The Steubenville rape case is, for all legal purposes, over. The two defendants, both star players on the football team, will likely go to jail until their 21st birthdays for the crime of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl. There will be no repercussions for their teammates, who filmed and shared videos and photos of the assault, and kept them from authorities. And the head coach of the Steubenville Big Red, who according to witness testimony was aware of the incident and actively worked to make it go away, remains coach.
Reno Saccoccia is a local legend, in the way that 30-year coaches of football powerhouses in economically depressed Ohio Valley towns tend to be legends. He's in the Ohio Coaches Hall of Fame. He's won three state titles. When Saccoccia won his 300th game last year, a sellout crowd of more than 10,000 people packed Harding Stadium—christened "Reno Field" in 2007—and chanted "Reno, Reno, Reno" as he left the field.
He breakfasts regularly with the sheriff. His sister-in-law works in the county's juvenile court, where he is licensed as a mediator. He "molds young boys into men." So how did Saccoccia react when he got word that two of his young boys were accused of raping a passed-out student?
On the night of the assault, a Steubenville student recorded this video joking about it. Off-camera, someone says "Trent and Ma'lik raped someone." Among the text messages released at the trial of Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, one sent by Mays indicated that Saccoccia had seen the video:
Deleate that off You-tube. Coach Sac knows about it. Seriously delete it.
Saccoccia would later claim he was unaware of the social media evidence, angrily telling a reporter that he didn't "do the internet." But a flurry of texts sent on August 13, the day after the incident, indicated that Saccoccia had heard what had happened.
Even as all of Steubenville gradually heard the rumors, even after a local blogger alerted the country to what had happened in Steubenville, those involved in posting and sharing the photos and videos continued to play. They were only suspended eight games into the season, more than two months after the assault and arrests.
Less than a month later, Saccoccia testified on behalf of Mays and Richmond in a hearing to determine whether they would be tried as adults.
Steubenville High School head football coach Reno Saccoccia testified that one of the defendants developed great character not through sports, but through overcoming struggles at home. The boy exhibited humility and routinely responded well to adversity, he added. Despite the charge against him, Saccoccia said he remains proud of the defendant.
It was determined that Mays and Richmond would be tried as juveniles, and were released from custody.
Saccoccia wasn't the only Steubenville coach to stand up for the players. One of his staffers told the New York Times that "the rape was just an excuse...What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that? She had to make up something."
But it was Saccoccia's protection that the players counted on. One player, Anthony Craig, took a photo of the unconscious victim the night of the assault. He also had on his phone a photo of her naked. When asked by a friend if he was worried, Craig texted back:
Nah, IDGAF [I don't give a fuck] I got Reno. Nothing’s gonna happen if it goes to court.
During his trial, it emerged that Trent Mays had sent a friend two remarkably similar texts, downplaying his fears of getting into trouble. Why? Saccoccia's influence.
I got Reno. He took care of it and shit ain't gonna happen, even if they did take it to court.
Like he was joking about it so I’m not worried.
The players were convinced they were untouchable because they'd committed the rape on Saccoccia's turf. (That particular sense of entitlement might also be a small-town/big-team symptom; it's hard to imagine a college player staying on a roster after a rape charge and arrest.) They were right, for a while. Witnesses refused to come forward for months, and a local blogger covering the case was sued for defamation. If the Times hadn't turned its eyes to Steubenville, and hacker groups not exposed the graphic evidence, it's a legitimate question whether justice would have been done at all. Whether or not Saccoccia took a personal hand in protecting his players, the Steubenville reaction is a symptom of what happens in a football-mad small town run by a deified coach.
When confronted on his role in the allegations, Saccoccia got in a reporter's face. “You’re going to get yours," he growled. "And if you don’t get yours, somebody close to you will." The superintendent has said the district would have no comment on Saccoccia until after the trial. Well, the trial's over. Time to do what should have been done months ago and, for once, put football second.