Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The article in a recent New York Times concerning an alleged rape of a high-school girl by two star football players on the Steubenville, Ohio high-school football team resurrected memories of my time living in Steubenville.
During World War ll my parents and I lived in Steubenville when I attended junior high-school and half of my freshman year in high-school. Steubenville and Weirton West Virginia across the Ohio River were a center for steel mills spewing out war materials for the military. My father was an electrician for the Pennsylvania Railroad helping to keep the trains running smoothly, also valuable to the war effort.
The local newspaper, the Herald Star, was my first employer. I had a paper route of more than a hundred customers. This was before TV and everyone took the paper. My route was contained in a few city blocks. A group of us who had routes would wait each afternoon at the neighborhood grocery store for our bundled papers. Often to pass the time, we would play touch football in the street, dodging the busses as they went by. After the paper truck dropped our papers off, we would untie them and put our papers in a bag with a shoulder strap and walk our route folding as we went and throwing the papers onto the waiting porches. There was an art to this. A missed porch meant regaining the paper and making sure it reached its chosen target. Saturday morning was collection day, and we went door to door to each customer for payment, taking the collection down the hill to the paper office to pay for the papers we had received, keeping a small portion for our daily efforts.
But about the NY Times article. It’s point was that two local star athletes were likely to go unpunished for their heinous acts against a drunk and almost comatose young girl because the high-school football team was the main prideful organization in a now declining rust-belt community. This team had won state championships in a competitive group of high-schools up an down the Ohio River. Schools such as Martins Ferry, Akron, and Massilon, the home of Paul Brown who started a career in that high-school that ended as the coach of one of the greatest professional football teams, which is still named for him. The local pride in the Steubenville team was more important than the wellbeing of that young woman to some, including the school officials and the coach.
What happened to me is minor compared to the experience of that poor girl, but it is indicative of the same attitude, and I have never forgotten it.
The high-school, when I attended it, was large and intimidating to me. The event I remember took place in the gym. It was the first gym class of my freshman year. The gym was dark. After the instructor took attendance he disappeared. I later realized that he was giving the upper-class men a chance to haze the new freshmen. I did my best to be as unobtrusive as possible. I saw some of my fellow freshmen being worked over pretty well. After a bit there was a very large person standing in front of me and I was certainly apprehensive. He looked at me for a few seconds, took his right foot and swiped my feet from under me. I crashed to the floor and lay there hoping nothing else was going to happen to me.
I found out later that the large person was Don Joyce, the star quarterback of the football team. When attending a game, I noticed that he was also was the punter. It was a cold winter game, and he was punting with a bare foot. He went on to be a lineman for the Minnesota Vikings.
I later moved to a smaller city near Pittsburgh and played on an inept football team. But even there several hundred fans would turn out on Saturday afternoon to see our attempts at the game. As in Steubenville football mania existed because nothing else much happened in the town. This kind of hero worship corrupts sports and results in the events written about Steubenville and Penn State and many other schools around the country and I am afraid it cannot be reversed.