STEUBENVILLE: Clean the Wound Before You Talk About Healing

Steubenville is a black crust, America is
A shallow hell where evil
Is an easy joke, forgotten
In a week.
--James Wright, "One Last Look at the Adige: Verona in the Rain"*

Too soon comes the “time to heal” rhetoric that was everywhere yesterday, including in the Columbus Dispatch report that some hope the verdict itself will “start the healing.”  

It is too soon to be talking about healing because there is too much infection that needs to be cleaned out first. Such as: who were the parents who hosted these parties? Such as: what about the 27 coaches, who not only knew about the conduct but continued the season? And the students who stood by and did nothing and worse?
First on the parents. Ohio has a “Social Host Law” which covers serving alcohol to teens, but tends to be vague on the issue of parents who leave the home and “don’t know” that 60 kids are in their house getting blasted. According to the Ohio State Bar Association website, many Ohio communities are revising the law to enable law enforcement to go after the negligent parents. Every other community in Ohio should join the “Coalition to Amend Ohio’s Social Host Law” and in the meantime, get their own local law revised. And in addition to criminal charges, there should be civil charges brought against the parents.

Meanwhile, how about parents teaching responsible drinking? Parents can still allow their teen to have alcohol in the parents’ presence, where ideally, they would learn responsible drinking, say a glass of beer with dinner instead of this incredibly stupid massive downing of cheap horrid stuff that is so a part of American teenage life. My college students from other countries are appalled at such behavior. Most of them have been drinking since a younger age than the Americans and much more responsibly.

I have already addressed the Steubenville coaches, who, like the parents, have learned how to “not know,” and leave no traces of conversations and yet assure the kids that they will “take care of everything.” So the head coach at Steubenville says he called everyone in and asked if they thought they had done anything wrong and since they all said no, well then, end of conversation. And the “volunteer coach” who hosted one of the alcohol-fueled parties the night of August 11th needs to be charged immediately with the “Social Host Law” and one hopes, by now has been relieved of his volunteer position.
But I think coaches in other schools need to take a stand, too. There is no reason that Steubenville should have been allowed to play out the season. If the Big Red team was not willing to cancel, then every team in the league should have refused to play them. The fine and similar team of the Massillon Tigers instead played them while displaying signs that read, “Rape Steubenville.” Okay well so much for sportsmanship.

As for the students who stood by and did nothing, we know there were far too many. Some can be charged with an Ohio law which makes it a crime not to report a crime. One student said he wasn’t sure what he was seeing was rape. How about kind, fair, decent? I am not so interested in seeing such students charged as I am that they are educated. By a few early accounts, the victim had some friends who tried to stop her. I would like to hear their stories, as well as the niggardly, grudging accounts of the players who spoke, and barely, only to save themselves from the very same charge that sent Mays to detention: use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.
Judge Thomas Lipps did an excellent job of conducting the trial, including his decision to try the youths as youths and to hand down a most difficult, harsh, and fair sentence. Anyone who says the boys are getting off easy needs to spend a year (or three) in the detention facility. More than anything, the judge articulated eloquently the problem: "Many of the things we learned during this trial that our children were saying and doing were profane, were ugly," Judge Lipps said. I was struck by his use of the word "profane," which I have always thought of as the opposite of religious but neutral, just "nonreligious." Going to my dictionary, I  see that it also means "to show contempt for sacred things." While I am a non-religious person, I still consider the Fifth Commandment, the Golden Rule, and the human body to be sacred. And so I think that it is time to clean out the infection in these places before we put a bandaid over them.

(*I am indebted to reader William Barillas, who pointed me to this quote.)

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