Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The price of silence

An American girl cheerleader who refused to applaud a basketball player she claimed had raped her has been told by the courts that she wasn't entitled to stay silent - and must repay her school's $45,000 legal costs.

Such is the American enthusiasm for cheerleading and the disapproval of anyone not entering into the spirit of it - even if they have strong personal reasons for not doing what's expected of them.

The courts ruled that a cheerleader agrees to act merely as a "mouthpiece" for an institution and therefore surrenders her constitutional right to free speech.

The girl's lawyer said this meant students could be punished for refusing to follow "insensitive and unreasonable directions."

HS, as the courts referred to her, was sexually assaulted by Rakheem Bolton at a party in Silsbee, Texas in 2008. She claims he and other male pupils raped her but he only admitted the lesser charge, which allowed him to return to the school and join the basketball team.

At a basketball game four months later she couldn't bring herself to cheer him and instead stood silently with her arms folded.

This seemingly minor incident led to expulsion from the cheerleading team and her family bringing a compensation claim against the school, Silsbee High.

In a disastrous outcome, three different courts ruled against her, the US Supreme Court refused to consider the case and she was ordered to pay legal bills of $45,000 (£27,300).

This seems to me like a sledgehammer to crack a nut, not to mention a vindictive and callous response to a teenage girl who claims she was sexually attacked.

The school might say that a basketball game has nothing to do with a player's private behaviour, and that her refusal to cheer was absurd and perverse.

But if the other cheerleaders were willingly applauding, what did it matter? And why weren't her personal feelings sympathised with rather than punished?

The message is clear: cheerleading is a sacred American tradition, and the slightest refusal to participate fully, even for good personal reasons, is an outrage to be firmly stamped on. How dare you spoil our fun?

23 comments:

Rummuser said...

While I sympathize with the girl, I see nothing wrong in the judgments. There is an implied contractual obligation to cheer the team and the girl had the opportunity to withdraw from the cheer leading team before the game, as a mark of protest. A replacement could have then taken her place.

Nick said...

Ramana - Goodness, that's a bit harsh! When I think of all the people in cinemas who used to refuse to stand for the National Anthem....

Grannymar said...

I never understood the point of having Cheerleaders, I always saw them as nubile young females flaunting their bodies. Don't tell me that men did not take pleasure from them? I too feel that the young lady above should have stepped down from the line that day.

Nick said...

Grannymar - I'm sure that's exactly what they are, eye candy for the guys. But if she enjoyed it, why should she have to step down?

Baino said...

Oh yes, the Sporting fraternity takes Cheerleeding very seriously. I agree, I wouldn't have turned up for the game, then I probably wouldn't have continued cheerleading after being raped. Still, the US is so litigious it doesn't surprise me, they'd sue the ground you're standing on for no particular reason.

Nick said...

Baino - That's a consensus that she should have given up cheerleading then....

A bit tough when she actually enjoys cheerleading. While the guy just carries on as usual.

wendy house said...

I wonder how much more she would have been charged if she'd puked over her depersonalising outfit.

Nick said...

Wendy - That's true. Inappropriately stained garments would make the entire cheerleading team a laughing stock. She'd deserve six months in jail at the very least.

nursemyra said...

That's a really sad story

Los Angelista said...

Wow. I don't even know what to say--except that we live in a blatantly sexist culture that still doesn't think rape that big of deal. SO sad.

Nick said...

Myra - Sad, crazy, vicious, ruthless. Such an incredible over-reaction to such a mild protest.

Liz - Obviously the image of the cheerleading team is far more important than a teenage girl who's been raped by a basketball "star".

Wisewebwoman said...

Wow, I thought when I first read this on MSM, talk of a classic case of blaming the victim, but here carried to an unbelievable extreme. So the basketball star was allowed to continue on, unpunished, applauded even, for his brutal behaviour?
Why on earth should she quit cheerleading (not that I don't have difficulty with then whole concept of it). She committed no crime. HE DID!
XO
WWW

Nick said...

W3 - For sexual assault, he got two years' probation, community service, a fine and anger-management classes. Then he just carries on as usual as if nothing had happened, while the girl is jumped on over a silent protest.

Eryl said...

We're not there yet, are we? Women I mean. We are not yet equal, and I think we contribute to that by acting as cheerleaders. I guess it's complicated.

Nick said...

Eryl - I know, the whole cheerleading thing seems pretty backward to me, but the incredible fuss over her token protest seems pretty backward as well.

secret agent woman said...

That's a sad story. It seems so unfair that the basketball player gets to continue to play. And then again, the whole institution of cheerleading creeps me out.

Nick said...

Secret Agent - Basketball is a great American tradition, you can't allow some petty detail like rape to get in the way.

kylie said...

in the case of a group such as that ( or a band, or being a policeman, or a footballer, or heaps of other things) personal sensitivities are surrendered, thats just how it is and i support that argument.
the really big question (as asked previously) is how did he get to still be playing?
he pled guilty to a sexual assault charge.
in football here he would be suspended from the game and sacked from the team so when the suspension was over he could play with someone else if he could find a position

Nick said...

Kylie - Good that in Oz he would have been suspended from the game. If a player's sexual assault doesn't damage a team's reputation, it's hard to see what does.

If a police officer didn't want to deal with someone who'd sexually assaulted her, I imagine another officer would take over. She wouldn't be sacked from the police force.

kylie said...

oh, yeah, when i mentioned the police i was just thinking that they obey orders and priority is with the force. i wasnt thinking about special cicumstances like that

Nick said...

Kylie - Of course as a general rule you have to obey orders, but I'm sure personal distress like that would be treated sympathetically.

blackwatertown said...

Sad and outrageous tale.
Seems as though the victim is punished and beyond that that, the message is sent out that sill girls are worth less (worthless?) than poster boy footballers.
We celebrate brave people who refuse to knuckle under to injustice, but the reality is that they often face being crushed.
Reminds me a little of Tom Wolfe's book I AM Charlotte Simmons.
And a bit of the German film Das schreckliche M├Ądchen - The Nasty Girl. Based on the true story of a high school who writes an essay called My Town During The Third Reich for a national contest. As you can imagine she's not popular. But she is right.

Nick said...

Blackwatertown - Exactly, handsome sporty boys are much more important than silly, sensitive girls. She was very brave to stand up to the ostracism instead of accepting it. I've never read the Tom Wolfe book, must do so.