Steubenville, Ohio is not historically Peyton Place, and in fact is better known for glass factories, pottery, iron and steel industries than for scandal. Steubenville like a lot of small towns across America are known for high school football, but in recent months scandal has come to Steubenville and the Big Red, Steubenville High School's football team.
Saturday, August 11, 2011 began a controversy in this town of just over 18,000 along the banks of the Ohio River that has now turned this small town of athletic pride into a modern-day Peyton Place. An alleged rape by two of Big Red's football players, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond of a 16 year-old girl from West Virginia who has been described as unconscious from the use of alcohol, has divided its citizens.
On August 22 the two boys were arrested, charged with rape and kidnapping, and are currently awaiting their collective trial. A trial that as recently as this past week has had motions filed and withdrawn by a defense attorney to close the trial. Judge Thomas Lipps now must consider the statements from both the girl's attorney and the defense, but will be ruling without a motion. The office of Attorney General Mike DeWine is prosecuting the case.
Perhaps the media has been fueled by what centers around a football team, but not just any team. Steubenville High School, known as Big Red, has had back to back undefeated seasons and repeat championships. In a small town, big winners like Big Red are often the anchor of a community, the proverbial tie that binds. So when something like rape and scandal come to light, people take sides and the Steubenville story has now brought national attention to small town America.
The night of the incident has a modern day twist involving social media as other students attending the party posted to twitter and took pictures of what will be determined in court as rape or as the defense may argue consensual sex. The divisive nature of these evident posts is that some believe that a coverup in the name of nepotism and football would have occurred had it not been for social media. Steubenville in the 1990's had a history of corruption with its police force leading to a Department of Justice investigation.
Since the arrests of Mays and Richmond, a once rallied town with a high school football team at its very core has become increasingly divided. Leaks of videos, pictures and social media posts have found their way to hackers, some of which mock the alleged victim. A website for Steubenville High School whose primary focus was the school's athletics was also hacked.
While accusations continue to circle around the story and city officials, the courts will ultimately decide the fate of two 16 year-old boys whose alleged actions if found guilty are perhaps more a sign of our culture. Football is the heart and soul of many small towns, but football isn't above the law. A young girl may have been drinking underage and too much, but what allegedly happened next is not about football, and this is where a small town should come together and not be divided.