Where It Comes From

By Johnny Ginter on January 7, 2013 at 5:39p

A town at a crossroads

A few days ago, my friend Xander sent me this message via Facebook:

"Yikes, not a good time to be an Ohio football fan, I take it."

At first I wasn't sure what he was talking about; I mean, the Buckeyes have just finished an undefeated season, Urban Meyer is killing it on the recruiting trail, numerous angel sightings... life is pretty good, right? Plus, what would a Cali bro of mine know about Ohio football in general? There's literally no reason for pigskin in the Buckeye state to even be on his radar except in the event of some ridiculously dire or all-around bad situation.

Like say, a sex scandal in a small town related to a beloved high school football team and a cover-up that's drawn national attention.

The Steubenville rape case and controversy is tailor-made for a generation of people taught that the Varsity Blues/Friday Night Lights/Any Given Sunday motif of attitudes toward football are real and force the worst aspects of the sport into the spotlight. There's even an almost insultingly ready-made comparison in the Jerry Sandusky scandal, as if the controversies in Steubenville are simply the most recent example of a sporting culture gone mad.

The problem with this line of thought is that it is simplistic and wrong. Jerry Sandusky was able to rape children for years because of an insane, willful ignorance on the part of a small group of people who valued protecting the reputation of their school over prosecuting a rapist. It was horrific, but it's hard to believe that the Jerry Sandusky scandal would've perpetuated itself at another university. I hope beyond hope that what happened at Penn State was an incredibly unique situation.

I don't believe that is the case in Steubenville. Not because of the easy scapegoat of football, but rather, I believe that these kinds of incidents are the logical end result of a culture (not a sports culture, but a societal culture) that allows things to be "taken care of" away from the prying eyes of people who might hold their actions in judgment. A culture that exists, in some fashion, in small towns throughout the United States.

I graduated from high school in 2003. Three years after that, my high school principal, a Catholic priest, died. The Archdiocese described it as a "one-car accident." Other, more accurate reports described it as a crash that resulted from high speeds and a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday.

I respected that man immensely. He personally helped me through several tough times in my life, and he was able to connect with students in a way that I've seen few educators emulate. He was a good priest and an excellent principal.

But the Rev. Charles Mentrup drove drunk at 3 in the morning and it cost him his life. As much as I mourned the man, I also knew that it was equally important to remember the way in which he died, because anything else would be a lie. The same kind of lie that many would like to perpetuate out of some misguided sense of preserving the memory of a good man is now being used to help cover up for a group of potential rapists and molesters. And that makes me sick.

People want to blame the assault and subsequent cover-up on sports, and that's understandable. After all, who wants to confront the idea that this type of awful, disgusting assault happens and is glossed over in small towns and cities all around the country on a regular basis? Who wants to consider that maybe it's not a misguided sports culture, but a misguided social culture, that allows these things to happen?

Here the come to save the day?

It's a lot easier to assign blame than to look internally. Football as a sport lauds machismo and swagger, and as such the sport as a whole becomes an easy target when football players do something wrong. "Ugh, those damn Jocks!" said every 80s movie nerd caricature and real life person who lacked any kind of will and conviction to try to change the reality of the world around them.

But no, we'll continue to keep our secrets. Small towns will operate under a code of silence when it suits them, as they always have, because the truth is simply a minor casualty of comfort. 

Steubenville Big Red football is just another avatar of those secrets. A judge and prosecutor have recused themselves because of their connections to the Steubenville football team, but in case you haven't noticed, Big Red football is a medium-sized fish in a very shallow thimble. Football is ubiquitous there, but this could be any hockey-mad town in Minnesota, any village that relies on a regional Walmart, or any city that is crazy about the local hardcore punk scene. These places, many holding on by the skin of their teeth, have the most to lose through scandal, and will go to great lengths to cover it up.

The point is this: people keep secrets because they are protecting something, and secrets are often bad because what they're protecting ends up being worse. Ultimately, that's why I'm glad that Anonymous and whichever internet watchdog flavor of the month is on this case, despite their often times ham-handed efforts at "justice." Because a messy truth is always preferable to the alternative in the long run, and as long as there are eyes on Steubenville, maybe the stories of other victims in other Steubenvilles will finally be considered with the respect and urgency that they deserve.

