The teens who violated a teenaged girl were found guilty on Sunday, and Sunday is when television journalists and pundits are live for hours on end. They had plenty of time to say things they no doubt regret now. Many of them empathized with the boys, who were tried as juveniles and will serve just a few years in detention. If they had been tried as adults their lives may indeed have been "ruined." Because they were tried as juvies, their college football careers are "ruined," but not their lives. They will have decades of freedom after they get out, at the tender age of 21.
Later, the father of one of the boys admitted to not being much of a father and to having regrets for not helping the boy to develop better morals. I wanted to reach through the telly and hug that guy! And the journalist on the scene did point out that the girl was violated. So I'd rate CNN just a smidge higher than the wailing classes, but only a smidge.
So anyway, I had to ask why was there so much sympathy for the boys and not for the victim? The telly and blogs and Facebook weren't cutting it for me. It's another Rorschach test in the media. What people have been saying says more about themselves than the situation.
So why not just jump in and risk revealing more about myself than enlightening the situation? I do have a few thoughts, and I did give this some thought. No knee-jerk reaction here. (I was still too sleepy to be outraged at the time)
For one, the boys were on TV and the victim wasn't. Her face is never shown on TV. We sympathize with people we SEE. One boy broke into tears in court. Big strapping football-playing girl-raping macho boy turned into a ball of boo-hoo. We're not used to seeing guys cry. We're not used to seeing anybody cry, really. So... we saw him cry when he received his verdict. We didn't see the girl cry when she learned that pictures of her naked body were on the internet. So naturally, people reacted to what was shown to them. It takes a further leap of imagination to consider what the girl felt about the whole thing. In the heat of the moment, the excitement of "BREAKING NEWS" and all, they didn't go that extra step.
These are indeed very good values, but they are not moral values. They are life skills. On the other side, they get special favors and are cheered by their school, the local paper, and boosters (community fans). Their elevated status gives them a sense of privilege and innoculation against the consequences of destructive actions. They operate as an island culture, far removed from the rules of everyday society. The football team has special perks, a group of cheerleaders (who cheers at science fairs?), and an audience to show off in front of. When a sports hero, even a small-town minor one, turns out to be immoral, the media are shocked.
If you are the graduate of a public high school in the United States (or a Catholic one, if you grew up where I did), you don't need to be told this. At the college level it's even worse. At my small liberal arts school, the football players were the worst behaved students at the school despite our perpeturally low standing in our "league" and the total lack of a future in football for those guys. They were held in some regard for the mere reason that they played football. We had some truly stellar genius-level students in other fields. They didn't have their own frat house, and the newspaper didn't write about them. The football team had a culture of its own, marked by cheating and drinking and drug-dealing. As a team, they were "cohesive," and none of this ever came out though it was a well-known "secret." One of my friends was the girlfriend and later wife, of one of these guys. Out of deference to her I won't go into more detail. Suffice it to say, they are not the pillars of the institution that our society wants to believe them to be.
So.... a sports "star" getting a jail sentence is a kind of a man-bites-dog story if you've bought into the lie that sports builds character and if you don't question their privilege.
And then we have the priesthood. They live in a fraternity house, have ready access to all the wine they want, enjoy (at least until recently) automatic respect and trust of the community by virtue of membership on a revered "team," and they are presumed to be exemplars of morality for the community. Like football players, they got away with sex crimes and for centuries nobody dared question them. If they did get caught, their bishop or cardinal or pope smoothed things out for them or blew off the victims' concerns just as the Steubenville coach did. (Want to bet that coach dropped Rohypnol into a few girls' drinks when he was in college?)
I have often heard it said that football is a religion. It seems even more so this week.