Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sexual assault: just about the worst thing in the world.

Bears repeating for reasons that'll become clear enough.

Joe Posnanski, the best sportswriter in the galaxy, linked to a story on Twitter with the headline, "Cheerleader must compensate school that told her to clap 'rapist'." In the piece, we learn the story of  "HS," a Texas high school student who claimed she was raped by a basketball player at a house party when she was 16. The assailant pled guilty to a misdemeanor, which left him free to rejoin the basketball team. A miscarriage of justice? Maybe. One teen's word against another. We can't know.

HS joined the cheerleading squad, but was removed after refusing to cheer her assailant while he was shooting a free throw. The school superintendent then pulled her aside and told her if she wasn't willing to cheer for every player, she'd have to leave the team. She did so, sued the school, lost, and was ordered to pay $45,000 in compensation to the school.

The facts paint the young girl, as a sympathetic figure, but they're seldom the whole story. We don't have a grasp on the tone of the incident, which is the key to how you see the thing. Did she gracefully bow out of the spotlight, or was she brazen in her defiance? And if that's the case, how do you tolerate a member of the cheer squad turning into a sandwich board on a nightly basis? 

Then you make the case that the player should have been off the team. Fair. At that point, though, you have to make a rule and apply it to everyone, or it's vigilante justice. Do you remove everyone who commits a crime from math club, band, scholastic bowl, et al.? And hope they won't cause more trouble in their newfound free time?

Sexual assault is an awful thing, but it's not the biggest part of this story. Too often we see a headline and become blind to any lapse in judgment on the part of the victim. Apart from Osama's death and the 12 different kinds of jelly beans I got for Easter, America is awesome because our grievances can be heard. But nobody forced HS to file litigation, and nobody prevented her from knowing what the outcome might be if she lost.