So honestly, Xander, it's still a pretty good time to be an Ohio football fan. But it's not a great time to be from a small place in Ohio.


Comments Show All Comments

AndyVance's picture

I'm glad you drilled down the nature of why we keep secrets: something to protect. Small towns may typify that "something to lose" scenario, especially because they've been disproportionately affected, in many cases, by the Great Recession (this is not a political statement, just an economic observation).
The flaw in the "small town cover-up" argument, though, is the wisdom that "everybody dies famous in a small town" (see Miranda Lambert for more details). People in small towns infamously know everyone else's business, and trade openly in such secrets. Small towns perfected the concept of social media stalking before Facebook existed.
What comes to the fore, then, in cases like the Steubenville situation is more of an "us versus them" mentality... The protectors want to protect, as you noted, because they don't welcome judgment from outsiders who "just don't understand."
Same result: covering up things which should not be covered up, and bastardizing the disbursement of justice.

WC Buckeye's picture

Somewhat. There have been similar cover-up cases in small-town Ohio that I can vaguely remember in the time that I lived there (Ironton is the town that springs immediately to mind, though I don't remember exactly when or what the specific crime was), and in cases like the these the overarching mindset is "we'll take care of it here". Kinda like they said they would in State College, Columbus, <insert sports town here>, huh? Do we ever hear about these stories if the perpetrator is the son of the postmaster? The son of the high school teacher? Unfortunately, with the local town usually having tied its identity to the success of the local team (the sport can very from place to place), the coverup protects the ideal that the town is as good as its team is.
I don't think that it has (or ever has had) much to do with economic conditions, though. It more often has more to do with who is going to be most affected locally by the scandal. This is true regardless of the socioeconomics of the town, and therefore of the overall economic state.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

gutterwaste's picture

I grew up in Martins Ferry, which is 30 minutes or so south of Steubenville on Rt. 7.  I can absolutely envision many scenarios in this part of the world where bad things and bad people are ignored, dealt with "internally" (which is really a euphemism for ignored), or even worse, the victims become the "bad guys" for disturbing the status quo, but I'm not sure that's the case here.  From the available information, it seems the case has been turned over to the state attorney general's office in Columbus and, as such, the investigation has slowed but is still ongoing.  While the attitude of some of the principles (i.e.. football/wrestling coaches, etc) have not been what you'd hope, the reality in most of these cases are that they take a LONG time to be vetted and resolved.  I think it's a little too early for sentiments such as "they're ignoring the problem" or "they're covering for the athletes."  While it would seem the intent of "watchdogs" like Anonymous is noble, by threatening and coercing those involved, they may actually be hampering justice as our legal system defines it by tainting evidence/witnesses.  For better or worse, I think you've gotta let it play out in the court system.  That being said, whack jobs that are going after the family for hurting Big Red football are despicable and, thankfully, don't represent the majority of the people in the town or the Valley.

njc2o's picture

Not too sure what the point of the post is, but to take the football-related entitlement facet out of it is silly
From NYT article:
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.”

Pam's picture

The coach also said he didn't disipline the players because they didn't think they had done anything wrong. So, Coach what about you? You don't think peeing on an unconcious 16 year old is wrong? Who is the adult in this horror story?

RedQueenRace's picture

I read that article some time back.  I really liked this gem:
"Saccoccia, pronounced SOCK-otch, 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."
Allowing the players to decide whether or not they had done something wrong and basing your response on it as a "leader" and "molder of young men?"  It would be laughable if it weren't so pathetic.
Edit:  How did I miss Pam's response?  I'm slow but it didn't take me 14 minutes to write this.

Toilrt Paper's picture

The first place they took the date rape drugged 16 year old was to a party at an assistance coach's house beer and drugs were being used.

WildMan Leather and Lace's picture

Yeah what is the point of this post?  Are you blaming the rape of women and the cover up after wards on small town America?  This isnt a small town problem.  This is a world problem (Read the latest from India).  And to try to marginalize the group that posted the video that finally drew attention to this crime by calling them the "flavor of the month" is pathetic.

