Over the last twenty four hours I have followed the revelations emerging from Steubenville, Ohio with an increasing sense of dismay. Shock that such a thing could happen and a growing sense of foreboding that, not only can it happen but it is almost inevitable.
Despite reading the reports with a healthy amount of skepticism, it is clear that something deeply disturbing happened in Steubenville last August. I do not accept, at face value, statements made on the internet, either in posts on blogs, Facebook, Twitter or even in media reports. Too many are the result of partial reporting or Chinese whispers yet the weight of accumulating evidence suggests something rotten, even if the conclusions are yet to be tested.
It would be nice to have the luxury of simply dismissing this case as a one-off, an aberration. Justice will have it's day in court, we will shake our heads sadly, and move on. That would be nice.
However, we do not really have that luxury if we posses even a shred, an ounce, the tiniest scintilla of integrity; because this is not the first, will not be the last, and is simply a tawdry part of a corrupt pattern of behaviour where this time they were caught at it.
We may have been able to dismiss this incident had Penn State not happened. The Penn State scandal peeled the scab off a side of American society that we have closed our eyes to for far too long. Anyone associated with a High School has known, or suspected, for years that all is not well, and Penn State, and now Steubenville are demonstrating just how far we are fallen.
What shocked me about Penn State was not the crime, distressing as that was. Pedophiles gravitate to positions where they can gain access to children, that has been known for a long time and the fact that we will root one out occasionally, despite our best defenses, is not surprising. No, what shocked me was both the cover-up attempts, and the protests from some of the student body, their fit of pique at potentially losing their football apparently trumping their compassion for the victims.
It seems that we are in grave danger, if we have not done so already, of allowing two dangerous and corrupting influences to inform our next generation of adults. The double blows of a warped moral compass, evidenced by the student protests, and the notion that money and power are not to be challenged or confronted. Money and power are to be worshiped and revered, and if that means kids have to be brutalised, girls blamed for their own rapes .... well that sucks but .... football.
During one of my early trips to the US, and shortly before I moved here permanently I went to a High School football game. It was in a small Oklahoma town mot dissimilar to Steubenville, Ohio, but with a rather less successful program. I blogged about it at the time, and later regurgitated that blog post into a little-noticed Daily Kos Diary.
The whole event was an eye-opener for me. I come from a land where sport is akin to a religion too. We play football with a different shaped ball, but make no mistake, it is equally tribal and fiercely supported. We call our version "the beautiful game", and having seen both, I still think that.
My surprise stemmed from the fact that this was a school game. In my high school, indeed in all UK high schools, the school games are on open, wind and rain swept fields attended only by a few Dads and the occasional passer-by walking the dog. It was ever thus and although that might seem strange to you, it is normal to me. Sport in school is extensive, the competition fierce and the skill levels can be high. Despite that it remains a strictly amateur event that is no more important than the chess club, and rather less well attended than the school play. There is no money, no boosters, and no local TV personalities arriving in helicopters. If you want a hot drink at a game ... well a vacuum flask is your friend.
Imagine my surprise on attending an event more reminiscent of a local professional team than a school, with a stadium, an entry fee, concession stands and even a marching band. Where I come from you don't get marching bands even at professional stadia; you get Bill, the eighty-year-old announcer who has been playing the same scratched records, over the same appalling PA system, since before the war.
I have to admit that there are aspects of school sports here that I think the UK could learn a lot from. There is also an involvement of the local community in the schools that I deeply admire and respect for its positive attributes, yet I am also coming to realise that there are also dangers in this system that are being evidenced in Steubenville, and Penn State. Elsewhere too, I have no doubts.
The risks associated are two-fold. When professionals play sport and receive the adulation and plaudits that come from success, it is adults we are dealing with and even then they tend to fall from grace more frequently than we would like. We suggest that they should behave more positively, yet on a major level we are gifted with O J Simpson and Michael Vick and many others who, to a greater or lesser degree, behave in a manner that suggests that they should not be role-models for any of our kids.
What do we think is likely to happen when we raise teenagers to a similar status in their local communities? Not only in giving credit for a job well done, but also raising them in an environment that doesn't allow them to fail. A school that excuses or ignores the fact that a student should be academically ineligible to play, but we are in the post season and we need our star running back. When teachers are never actually told to give the failing student a passing grade, but the entire faculty understands that the whole town will blame them if they fail the kid and the team loses.
Do they think that the students don't know this is done? Have our values become so distorted that the message we send to our kids is secondary to the result of a football game? Is that where we are, and happy to be? I can tell you what happens if you go down that road.
That path ends up with the team members bragging about a rape on video. Safe and secure in the knowledge that the Sheriff, the Prosecutor, the Coach and every other adult and authority figure in their lives will shield them, and provide immunity for their actions regardless of the gravity of the crime.
And the victim of a grotesquely violent crime?
Well she was a slut. She had it coming. She asked for it. Did you see those blue shorts she was wearing? The girl was practically naked anyway. Parading it in front of healthy young men full of testosterone and beer, and certain that they were, like our banks, too big to fail.
Those boys may or may not have committed a violent crime. That is a matter for the investigators and the courts and I will not pre-judge it here. Yet what I saw on those videos was shocking. I saw young men with no concept of moral or decent behaviour. I saw boys who I would warn my daughter about, because they displayed attitudes that we should find abhorrent. I saw young men who really should not be allowed anywhere near a high school, let alone be lauded as the stars of the football team and yet they do not bear the full burden of the blame or the responsibility.
They have to share that with the Sheriff. They share it also with the School, it's administrators and the coaching staff. They share it with the other adults in the town seeking to diminish a rape, and they share it with their parents. The whole rotten system has let those boys down, and deserted the victim in a manner that can only be described as shameful.
If you think that this is not happening in the school your child attends ... Well you might want to check that because I am not so trusting anymore, and I am sad about that.
In a country obsessed with "stranger danger", where we are very keen to teach our children of the sanctity of their bodies. Where we are so righteous about the exposing of "perverts", to the point where we create public lists that they are forever shamed and hounded. This America, where pedophiles are reviled and shunned ... unless they are involved in sport because then they represent the American Dream, and the corrupt dollars that support it.
Then we elevate those same child abusers and rapists onto a pedestal so high that to confront their behaviour is unthinkable. It must be covered up, diminished, maybe the victim blamed. To do any other might have the unpalatable consequence of destroying the entire artificial and unhealthy society we are building. A society where money and power are not to be challenged. Where the order we create is the path of the righteous, and the just. Where compassion is weakness and real Americans carry guns and Bibles, unable to understand the dangers of the former, and so uncritical that they do not understand the latter.