Steubenville Rape Case: Can the Football Team Survive the Scandal?


Steubenville was once a steel town. It is now a football town. In the talent-rich Ohio River Valley, Steubenville is Goliath to the high school football game. Since 1984, “Big Red” has won three state titles. Every time a touchdown is scored, a 12-foot rearing-replica of the fabled racing horse Man O’ War shoots a 6-foot stream of fire from its mouth.

Today “Big Red” is playing defense and everyone else in Steubenville is spouting fire.

On Wednesday, Steubenville football players — wide receiver, Ma‘Lik Richmond, 16, and quarterback, Trent Mays, 17 — will be prosecuted for the alleged rape of unidentified girl, Jane Doe, 16, of West Virginia. Odds are that the ruling will be lenient for the defendants. Blundered police work and home field advantage should weigh heavily in their favor. It is up to the prosecution to prove that these teens are guilty. 

The football town in recent months has become nationally recognized for indiscretion in matters relating to the welfare of adolescent girls and their relations with Steubenville football players. Jane Doe is not a lone victim. Last April at a Steubenville football party, a unidentified 14-year-old girl was allegedly sexually-assaulted. Her investigation is ongoing and being treated as a separate matter.

The Jane Doe event occurred on August 11 later that year. The wide receiver and quarterback met with the unidentified 16-year-old the evening of — at a house party, in Steubenville. There was drinking. The party moved to a second location. The victim was reported to be so drunk she could not walk or string together comprehensive sentences. 

On August 22, 2012, both quarterback and wide receiver were indicted after photographs and video surfaced on the internet — a whole 10 days after the fact — social media put up an instant-red flag for the authorities to ignore. The night of the alleged rape, browser’s like twitter began referring to the incident; former Big Red athlete, Michael Nodianos tweeted, “Song of the night is definitely ‘Rape Me,’ by Nirvana.” 

The hallmark of the investigation is an Instagram image. It captures Richmond and Mays holding up the young girl by her wrists and ankles like an animal being brought out to spit, unconscious and incapable of consent. The image is disturbing in its universal silence; three students — Anthony Craig and football players Mark Cole and Evan Westlake — were witnesses to the wrongdoing. They documented the night's indiscretion but remained silent throughout the interaction. They made no effort to stop it. 

Ohio law prosecutes this type of negligence. However, these witnesses have not been indicted — inciting outrage. Had they not deleted the media and photographs from their cell phones, prosecutors have claimed, they would have been brought up on charges. A alleged video by Craig, written about in the New York Times, apparently captures Mays exposing himself to the unconscious girl, while Richmond is behind her, with his hands between her legs, penetrating her with his fingers.

Jackie Hillyer president of the Ohio chapter of the National Organization for Woman laments, “Anyone that they can show had firsthand knowledge and was partly responsible for the event, the rape, they should be charged.  At the very least charges of failure to report a crime are punishable by 30 days incarceration and a $250 fine.” 

It took the work of the Anonymous hacker-collective to catalyze the investigation, uncover and release information, including: private photographs and videos previously unobtainable to mainstream journalists. The work of the hacker collective broke open the mired investigation and put pressure on policing efforts perceived as corrupt. Fifteen phones and two iPads were eventually confiscated. After further investigation, experts at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation recovered two naked photographs of the girl from Trent May’s iPhone. These serve to supplement charges against him. Craig’s video of the rape was not recovered — there is no smoking gun.

At the sentencing the defense will argue that the 16-year-old girl was making a conscious choice when she was unconsciously penetrated by the two football players; first in the back of a moving car and later in the basement of a house, through puke and pale — producing mind nil-enough to remember nothing the following day. Jane Doe cannot testify in court because she does not remember anything — that will most certainly be used against her. In a recent 20/20 interview, Richmond’s defense reiterated their stance that she was consenting because she was able to recite her cell phone password.

Outside the Steubenville Juvenile Courthouse the community remains divided. Women’s groups rally but so do those in support of the boys. The rhetoric has been anything but clean. The victim’s parents have had to employ security to patrol their grounds after numerous threats against their lives. In deference to the despicable allegations, the perceived witness testimonies and the horrifying images of teenage excess, the boosters of Steubenville still boost and rally; like so many of their leaders have from the beginning.

No institution is indomitable but here in Steubenville the home team has a distinct advantage. Police failed to act aggressively and evidence was floundered. Positions of prosecutor and judge were forfeited because community ties were compromised and the deified Coach Reno Saccoccia exaggerated his position of power and was forced to resign. 

In the “Valley of Death,” at Harding Stadium on Reno Saccoccia Field, the only thing worth saving is football, but whether it can be saved, remains to be seen — it may indeed rest in the ruling of a judge.