-1 HS
painterlad's picture

Pardon my French, but I am going to call bullshit on this story. I am from Marysville, and when I graduated (1983) the town was about 11,000 strong, which is just the right size for everyone to know whose husband is good and whose check isn't. Growing up we had our share of cover-ups, from local cops who protected buddies to assaults going unpunished.
It's part of small town life. People went to school with people or dads owed other dads favors and heads were turned the other way. Certain names resonated in Marysville back then (and some still do) and those names carried a lot of clout and with that clout came privilege.
But if you think for one second that this case has nothing to do with protecting Big Red football and is just part of small town life, you are fooling yourself. Big Red is Steubenville! The steel jobs are all but gone, crime is rampant, but football goes on and on in that town. If these kids had been members of the marching band or cross country team, their heads would have rolled. (At least after the story drew the attention of the NYT.)
This is all about football and the gods we have allowed these kids to become. I am on here on a regular basis, and this time of the year I get up every morning before work to see if some great and exciting news about a potential football player greets me when I log in. Stars across the country get preferential treatment. In Ohio it's football. In Indiana it's basketball. Different states, different sports, but they all have one common thread:
We allow this to happen because we have made those kids untouchable.
They think they can get away with figurative murder or literal rape. And our turning out by the thousands for high school games or hundreds of thousands for college games just cements in their brains that they are above the law.

To err is human. Really sucking requires having yellow stripes on your helmet.

ceegeelawrence's picture

This. I think THE reason this has been trying to be covered up or swept aside is Big Red football. Absolutely. 

buckz4evr's picture

I remember years ago a girl was raped by 5 or 6 football players at Niles McKinley.  Nothing was done.  Sickens me to this day.  Naturally, they tried to make the girl out to be a slut and claimed she was a willing participant.  She was scared for her life so her family never pressed charges.  They only reason the thugs were protected was because they played football - PERIOD.  If it was any one else, they would have hung them by their gonads.

DefendOhio's picture

How is this story acceptable? Seriously. 

Hoody Wayes's picture

The infinite loop of male aggression wends its way from the dawn of history and binds awful moments like Steubenville and Newtown, together. 
Male - know thyself

Johnny Ginter's picture

i think i should make a few things clear about this story:

1. i am in no way absolving steubenville or big red or their football culture in general for allowing this to happen and the cover up that followed

2. my biggest point is that the narrative in this story is about the football team, when the assault of women in similar circumstances is far, far more commonplace than we'd like to admit.

making this about the football team is exactly the wrong way to go about this story, when it should be more about the fact that there are people and communities who will cover for potential rapists and that this story says something much more worrisome about how we expect our young men to treat women.

saying that this is entirely the result of a football culture gone crazy is a cop out. it's far deeper than that, and far harder to address than "okay let's arrest a kid and fire the coach and go after a cop," even if i agree that those are all things that should be done

painterlad's picture

You make some excellent points. Attacks on women occour all over the place, but the fact remains that the people involved are football players in a town that is football crazy. That is indeed the link that matters because as I pointed out, if this were just a group of young men who were really good at math there would have been no cover up.
You say that the story becomes worrisome when we look at how we are teaching our young men to treat women. I say that star athletes, especially in small towns but also even in the NFL or NBA major markets, get a pass on everything from grades they didn't earn to jobs they never performed. Why should these kids do anything the right way when most of their lives people all around them tell them how special they are and never make them accountable for anything other than catching that critical third down pass or making that important three point shot?

To err is human. Really sucking requires having yellow stripes on your helmet.

AndyVance's picture

Absolutely agree, Johnny - folks are right to be outraged and to pick apart the hero-worship "culture" that is involved in these specific cases, but the bigger issue is that this story has become a media narrative that will: A.) Sell newspapers and generate pageviews, and B.) Destroy a lot of lives, regardless of innocence/guilt.
The issue runs very deep - consider this story, for example... Prior to the Big Red Rape scandal, the HuffPo reported that, according to CDC data, 1 in 6 Indiana high school-aged girls are sexually assaulted
One. In. Six.
Think about that for a minute and tell me that isn't a bigger "issue" than a single, high-profile incident. Is the Steubenville situation horrible? Yes. Does it need to be popped open and dealt with? Absolutely. Is it being blown up in the media simply because it fits the "sports culture gone wrong" meme? Youbetcha.
The statistics on campus sexual assualt, by the way, are pretty sobering. Estimates run as high as 25% of college women have been the victim, or attempted victim, of rape. Alcohol appears to be the single most overwhelming factor, though participation in "aggressive" sports is also cited as a factor in at least one peer-reviewed study.
Like journalist and author Peg Tyre, I believe our culture has done a great disservice to boys in general, and our culture is suffering accordingly. I wrote some thoughts on the subject at another blog here, and I think it bears some relevance to this discussion:

