As a town football legend, Coach Reno Saccoccia boasts a 30-year tenure of coaching the young men of Steubenville, Ohio. Despite his success on the football field, his ability to lead students off the field is being called into question after two of his players were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl last month.
Although Saccoccia’s involvement in and knowledge of the players' behavior in the assault of the 16-year old Steubenville student remains unclear, fair suspicion is being placed on the school district for its decision to renew Saccoccia’s administrative contract for two years. Its decision to extend the contract sent a loud counter-message to its stated mission of developing students to “become successful citizens.” In cases like Steubenville, where administrators become involved with (or at least complicit in) foul play, it is imperative for school districts to set a standard of zero tolerance for assault and domestic violence.
School districts need to hold their administrators, coaches, and teachers to high expectations of developing student character, just as they do with academic instruction. The mere accusation brought against Saccoccia is opportunity for the school district to change mindsets regarding assault against women and the role coaches can play in the deterrence of misbehavior. By taking no punitive action against Saccoccia, the district shows to students that Saccoccia’s career is more important than victims or the prevention of future crimes. Had they suspended his contract or placed Saccoccia on leave, they would have set the tone for future crimes, showing that there is no place for cover-up in the education system.
Sadly, we don’t just see this in Steubenville. By failing to hold its staff accountable, Steubenville has fallen in with other schools that send mixed messages to their burgeoning student athletes. This message says that the rules don’t apply to them or even to their coaches, and this rape culture surrounding athletes reaches all athletic levels and across the country. Whether they are the ones engaged in the crime or the attempt to cover it up, education systems play the largest role in keeping these events from happening again.
Even though Steubenville missed a crucial opportunity, the blame doesn’t have to be left on the victim. While Saccoccia’s renewal may seem innocuous, let’s remember the true impact our messages send. In moments like these, we have the power to alter rape culture and teach our students to truly be responsible citizens.