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August 29, 2014 / 3 Elul, 5774
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An American Tragedy in Steubenville

The greatest tragedy made manifest in Steubenville is the attitude of teenage men toward girls.
Defense attorney Walter Madison, right, holds 16-year-old Ma'lik Richmond as judge Thomas Lipps announces his verdict on Sunday.

Defense attorney Walter Madison, right, holds 16-year-old Ma'lik Richmond as judge Thomas Lipps announces his verdict on Sunday.

A significant number of American values failures came together to create the tragedy in Stuebenville, where two teenage High School football stars, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl.

Foremost among them is the American tragedy of sexualizing teen girls at an age where they are not yet women. Madonna sexualized herself in her mid twenties. Brittney Spears brought the age down to about eighteen. Not young enough for you? Miley Cyrus reduced it further to sixteen. One wonders when our culture will feel that even sixteen is not a young enough age to sexually exploit girls.

Then there is the issue of sports as an emerging religion where those gifted to be athletes feel a sense of entitlement that often has them crossing lines to their own detriment. The idea that two High School football stars would think it acceptable to post pictures of a nude sixteen year old to their friends on social media shows how they thought the normal rules did not apply them. And this would be true even if there weren’t the far more serious conviction on rape. How sad that two young men have ruined their lives and done so much damage to a defenseless victim.

Next is the growing culture of alcohol abuse by minors. Alcohol played a central role in this unfolding tragedy with the essential argument on the part of the prosecution that the girl in question was so drunk there was no possible way she could give consent. One wonders why our youth are so inclined to heavy drink. Is it mere experimentation or is something deeper at work? Are they already, at so young an age, as unhappy as adults who have been battered by life and are therefore drinking negative emotions away? After all, no one in America really portrays the teen years as a bowl of cherries.

I passed my later teen years in an all-male environment in Yeshiva where the focus of my life was study. I certainly was a lot happier than the co-ed environment in which I was immersed in my early teen years where peer pressure, popularity among the girls, and a general self-consciousness made my life less enjoyable than it should have been.

Then there is the general tragedy of the absence of responsible parenting in America. The biggest question for me in this heartrending story was where were the parents? Where were they when the three teens left one party at 12:30 am to go to another? Where were they to monitor extreme drunkenness on the part of people not old enough to vote?

Many African-American young men are not raised with a father’s guiding hand. I was astonished, therefore, at the honesty displayed by Malik Richmond’s father, Nathaniel, when he said in a CNN interview that he had walked over to his son right after the guilty verdict and told him he loved him, essentially for the very first time. “I haven’t been involved in Malik’s life like I should have been at those early years. And I want to stress that parents should be more involved in their child’s life… be a parent and not a friend.”

No one is better qualified to address this issue than President Obama who also grew up without his father and is by all accounts a very loving and involved parent himself. The President has addressed the subject only lightly, but it’s time that he make this an all-out campaign.

But the greatest tragedy made manifest in Steubenville is the attitude of teenage men toward girls. Immanuel Kant wrote that the definition of immorality is treating a fellow human being as a means rather than an end. The abomination of American slavery was that a white child was taught to see a black child as a walking bale of cotton. Slavery trained a white man to see a black woman as lacking the same spark of the divine that lent him his humanity. When he looked upon the woman, she was stripped of her own dreams, her own opinions, her own aspirations. She was nothing but an extension of the white slave owner’s drives and ambitions. Like a third arm she existed to simply to do his chores.

About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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7 Responses to “An American Tragedy in Steubenville”

  1. Keith David Reitman says:

    Bravo, Rabbi Shmuley. I gained insight about the modern conditioning of our youth and adults, from your article.

  2. Dan Silagi says:

    What does Madonna have to do with this, ******ley? Or Miley Cyrus? You're implying that this girl, by being hot, brought this upon herself. This was an act of drunken debauchery, which 30 years ago, might have not been prosecuted because the football coach, who seems to be a real villian here (NOT Joe Paterno, who was made a scapegoat) had these kids' backs. What made the difference here is that social media, even though misused, brought the story out in the open and prosecution was made necessary for that reason. And the punks, through social media, were hoisted upon their own petard.

    Leave Madonna out of this, you moralizing twerp.

  3. Keith David Reitman says:

    Why the dirty name calling of others, Mr. Silagi? The Rabbi wrote an article, and you had, and still have, an opportunity to comment about it and share your opinions with others. I found the Rabbi's mentioning of Madonna and Miley Cyrus useful in understanding his argument about the sexualizing of youth. Conversely your raging and rambling tirade was not useful, at all. You might, in future, consider your opportunity to comment as your opportunity to convince folks of your opinion. if you view your commenting opportunities in that light, you will likely think harder before you open your pie hole, or unclench your digits. I hope this is helpful.

  4. Dan Silagi says:

    This kind of stuff went on long before Madonna was born, and for Boteach to blame it on Madonna is about as specious as preachers of the past blaming Elvis or Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis for the amoral turpitude of the good ol' boys of the 1950's who got girls drunk and raped them. We don't need Boteach, who once said (I was there) that 40% of Jewish men are porn addicts and if they would buy Boteach's book, they'd be cured. My friend and I walked out of the lecture, which as I recall was in February of 2008, in disgust.

    What makes this situation somewhat novel is that these *******s bragged about what they did on Facebook, and posted videos, which I find particularly disgusting. That, of course, is what caught them. Had this happened in the 1950's, they would have skated, and the case almost certainly never would have been investigated.

    As for my pie hole, wanna put your fist in it? C'mon, boychik. Bring it.

  5. Dan Silagi says:

    This kind of stuff went on long before Madonna was born, and fundamentalist hypocrites of the 1950's blamed it on rock 'n roll, which "sexualized" youth. In those days, it was this "Negro" music, and white interpretations of same from the likes of Elvis and Jerry Lee.

    In his way, Boteach is essentially blaming the victim, just as has been done since time immemorial. Had some good 'ol boys of the 1950's gotten a girl stone drunk and raped her, they would almost certainly have gotten away with it. But in this case, these *******s bragged about it on Facebook and Twitter, and took the videos which ended up incriminating them. Therein lies the difference. But instead of talking about the benefits of social media, in that the perps hoised themselves upon their own petard, Boteach yammers on about the "sexualization" of youth.

    Rape is not a crime of "sexualiztion." It's a crime of violence. You and Boteach need to get this through your thick skulls.

  6. Keith David Reitman says:

    Yes, Mr. Silagi, "rape is a crime of violence". Rape of a child is a compound crime as it is also pedophilia. The distressing trend toward the sexualization of children is an abomination that is a serious element in the broad and general endangerment of children in our society. Please continue to tone down your dirty name calling; it makes you appear like a disturbed child. You are likely better than that…

  7. Dan Silagi says:

    I'll tell you what, Reitman. I'll write whatever the hell I want. If you have a problem with that, tough.

    Boteach is nothing more than an opportunist who seizes on a tragedy to garner publicity for himself. The worst example of this was with one of his "bochurim," Michael Jackson. He's "America's Rabbi" as much as the Atlanta Braves are "America's Team." Or the Minnesota Twins.

    And this was NOT a case of pedophilia. There were no adults attacking kids. The victim and her attackers were the same age.

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