In his piece, the writer shared his dual concerns over the absence of a strong male parental role in the lives of adolescent men: on one hand a developed hyper-masculinity in which the boy overcompensates for the lack of a male role model and never learns to properly control his strength and anger, or to focus his activity and energy. On the other hand exists the opposite effect, a hypo-masculinity, or what the columnists describes as an absence of appropriate masculinity.
“Portrayals of it abound in popular culture and everyday life,” he writes. “Metro-sexualism, the sensitive male, the banning of dodge ball, padded playgrounds, back and chest waxing, feminized scents and colognes, TV commercials that portray the father figure as buffoonish, incompetent or absent.”


I grew up on the Ohio River in a town of 7,000 and whenever there was a murder, or a shoooting, or someone died from a drug overdose it was huge news. Still is. People there to this day are stunned. They ask, "how can these things can happen?" Things like this are not supposed to happen in small town Ohio (or any small town for that matter). They have low crime rates and people are usually good to each other. People always think, "that could never happen here." Then they wake up one morning and something terrible that happened four blocks over and it's on CNN.
I am not sure if people from a small town are just not used to something horrible happening (as opposed to someone more desensitized from growing up in a large city/larger town with a full police blotter in the newspaper and nightly shootings the first item on the local TV news) or if small-town folks just don't want to face the truth that the world is an evil and violent place and they try to protect themselves in some bubble that they think cannot be popped...until it is popped by someone bent on doing something bad, like a gunman in an elementary school, or a rapist. Then the cycle starts all over again, "How can this happen here? We're a small town."
Steubenville is a decent sized town but it's in a part of the state where there are many, many small towns in the surrounding area. This isn't a football issue. It's what Andy Vance says, it's a society issue. Reminds me a lot of the novel and movie, No Country for Old Men. Tom Ed Bell (Tommy Lee Jones character in the film adaptation) is the sherriff and he's overwhelmed by the evil he's facing in Anton Shugur (Javier Bardem). Instead of trying to "stem the tide of senseless violence" he retires. Kind of like an ostrich burying its head in the sand. Not that he was a coward, but because he was old and weary and tired of seeing evil win. He realized the world isn't for anyone weak of heart, especially today with all the madness going on in CT, CO and everywhere there's been a shooting, a rape or a horrendous crime peretrated right under everyone's noses. We have to choose whether or not to face evil. Some don't.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

okiebuck's picture

Very well put my friend.

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

okiebuck's picture

This is a tragic story all the way around and the total lack of "doing the right thing" by the so called adults in Stubenville; from the coach, principal and superintendent is apalling. I'm not going to mention law enforcement because the law works slowly. Aside from all this; another thing that pisses me off is that the video that all the networks are showing has a kid in an Ohio State tee shirt laughing his ass off about the whole thing; disgusting. 

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

Pam's picture

That POS kid wearing the OSU tee shirt is no longer a student there. OSU booted his sorry ass

William's picture

He's actually welcome to return to OSU from what his lawyer reported, seeing as he so far hasn't been charged with any crimes. While I don't necessarily have a problem with him no longer being a student at OSU, I do have a problem with how 1) OSU handled the release of the information, and 2) How everyone is calling him a rapist when he did not in fact rape anyone. I'm not disagreeing with you about the kid's character, or about what he should have done. 

