National Columnist

Don't confuse the Steubenville story with a football story

Two Steubenville football players are found guilty of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl. (AP)
Two Steubenville football players are found guilty of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl. (AP)

The danger of Steubenville is that it gives us the chance to point the finger at them, whoever they are. The football team or the city that worships it. The coach. The players. The culture.

It's them. Not us. That's what Steubenville did.

That's the lie this story told. The media told it, and you believed it. Lots of you, anyway. All of you? No, probably not. But too many of you -- too many of us -- followed the story of rape in a small football town and decided that was the way to frame it.

Rape. Small town. Football.

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Almost comforting, right? Because you don't live in a small town -- or if you do, you don't live in a small town that adores and maybe even worships football like Steubenville does. What happened in Steubenville couldn't happen in your town or mine, because your town or mine doesn't look, think or act like Steubenville.

That's the danger here. That's the lie. Because the truth is, what happened in Steubenville didn't happen because the kids there play football, or because the city there loves football. What happened there wasn't a football story at all.

It was a society story.

The decay in Steubenville? That wasn't caused by football. That was caused by people.

And people are everywhere.

Look at the horror in India, where last week a Swiss couple was allegedly attacked -- police say the husband was beaten, the wife raped -- by a pack of six local men, three months after a similar gang rape in New Delhi that killed a young woman. That wasn't football, wasn't Steubenville, wasn't even America. That was people -- men. Men masquerading as animals, or maybe vice versa.

Look at the horror in our own military. Last week men and women of the U.S. military testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel about the culture of sexual assault among those who are supposed to defend our country. Here's a scary sentence from a news story out of Washington last week: An estimated 19,000 sexual assaults happen every year to service members, according to the Department of Defense's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. Only 20 percent of the assaults are reported, and just 8 percent go to trial. Those are the facts.

There are similar facts throughout society near and far, from India to Steubenville and back again. But you wouldn't know that from the hysteria coming out of Ohio in recent weeks. The hysteria served its purpose on the micro level -- the adolescent monsters who assaulted a teenage girl didn't get away with it -- but it did a disservice to the truth on a much larger scale, the truth being that this isn't a story about football or a small town's infatuation with it.

Were there people in Steubenville who cared more about the accused young men and the football culture they represented than the truth of what happened that night? Sure there were. And still are. There is evil in that town, and it's not all tucked safely behind bars.

But there is evil in every town, even ones that don't have football. What happened in Steubenville is what happened in India and what happens 19,000 times a year in the U.S. military and so many more times than that elsewhere in this country and beyond: Men can be animals, scared and weak little boys whose immaturity and selfishness are childlike and therefore no match for their man-sized defects of character.

Men are not raised, not here or abroad, to protect the vulnerable among us. They are raised -- we are raised -- to get what we can, to exploit who we can, because Lord knows the day will come where we will be exploited by someone with more power than us. It's a food chain, society is, and you're either predator or prey.

At some point in our lifetime we will be both, or we will have the opportunity to be both. The weaker men (and in some cases women) among us will give in when the chance arises to be predator. There's a young woman, either passed out or close to it or maybe just walking alone, able to be picked off by one of us or a small group of us. She is ours because she is in our vicinity, because life has been hard on us and what kind of weak loser would we be if we didn't take the chance to make life hard for her? This is our turn. Our time.

That's how the animals among us think. At least, that's how I imagine they think. What I don't imagine is that they think, "I play football, therefore I can take what I want." That's wishful thinking, as if football or sports in general is the problem here, and as long as we live in a community that doesn't worship football or some other sport, we'll be OK.

We won't be OK. Not in any community, anywhere. Not until we stamp out the decay of predatory weakness that rots society in small towns in Ohio and large cities in India and too many places in between.

Don't be fooled by what happened in Steubenville. What happened there didn't happen because something is wrong with them. It happened because something is wrong with us.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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