altering the way people view serious situations, and not in a good way.
Things that are normally black can turn white when passionate fans look at situations through a sports lens — or in the case of lawmakers or executives making decisions about athletes, a money-green lens.
I’m sure many people legitimately believe the athletes involved are innocent and maybe they are, but there is no doubt that some people are proclaiming innocence because that’s what they want to be the truth.
Athletes being involved will always elevate the prominence of a story. That’s the way the world works. But when athletic involvement warps thought processes and morality we have a serious problem.
Sports as a whole have undeniable power in this country, proved by the billions of dollars that change hands every year in our country’s largest sports leagues.
As long as the money keeps flowing, the problem will endure.
But the true root of that power is not the money. It’s the emotion. We spend hundreds of dollars on sports tickets because of the emotional attachment we have for teams, players or even for just the spirit of competition.
We argue loudly at work or at the local bar about whether RGIII should have been taken out of the game in the playoffs and whether Ohio State should have been the Associated Press national champions.
And we don’t leave that emotion at the stadium or our houses when we venture off into the real world.
I love sports. I really do. I’ve spent what many would probably consider a disgusting amount of time watching, digesting and — yes — arguing about the sporting issues of the day.
All of that has its place, but when the emotions stemming from our attachment to sports or sports figures start shaping how we see the world, we have a major problem.
A girl who was sexually victimized should never be told to keep quiet just because her attacker plays for a prominent football team.
Teenage boys should not get off the hook because a town has an unhealthy obsession with high school football.
I will not presume to know the innocence or guilt of the people involved in the stories I mentioned above, but my gut tells me something foul happened. Whether it was rape, assault, just making poor moral decisions or some combination of the three, I will never know.
What I will presume is that these situations happen more often than when they reach the headlines. How many girls have been told to “keep quiet” because an entitled athlete took advantage of her?
How many athletes built defense around the false premise that they are being targeted because of their money or celebrity?
To flip it around, how many athletes have been legitimately targeted because of their celebrity status? I’m sure it happens both ways.
How many executives or government authorities considered the number of touchdown passes a player had last year before deciding how to discipline him?
The reason I wrote this column was not to judge the young men at Notre Dame and Steubenville. But the situations do provide a platform to talk about how emotions stemming from sports are trickling into arenas (and I’m not talking about the kind with screaming fans) where they don’t really belong.
Right is right. Wrong is wrong. Sometimes gray is gray. But sports should have nothing to do with it.