Pam's picture

I don't give a sh!t how OSU handled anything, they responded to the inquiries about his status and only released as much info they legally could. He is gone and should stay gone, if only for his own safety. Not everyone is calling him a rapist, it is clear in the video that he did not take part in it. His comments appall me almost as much as the acts the 2 players are accused of. The casual references to her being dead made my skin crawl.  This case is as sickening as it comes

Toilrt Paper's picture

And he was on an academic scholarship!

southbymidwest's picture

Excellent article. BUT... I question the premise that something like this can happen mainly/mostly in small town America. I grew up in a somewhat small Ohio town, and now live outside of Washington, DC, where the local DC government is a cesspool. It is hard at times to tell the good guys from the bad ones. Then you have those who prefer the bad ones because "they are one of us". Although I am speaking mainly of politics in DC (and do not in any way mean to open a political debate, that is not my purpose here), it is the same "look the other way because it is in our best interests to do so" crap that is also seen in so many other areas. It always has been, and always will be, about who holds the power, be it the football team, union, lawyers, politicians, large conglomerates, religious institutions, etc., and what they will do to keep it.

Johnny Ginter's picture

i'm not saying that is happens mainly or mostly in small town america, but that is has the potential to do so, and that it's not soley the result of a fanatic football following

biggy84's picture

Very good article Johnny. Very thought provoking. Thank you.

ATXbucknut's picture

Definitely an evocative topic.
Rape cover-ups certainly happen in all sizes of cities. It just touches more of a nerve when it happens in a town like Steubenville--and is publicized--because it's so unexpected and uncommon. 
When it happens in Detroit most of us never even hear about it and if we do we think to ourselves, 'Yeah that makes sense that something like that happened in Detroit.'  When it happens in Steubenville we think, 'That is shocking. That sort of thing just doesn't happen in places like Steubenville.'
I went to high school in what was the 17th largest city in the US.  My health teacher was an assistant FB coach and head track coach. He had sex with an underage classmate of mine, which is statutory rape. He was quietly transfered to another school district; no school administrator went to the authorities. They had the same mentality mentioned in a previous comment; namely, "we'll handle it ourselves".
The head FB coach--a former NFL draftee--also had consensual sex with an underage student. Nothing happened to him. Nothing. Wasn't transferred or anything. He was untouchable, I guess. Everything was kept very hush hush.
I am not trying to establish equivalence between Stuebenville and what happened at my high school, but cover-ups happen all the time everywhere. It is just more shocking (because it's so much more unexpected) in small town America.

TheBadOwl's picture

Saw this on Reddit, definitely backs up this column.

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

William's picture

Quick question, how exactly can they report/project rape numbers without more reported cases? 

Alhan's picture

I don't claim to know for sure, but I've heard multiple cases where the victim was silent, sometimes for years, because of shame about what happened.   Perhaps they don't count these cases as "reported"?

"Nom nom nom" - Brady Hoke

AndyVance's picture

These types of figures are based on survey data, say from the CDC as an example, where they ask respondents to answer questions like "have you been the victim of unwanted sexual aggression" or something like that. When the results are calculated, the CDC can say "1 in 4 women has been subjected," and then compare those stats to the published data for crimes reported, crimes prosecuted, convictions won, etc. etc. etc.

Denny's picture

Here's more info on the graphic, which is both well-intentioned and inaccurate.


OHraised's picture

i'm happy that 11W gave space to this important, non-Ohio State story.  so happy i went from long time lurker to first time poster.  i hope this great article doesnt get too lost among the national championship coverage.  two points: 
1. steubenville is not the next small town: it's been borderline lawless for decades.  for more on the bloody, corrupt history of "little chicago," see http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2013/01/why-nobody-trusts-steube...
BONUS: apparently wu-tang's RZA is originally from steubenville, not staten island, and thinks the town "represents darkness."  cold, bro.  see also camron's "i used to get it in ohio." 
2.  this is a story about corrupt law enforcement, not football. local officials have really stumbled onto a great media dodge with this "look what's happened to our culture" act, since it distracts people from their train wreck of a prosecution. even as a mere third year law student, i know you can charge practically everyone within earshot of a crime with failure to report a felony or a criminal conspiracy if they dont come forward.  steubenville might not role like the NYPD, but i believe this is a pretty common tactic. "rape culture" spreads because it's enabled by disappointing authority figures like these guys.  ohio football is better than this.
go buckeyes.

mshaf's picture

Along with gutter waste,I too grew up in Martins Ferry and then moved to St. Clairsville.There are a lot of things covered up in these small towns,mainly I think from family embarasement and communities not wanting to own up to things like this.
Also, as OHRAISED has stated above,Steubenville has been a very corrupt townfor years.You don`t get a name like Little Chicago for nothing.