October 25, 2010
A former Texas high school football player pleaded guilty last month to charges he sexually assaulted a former cheerleader, who was kicked off her high school's squad before the player's trial because she refused to cheer for her assaulter.
The strange, twisted tail unfolded in Silsbee, Texas, and when cobbled together from a variety of sources -- including the Associated Press, Beaumont Enterprise and KFDM.com -- it portrays a sad series of events in which a teen was attacked and then lost the sport she loved.
The episode began in 2008, when an unidentified 16-year-old varsity cheerleader at Silsbee High School claimed she was raped at an off-campus party by three members of the Silsbee football team. The victim immediately called police after the incident and was transported to a nearby hospital, where she was administered a rape kit. Of the three men allegedly involved, then 17-year-old Rakheem Bolton and 18-year-old Christian Rountree were charged with second-degree felony sexual assault of a child after the girl filed a police report that claimed she was raped. A fourth teen who was also believed to be involved instead became a state witness.
Both athletes were allowed to play while charges were pending. The cheerleader also returned to her squad, but was later banned for refusing to cheer for Bolton by name when he attempted free throws during basketball games.
The Silsbee cheerleading squad traditionally chants the name of any player at the free-throw line, and the victim would chant for every player on the team except for Bolton. She also continued to chant for the entire team as a group, just as she always had.
However, her refusal to chant for her assaulter was seen as breaking the squad's unity, which was judged to be grounds for kicking her off the cheerleading team. That decision was reportedly made by Richard Bain, Jr., the superintendent of Silsbee schools, though it is not known whether Bain upheld a decision made by the victim's cheerleading coach or if he made the decision to kick her off the team himself.
Ms Magazine, an online and print publication owned and run by the Feminist Majority Foundation, reported on the conditions of the cheerleader's ban after viewing court documents filed by the girl's parents, who sued the school district on the basis of their daughter's freedom of speech. That case claimed that because the girl cheered for the team and all other players she should not be punished because of her refusal to cheer for one player, based on her rights under the first amendment. That claim was thrown out by a Texas appeals court, which ruled the following way, as explained by Ms Magazine:
"In her capacity as cheerleader, [she] served as a mouthpiece through which the school could disseminate speech -- namely, support for its athletic teams." Not cheering for Bolton "constituted substantial interference with the work of the school because, as a cheerleader, [she] was at the basketball game for the purpose of cheering, a position she undertook voluntarily." In other words, the "work of the school" is basketball, and [the cheerleader] was obligated to put on a robotic smile and cheer for the man who had assaulted her.
When he came up for trial in September, Bolton agreed to a lesser charge of Class A assault. He was originally sentenced to one-year in prison for the assault, but that penalty was suspended. Instead, he was given two years probation, a $2,500 fine and 150 hours of community service, and ordered to complete an anger-management course.
In an interview with KFDM News, which you can see in a video above, Bolton cited regret for the attack and said he was looking forward to a future in college, perhaps at a school where he can re-start his football career. Bolton was a star wide receiver and defensive back during his career at Silsbee High.
"Yes, I do feel like it was fair," Bolton told KFDM. "Very fair.
"I have no hard feelings. I never have and I feel like it was just a misunderstanding. ... Very ready to put it behind me."
Meanwhile, the cheerleader in question has had to move on with her life without cheerleading, the sport she lost after she was attacked.