Most Americans were outraged when they read about the brutal gang-rape in India. The report of a 23-year-old woman raped so viciously that she died from her injuries made our collective stomachs turn. Like most of us, I was grateful that I live here. In America that sort of thing doesn’t happen. If it does happen, the perpetrators are brought to justice swiftly. This is America, we specialize in outrage. We have the greatest justice system in the world. We all know that rape is bad, that nobody asks for it, and that if someone is accused of rape that accusation will be taken seriously.
Unless you’re on a football team.
I can’t help but draw a comparison between the gang-rape in India and the rape scandals that seem to plague the American institution of football. Penn State, Notre Dame, and Steubenville High School have all been accused of covering up or ignoring rape allegations in order to protect their football programs. In Penn State’s case it was more than a mere allegation. Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of sexual assault of underage boys. The bigger scandal was that the hierarchy at Penn State, including the infamous head coach Joe Paterno, deliberately concealed this information in order to protect the team.
For 15 years Sandusky got away with raping young boys to protect a football program. After an investigation the NCAA vacated all of Penn State’s wins from 1988-2011, they were fined $60 million, and banned from bowl games for four years. I read many posts about how the NCAA was punishing the students of Penn State. I disagreed then and I disagree now. The students of Penn State have been punished, that’s true. But they were not punished by the NCAA, they were punished by Joe Paterno and his band of lackeys who let a child rapist run free in the name of football. If you ask me, the NCAA didn’t go far enough. Penn State should never be able to have a football program again. If that means fewer students attend and the school fails, good.
I say that because it didn’t stop with Penn State. In August a young girl woke up to a storm of social media pictures and posts about her sexual assault. She was too drunk to remember being assaulted, fondled, and dragged from house to house like a sexual plaything by members of the Steubenville, Ohio football team. Allegedly, the local police did not follow regular procedures when they investigated the incident. Why? Because the accused were football players. A young girl assaulted while others looked on, took pictures, tweeted, snap chatted, and facebooked about it, not one person tried to stop it, then the police allegedly dragged their feet so as not to implicate their star players.
Melinda Henneberger of The Washington Post investigated a similar incident at Notre Dame. In August of 2010 a young girl named Lizzy Seeberg reported a sexual assault by a Notre Dame football player. Lizzy would be dead before that football player was ever interviewed. No, she did not die from her injuries. She committed suicide 10 days after courageously reporting the sexual assault. Ten days she spent waiting for them to talk to the player. Ten days after receiving threatening texts from other players saying things like, “Don’t mess with Notre Dame football.” The case will never go to trial. The accused will never be identified. Ms. Henneberger interviewed a rape victim who refused to report her rape because of what happened to Lizzy. I know there is a chance the player is innocent. Maybe Lizzy is the aggressive, slutty college girl his lawyer and Notre Dame have made her out to be, despite all evidence to the contrary from people who knew her.
My problem is with the administration at Notre Dame who investigate all crimes. They chose not to interview this young man immediately. He has never missed a practice, game, or other football obligation due to being accused of sexual assault. One wonders if they ever would have had Lizzy not taken her own life. Just like one wonders what evidence the authorities in Steubenville could have gathered if they weren’t so busy protecting their team. Or how many young lives wouldn’t have been ruined if someone at Penn State had the guts to say, we have to stop Jerry Sandusky.
If Americans want to be outraged about something, perhaps it is time we turn that outrage to ourselves. I want to live in an America where everyone gets a fair trial, but in order for that to happen we can’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. We can do better than this. We can live in a place that no matter what the status of the person you are accusing, they can still be at least questioned by the authorities. And if that person is guilty, I want to live in a place where they have to pay for their actions. Even if it means losing a football game.