Last week I wrote about the two teenage football players who were convicted of raping a 16 year-old girl from Steubenville, Ohio. Upon being convicted in juvenile court, the two young men were sentenced to one year in jail.
With this in mind, I wrote: “If these two young men truly raped this young girl, how can the court justify a jail sentence of one-year?”
Apparently I was not the only one to question the sentence of one year. During an interview with the local Steubenville media last week, the judge stated that the family of the two boys pleaded for leniency, but that he (the judge) decided against leniency and – instead – decided to “send a message” that this type of action will not be tolerated in his court.
Wow! I am sure glad he decided against leniency.
As an offhand, last week a man convicted of raping several women in Greenwood, Indiana, was sentenced to 270 years in prison. Does this mean it is 270 times worse if an adult rapes another adult?
I hope not.
I am sure glad this guy didn’t get his trial moved to Steubenville.
But, back to Steubenville.
While the rape of a young girl is horrible and despicable, the aftermath resulting from the sentencing is perhaps as bad. When it was announced that the two Steubenville football players had been convicted of rape, many in the town were outraged.
Not at the young men – but at the victim.
The young girl who had been abused and humiliated by the two young men began receiving hate messages – including death threats. Many of these messages came from other teenage girls.
In many of these messages, the young victim was accused of destroying the Steubenville football team by exposing the two rapists – both of whom were football players.
She should have taken it and kept quiet – for the sake of the team.
As I think about it, I like the “sake of the team” argument – with a little twist.
I would like to see each of those who sent hate messages to this young victim get the opportunity to join the two rapists in jail for one year – for the sake of the team.
I would then like to see those who added a death threat to their messages get the opportunity to spend a second year in jail with the young man who received a second year for putting nude pictures of the victim on ‘Facebook’.
It would only be right. After all, those who have sent hate messages have victimized the victim again and again.
I chose not to use any names last week or this week even though most names are in the public record. I think the victim should be left alone and allowed to begin recovery. At the same time, I don’t think the two young men, or any of the hate messengers deserve recognition – even negative recognition.
At the same time, I will happily mention the names of high school basketball player Drew Bender and his friend Brandon Wechsler. Bender is a starter on the Pinnacle High School basketball team in Phoenix, Arizona.
Brandon Wechsler suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy – a terminal condition that has left him wheelchair bound for years. Even while suffering a debilitating illness, Brandon has always loved basketball, and especially the Pinnacle High School team.
With the urging of Drew Bender when the two friends were freshmen, Pinnacle coach Charles Wilde agreed to allow Brandon to help as a team manager. For four years, Brandon Wechsler has been an integral part of the basketball team.
As a manager, Brandon attends practice and video sessions. He has not missed a home game in four years. While his dream was always to be able to play basketball, being with the team and a part of the team was as close as it would get.
That is until his friend Drew went to the coach and started to hatch a plan.
What if Brandon was issued a jersey? What if Brandon was added to the team roster? What if Brandon could actually play in a regular high school basketball game?
Impossible, only if you believe in the impossible.
Coach Charles Wilde does not believe in the impossible.
Instead, he embraced Drew Bender’s idea. In order to make it happen, however, he first had to go the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Executive Board and then to Sandra Day O’Connor High School coach Luke Neibling with the idea.
Both approved the idea and the plan.
As a result, last week in the final home game for Pinnacle High School, Brandon Wechsler was there – suited up in his own Pinnacle High School basketball jersey.
Not only was he allowed to wear the jersey – to be an official member of the team – he was in the starting lineup.
Pinnacle won the tip-off to start the game. The ball went to Drew Bender who cut to the right. His friend, Brandon Wechsler, moved his wheelchair to the right to screen off an opposing Sandra Day O’Conner player.
Freed by the screen, Drew headed for the basket.
Then – time out was called.
With a standing ovation from the several hundred fans in attendance, Brandon Wechsler wheeled his wheelchair off of the floor to take his place next to the bench with his fellow teammates.
But five seconds that will forever be in the memory of everyone who participated or attended the game.
Five seconds that shows what compassion and sportsmanship is all about.
After the tragedy in Steubenville – and even more after the hate messages that continue to victimize the Steubenville victim, it is refreshing to know that compassion and sportsmanship are not dead.
Thank you Drew Bender. Thank you coaches Wilde and Neibling.
Most importantly – thank you and best wishes Brandon Wechsler.
After the “best five seconds” of his life, Brandon, when asked about his condition said it all: “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”
Perhaps this is a message for all of us.
– Mike Cooney