Opinion: Columnists

Gregory Kane: The wrestler who helped bring justice to Steubenville

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Until recently, Trent Mays was the quarterback for Steubenville High School's football team. Sean McGhee is just a wrestler. The difference in the sport of choice for the two teens probably has nothing to do with their worldview or values, but I'm going to make that stretch anyway, because they could not be more different.

Mays was one of two defendants recently "adjudicated delinquent" in the rape of an unidentified 16-year-old girl. Ohio juvenile court Judge Thomas Lipp handed down the ruling on March 17. Ma'lik Richmond was Mays' co-defendant and also a member of the Big Red football team. Friday night high school football is all the rage in the Steubenville, an Ohio town of some 18,000 residents.

The Big Red are such a big deal that, after the girl was raped last August, some claimed that city officials tried to cover up the incident, the better to protect the football players. Steubenville officials denied the charges. But this perception does carry some weight: Football is indeed a popular sport, at the high school, college and professional levels. Players are worshipped to such an extent that some might feel they have certain "privileges," like sexually abusing and assaulting girls and women if they so desire.

We can't say whether that's what motivated Mays and Richmond, but we can't rule it out either.

The sport of American folkstyle wrestling -- done mainly in high schools and colleges -- isn't nearly as popular. At the college and university level, the sport has struggled to survive at many institutions.

Wrestlers get no hero worship, so they might tend to have a more grounded view of reality. That might be why McGhee saw the rape incident completely opposite of the way Mays saw it.

McGhee, according to news reports, wrestles at Campbell University in Kentucky. He hails from the Steubenville area. Richmond is his cousin; McGhee considers Mays a close friend.

But during the trial, McGhee was a prosecution witness, testifying against both his cousin and his friend. It hurt to do that, he admitted. But McGhee also considers the girl that was raped to be his friend. He noticed her condition at a party and, unlike Mays or Richmond, immediately discerned she was in no condition to consent to anything.

That might be why McGhee sent a text message to Mays that the judge called one of many "profane" text messages sent during the rape controversy. But at least McGhee was being profane for a good reason; he was being profane because he had to be. "This is Sean," he wrote. "You are dead wrong. I'm going to choke the [bleep] out of you for that. You could go to jail for life for that. WTF."

According to news reports, McGhee had received some inkling of what his cousin and Mays were up to. We don't know whether McGhee was the only one who tried to warn Mays of his folly, but we can rest assured not nearly enough of Mays' and Richmond's so-called friends did the right thing.

McGhee's bold text to Mays -- and his subsequent willingness to step up and testify for the state -- might be the only silver linings to the gloomy cloud that has hovered over Steubenville for the past seven months. The courage this young man showed might never be fully appreciated.

Among today's youth -- in addition to texting and posting disgusting, profane things on social media outlets -- there is a "stop snitching" culture that holds disturbing and dangerous sway. I'm sure there are some in Steubenville and beyond who have already accused McGhee of being a "snitch." But it's never wrong to report a serious crime. McGhee is a reasonable young man who realizes that. Too bad his cousin and his friend never learned that lesson.

Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.

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Gregory Kane

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The Washington Examiner