Popsugar Reading Challenge category: A book about an athlete or sport
Roll Red Roll: Rape, Power and Football in the American Heartland, by Nancy Schwartzman with Nora Zelevansky
Probably not what the Popsugar folks had in mind for this category, but the story of this famous crime is inseparable from football and the way even high school players are treated as celebrities in their communities.
In 2012, a teenage girl either got drunk or was roofied at a party attended by multiple high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio. At least two of the players sexually assaulted the unconscious girl, while others shared photos and videos, and a classmate posted a "comedy routine" about it on YouTube. They gained national notoriety, first because blogger Alex Goddard tracked down their social media posts, and then a hacker from Anonymous published their texts - including ones where they reassured each other that their coach would protect them.
Ma'lik Richmond served a year for the assault; Trent Mays served two, for the assault and distributing the pictures. The other boys avoided prosecution in exchange for their testimony. Several adults were eventually charged: a school employee who'd tampered with evidence, the school superintendent who failed to report, and a principal involved in covering up another possible rape involving Trent Mays. All got charges dropped or trivial sentences: probation, fines, and/or community service at a women's crisis organization. The adult who got the longest sentence (2 years) was the hacker who accessed the perpetrators' texts.
Schwartzman spent 4 years getting to know Steubenville while making a documentary about the crime. In the book, she makes connections with rape culture, how victims are expected to keep quiet about it, and how everyone is against rape until the rapist is their friend, family member, or favorite celebrity. In this economically depressed Midwestern town with little to cheer about, football players were treated as heroes. The fact that so many school employees were willing to cover up sexual assault - for the sake of winning football games - is certainly jarring. A recurring theme in her interviews with Steubenville residents was that they were upset with anyone making Steubenville look bad - anger aimed at the press, and sometimes the victim, but not necessarily at the assailants and their enablers.
Among the most memorable images: a rally where women talked about their own experiences with abuse and sexual assault, some telling their stories for the first time. As with the later #MeToo movement, it raised hopes that societal change was possible. But sexism is so entrenched that even women sometimes overlook it, as when two female journalists at the boys' sentencing empathized with these "promising young men" whose lives were supposedly now ruined. They needn't have worried: Ma'lik Richmond returned to the football team at the same high school after serving his sentence; Trent Mays went on to play football in college.