Stress in Stuebenville

Phoebe Hammer, Sports Editor

Six months ago, an unconscious 16-year-old girl was raped at a high school party in Stuebenville, OH, an old steel mill town of only 18,440. Crimes like this are common in the U.S., with most rape cases going unreported, but for some reason this case made international news. Even months later, Stuebenville officers are receiving death threats, online petitions seeking justice have reached over 70,000 signatures and protesters are flocking to the small town. But why this particular case?

Social media has certainly been a large factor. At the scene of the crime, other partygoers tweeted the action, and some even posted pictures on Instagram. It wasn’t until three days later that the rape was reported, which isn’t unusual, but when Stuebenville police officials considered dropping the case, the entire world responded with fury. Why? Because the alleged rapists were football stars.

Besides a football team with nine state championships, Stuebenville doesn’t have much going for it. Many argue that officials hesitated to prosecute the two football players because they were stars on the team. I agree that this is probably true, and the thought makes me sick, but it doesn’t give me an excuse to react the way that others have.

In nearly every online report I read, the accused boys were defined as “two football players” and the event was called the “Stuebenville Football Scandal” in many sources. It seems that football has become the focus, not the actual crime itself.

What began as warranted anger towards a poorly handled situation has now spiraled out of control. Blade columnist Marilou Johanek wrote that football “is revered out of all proportion in places such as Steubenville.” Perhaps there is some truth to this statement, but it is over the top, and statements like these have led to ridiculous action.

Hackers shut down the Stuebenville Police Office’s computers last month; several officers and even community members have received death threats; Stuebenville High School has gone on lockdown several times after alarming hate messages and bomb threats, and the high school sports program’s website, RollRedRoll, has also been attacked by hackers.

The entire Stuebenville community is being terrorized simply because the town loves football, and consequently many assume that the entire town must be against charging the football starters with rape. These are gross accusations that must be squashed. Instead of focusing our attention on hacking and death threats, we should be supporting the victim and her family, showing them and the court that the entire nation is on her side.

What the boys did was wrong, and it doesn’t matter what sports they played; they should be associated with their actions and not their athletic ability. Focusing on football helps to bring the issue into the limelight, but it also implicates individuals who are not guilty, such as the town and other community members, which draws attention away from the victim and the actual crime. When the alleged rapists go on trial next month, the focus should be on the crime itself and not the football implications.