In a move that absolutely defies belief, the Steubenville (Ohio) School Board decided to buck public pressure and agree to a new two-year contract with longtime football coach Reno Saccoccia with regard to his teaching position. That might not seem too out of the ordinary, except for the conditions surrounding Saccoccia. He was the town's football coach during a time when two of his players were convicted of rape in a trial that received widespread attention.
The disturbing case that embroiled the Steubenville football program captivated the nation's attention at multiple points in recent months, never more prevalently than on March 17, when teenagers Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond were convicted of raping an intoxicated 16-year-old classmate.
Saccoccia was not implicated in the case and it remains unclear if he'll be mentioned by an upcoming grand jury that is investigating the possibility of wrongdoing by others in the town.
But many have blamed Saccoccia for ruling over a football-mad culture that held its players to a different standard. Consider this text from Mays when asked about his coach's reaction to the rape charges.
"[Saccocia did] Nothing really. Going to stay in for awhile. LOL. And next time (someone is) into something, suspended for three games.
"But I feel he took care of it for us. Like, he was joking about it, so I'm not worried."
And yet another text bombshell from Mays: "I got Reno. He took care of it and (expletive) ain't going to happen, even if they did take it to court."
To say that the Steubenville school board's decision is profoundly tone deaf is a remarkable understatement. More than 134,000 activists from across the nation and world have signed an online petition at change.org calling for Saccoccia to be fired. Considering the fact that the entire population of Steubenville is just more than 18,000, that's a startling amount of public outrage aimed at a public employee from a small town.
For his part, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine sounds absolutely committed to bringing closure and justice to the Steubenville community at all costs. If Saccocia happens to be collateral damage for that crusade, so be it, even if that directly undercuts the assessment made by the Steubenville School Board.
"We want to bring finality so the community feels that justice has been done — that nothing has been swept under the rug and everyone has their day in court," DeWine told the press shortly after the verdict against Mays and Richmond was handed down.