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Monday, Mar 18 2013 11:00 PM

Institutions' complicity on trial again

By The Bakersfield Californian

A prominent institution, hurt by undercurrents of impropriety, faces an ethical decision: Continue to sweep things under the rug and hope they go away, or honor its collective moral and legal responsibility and step forward, even though it will hurt.

The Catholic Church? Absolutely. The administration and football program of Penn State University? Definitely. The Boy Scouts of America? So it seems.

Add another highly regarded fraternity to that parade of administrative shame: Coaches and parents associated with the revered and dominating high school football program in Steubenville, Ohio. Two football players there were convicted Sunday of the rape of a 16-year-old girl last summer. Now the Ohio attorney general wants to know why the head football coach, among other adults in that Iron Belt community of 18,000, perhaps including some who are legally compelled to report alleged sexual assault involving minors, did not step forward at the time they became aware of the attacks more than seven months ago.

An isolated controversy like this involving one small Ohio town might seem inconsequential compared to the other cases cited here, with their multitude of victims. But in a way, Steubenville hits home just as hard. Cities and towns across the U.S. regard high school football as something akin to religion. It is the social glue that holds together many communities and generations of townfolk. Even in larger cities that have many schools competing in football, certain teams command a reverence that has grown out of success achieved over many years. Consider Bakersfield High School, with its seven state titles and 35 valley championships.

Steubenville, whose beloved football team has won nine Ohio state championships, seems not to have wanted to tarnish that glory. And, like other, far greater institutions that have similarly stumbled, the town's football community has only made things immeasurably worse. Steubenville, a classic Anytown USA given its affection for that most American of Friday night pastimes, underscores our need to keep things in perspective. Football is football and pride is pride. Our responsibility to the welfare of our children is something far greater, no matter how inconvenient that might be.

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