Culture and Media, Steubenville Edition

Written January 7th, 2013 by Ken

In 1968 Andy Warhol said that, “Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” This was prior to existing social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Andy might think that 15 minutes might be a bit on the low side these days. In May of 2012 I did an article at TSB where I commented on another article by Rob Oller regarding athletes’ (or anyone else’s, for that matter) use of social media.

Fast forward to August 11, 2012 in Steubenville, Ohio. I don’t have the stomach to relate the details of the particulars, but you should read about the allegations here, here and here. My comments below will be centered on the articles. Cliff Notes version: An end-of summer party got out of hand and two Steubenville high school football players are accused of the assault of a 16 year old girl. Due to high levels of inebriation, the girl, and her parents were not aware of the assault until they came across it on social media. [Ed: let that sink in for a moment]. The case is scheduled to come to trial in mid-February.

To be clear, the evidence, and stories coming out of this event, as horrific as they seem, should not be a basis for determining guilt in this case; that’s for the court of law to determine. We need to let this play out in the judicial system.

Two areas where I want to focus my comments were the mindset of the party-goers and the recording of the events. First, I’m no choirboy, so underage drinking doesn’t shock me. However, you don’t need to be a choirboy to find the allegation beyond the pale that several members of the SHS football team thought it was okay to abuse the girl. Worse yet, evidently no bystanders felt these actions were wrong nor attempted to intervene. In fact, it seems they regarded the girl as a party favor, to be passed around and enjoyed. After all, the players were integral to the team, and the team’s success was a component of the Steubenville community. The community is split on this issue, although I have no idea why, and the fact they are split is very telling.

From the NYT article:

Bill Miller, a painter who played for Big Red in the 1980s, said the coach was to blame because he was too lenient with players regarding bad behavior off the field.

“There’s a set of rules that don’t apply to everybody,” he said of what he called the favoritism regarding the players. “This has been happening since the early ’80s; this is nothing new. It’s disgusting. I can’t stand it. The culture is not what it should be. It’s not clean.”

Also from the NYT:

Even without much official public information about the night, some people in town are skeptical of the police account, like Nate Hubbard, a Big Red volunteer coach.

As he stood in the shadow of Harding Stadium, where he once dazzled the crowd with his runs, Hubbard gave voice to some of the popular, if harsh, suspicions.

“The rape was just an excuse, I think,” said the 27-year-old Hubbard, who is No. 2 on the Big Red’s career rushing list.

“What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that?” said Hubbard, who is one of the team’s 19 coaches. [Ed: emphasis mine] “She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it.”

Head Coach Reno Saccoccia

I’m not sure where to begin with this one, aside from being surprised that a team has a need for 19 coaches. Let’s start with “blame the victim”, then move on to “sure hope it doesn’t affect our football team”. What does the SHS head football coach have to say about all of this?

Again, NYT:

..everybody knows Coach Reno Saccoccia. He has coached two generations of players at Big Red and has won 3 state titles and 85 percent of his games, according to the team’s Web site. The football team’s field is named Reno Field.

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. [Ed: emphasis mine] Because of that, he said, he had no basis for benching those players.

The two players who testified at a hearing in early October to determine if there was enough evidence to continue the case were eventually suspended from the team. That came eight games into the 10-game regular season.

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.”

Based upon the allegations, I ‘m curious to find out what the players would find “wrong”. Coach Saccoccia also seems to need a little work in refining his media relations. But then again, if you’ve been around for a couple generations and have the team’s field named in your honor, he likely doesn’t care.

As for social media, I don’t understand why bystanders/onlookers made the effort to record/comment on the alleged acts, unless they felt it would be way cooler to do that than to intervene. Was it to preserve their own version of entertaining reality TV? Frankly, I think the social media component may be just a sideshow to events that night. However, it’s become clear that several people who recorded and commented have begun to delete their posts in an attempt to seemingly suppress or destroy evidence.

There have been several protestations from the Steubenville community to not look at the town nor the school nor the football team in a negative light because of this case.

“The buzz that keeps coming about is that Steubenville is a bad place, things are being covered up, more people should be arrested and I feel that’s all unjustly so,” said Jerry Barilla, a longtime store owner. “Because I think that to condemn an entire city for something that happened is not right. To condemn an entire school and all the kids that go there for something that took place among a few students is still not right.”

To be honest, I agree with Jerry. What has to happen to prevent his fears being realized, is that the community needs to step forward with any and all evidence to preclude any accusations of shading or cover-up. If they do, the community and all involved will have an opportunity to resolve this and hopefully move forward. If not, living in a town whose best days may be behind it, will be the lesser stigma.

The most important lesson to learn from all of this may be that in this age of the proliferation of Social Media people may find it easier, or even safer, to record rather than act – almost as if Social Media were helping to exacerbate the Bystander Effect.  We are seeing first hand how that mentality has consequences of its own, perhaps nearly as serious as the accusations themselves.

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