Monday, April 29, 2013

1. Sports 2. Sports 3. Everything Else

It was last July, and former FBI director Louie Freeh had two days earlier issued the report of his investigation into the child abuse scandal at Penn State University when Rusty Miller in The Huffington Post reminded us

Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee had just heard his head football coach, Jim Tressel, concede that he had reason to believe several star players were taking money and free tattoos from a suspected drug dealer and yet he had told no one. Tressel started most of those players throughout the 2010 season and a bowl game anyway, failing to alert anyone in authority – a clear violation of NCAA rules and his own contract.

Gee, an endowment rainmaker wearing his trademark bow tie, jumped in to defend Tressel and then, asked if he had considered firing his coach, uttered an off-hand crack.

"Let me just be very clear," Gee said with a grin, "I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me."

That illustrates what was too rarely acknowledged- the dominance of athletics- as the horrific events at Penn State were revealed.   More recently, Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ was roiled by scandal when athletic director Tim Pernetti played for reporters a video which showed basketball coach Mike Rice "pushing student-athletes he is supposed to mentor; throwing basketballs at their legs, feet, and heads; and calling them 'motherfuckers,' 'pussies,' 'cunts,' 'sissy bitches,' 'fucking fairies,' and 'fucking faggots.'"

In December, Rice was merely suspended by Rutgers and fined $50,000.   Once the video became public Rice, and later Pernetti, were fired."  However, university president Robert Barchi claimed plausible deniability and was allowed to remain in position as Chris Christie, constitutionally perhaps the most powerful governor in the land, offered his support.  Hear no evil, see no evil, duck responsibility and keep your job.

The privileged position athletics, and student athletes, have is not limited to colleges.  The National Women's Law Center and a local law firm have filed in federal court a complaint charging

in 2010 the victim was sexually assaulted by a star player on the school’s basketball team. The assault took place on campus in a sound proof band room at Forest Hills Central High School. The victim notified a teacher who in turn reported the assault to the principal. But rather than open an investigation into the allegations, the principal discouraged the student and her parents from filing charges, telling them that doing so could ruin the assailant’s prospects at being recruited to play basketball for a Division 1 school.

The victim and her parents ignored the principal’s request not to file charges because they were concerned that this student might attack other girls. Instead, the student and her parents filed a police report, and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department began a criminal investigation. Meanwhile, the school did nothing.

As alleged in the complaint, two weeks later another female student was sexually assaulted by the same attacker. Despite a legal obligation under Title IX to investigate the assault and protect the student, the high school officials never interviewed the girl or her parents again, failed to conduct an investigation, and for two and a half weeks left the attacker in one of her classes.

It gets worse. As word of the sexual assault spread among the student body, the female victim became the target of an intensive cyber-bullying and harassment campaign—both at school and online—that depicted her as a liar and a “whore” who was trying to bring down an innocent athlete. These cyber-attacks were only reinforced by the fact that the school continued to take no action to reprimand the male student. Not only did fellow students harass the victim, the attacker and his friends verbally and physically harassed the girl as well. They followed her around as she moved in and out of classrooms, through hallways, and around the school campus. The attacker sometimes pushed her into other students as she walked down the hallway, causing her to slam into lockers. Despite repeated efforts by the victim’s parents and other students to alert the principal and the school’s Title IX Coordinator about the viciousness of the harassment by the attacker and other students, school administrators took no action.

Thankfully law enforcement did. Five weeks after the sexual assault, the Kent County Prosecutor’s office authorized two felony counts of criminal sexual conduct against the attacker for his assaults on NWLC’s client and the second female victim at the school. The attacker later pled guilty to a single count of misdemeanor assault and battery. He was sentenced to attend Kent County’s Adolescent Sexual Offender Treatment Program for a second time. The only sanction the school imposed upon the student assailant was to temporarily bench him on the basketball court.

There is more than one moral to this story. The complaint of many on our side that the judicial system is intolerably punitive throughout the nation bears no relation to reality.  In many jurisdictions, criminal behavior is met with the cliched slap-on-the-wrist.

But as with Ohio State University (sorry, Buckeyes:  The Ohio State University), Penn State University, and many Division I colleges everywhere, sports reign supreme, over academics and sometimes even the law, in high schools like Forest Hills Central.   As Digby puts it  

But hey, a basketball scholarship for a very popular jock was at stake here. She should have known that her bodily integrity was nothing in comparison and should have been happy to volunteer to serve as his sexual plaything for such an important cause. She really has no one to blame but herself. 

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