The Steubenville rape scandal seemed to reach something of a conclusion when two football players were found guilty of raping a girl during a party last August. Certainly, more questions remained — from whether adults were aware of the incident and worked to cover it up, to how the trial might affect a culture of excess that has grown up around the sports program. At the very least, we now had a judge’s ruling that a crime was committed that night. In response to the ruling, the Steubenville community has come together to support the biggest victim of all: Steubenville football coach Reno Saccoccia.
You may remember Saccoccia from a series of texts sent by convicted rapist Trent Mays to his fellow rapist Ma’lik Richardson in the days following their rape of a 16-year-old. In one, Mays said, “I got Reno. He took care of it and shit ain’t gonna happen, even if they did take it to court. Like he was joking about it so I’m not worried.”
Saccoccia has never explained what that text meant, what Saccoccia had done to take care of things, or what hilarious rape jokes he was telling the rapist who played for him. Indeed, Saccoccia may well have violated Ohio’s mandatory reporting laws; if he was aware of the sexual assault of a minor, as a school employee he was legally bound to report it. A similar failure brought down coaching legend Joe Paterno at Penn State University, and Saccoccia will face a grand jury investigation into his actions.
Despite all this, Steubenville residents have begun loudly defending “Coach Sac,” calling those who demand his ouster “haters” who are jealous of “a great football program and coach.” On a since-deleted Facebook event page, Saccoccia’s supporters called on Steubenville residents to rally in his support on March 30 at 4 P.M.
“This man does alot [sic] for kids, you cannot blame a coach for the actions of a few kids!” said the event page, which was put together by Jackie Sacripanti. The page made no mention of the rape victim, nor did it mention any of the controversy surrounding Saccoccia’s actions.
Saccoccia and his staff have been handling the debacle indelicately, including one assistant coach, Nate Hubbard, who told the New York Times that the rape charges were a “rush to judgment.”
“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 played for Saccoccia in High School. “She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it.”
Whatever Saccoccia’s supporters may think, however, the simple fact is that two of his players raped a girl, and at least one of them went to Saccoccia to try to take care of the matter. Unfortunately for Mays, and fortunately for justice, Saccoccia could not prevent him from being found delinquent.
Saccoccia may be hoping his supporters will take care of the legal and ethical charges swirling around him and his program. That their continued insistence that Saccoccia is a great man and that the victim of the rape doesn’t really matter will help a winning coach keep his job. And perhaps it will — sadly, we’ve seen rape ignored many times before by those who put winning ahead of victims. What his supporters cannot do, however, is wash away Saccoccia’s sins. He will always be the “leader of men” who, when made aware that some of those men might be rapists, was willing to crack a joke and suggest that he could maybe take care of the problem. If that’s the price of winning, it’s far, far too high.
Image Credit: Daniel Herrick