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Blame goes far past Steubenville

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Jen Floyd Engel

Jen Floyd Engel, selected as the top columnist in the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors annual contest, started working at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997 and became a columnist in 2003 before joining FOXSports.com. Sports opinions? She's never short of them. And love her or hate her, she'll be just another one of the boys. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook.

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After the verdict came in Sunday in what sadly has become known as The Steubenville Rape, I discovered a shocking lack of outrage for the two teenaged football stars convicted of raping an incapacitated then-15-year-old girl.

Mine was not missed. Plenty existed.

STEUBENVILLE TRIAL

In highly publicized case, two high school football players are found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl.

Probably because I am a woman, a mother and a mother to a young girl, all of my emotion was invested in this unnamed victim, who spent Saturday listening to girl “friends” testify on behalf of the rapists, recounting the most traumatic moment of her life and being presented with previously unseen naked pictures of herself that had been taken on the night of her rape, disseminated by contemporaries, girls and boys, with LOLs and giggles. My heart aches for her, for what was done and what was taken.

The tendency in the face of such unfathomable meanness is to blame -- the two boys of course, the teenagers and their disgusting use of social media, the apparent lack of parental control, the sport of football, the fawning over the sport and those who play it, the coach, the town. And the more callous have taken to blaming the girl, her drinking (See below: 1), her choices (2) and her parents.

What I know for sure is this blame game we have started playing with Steubenville, while cathartic, is also a dangerous one. It allows us to think the problem is those people, in that town, those kinds of kids, those football players. It allows us to think that could not be somebody we know.

The danger is this prevents us from telling the truth on ourselves. This is the society we have created, where women are objectified and judged solely by their appearance. And whether we want to admit it or not, this is the slippery slope of our creation. What message did we think we were sending when the only females we seem to value are the beautiful, the slutty or those willing to get “real” on TV?

And in doing so, we have created a society where what happened in Steubenville not only could happen anywhere, but does.

Too often and in too many places, athletes are treated as demi-gods and we get this toxic combination. We have seen this combust in athletics with more and more frequency and, for whatever reason, seem unwilling to talk about it. So we talk about guns and steroids and areas that do not ask us to change our behaviors.

Look how quickly the Jovan Belcher tragedy in Kansas City became a gun control debate. What was too easily dismissed, if discussed at all, was sports' increasing female problem.

We have the incessant cheating, the abandoned sexual partners and the babies they produce, the assaults, the rapes, the women gunned down in fits of rage, the ones who are simply beaten. This is not some feminist rant, as this was not only boys behaving badly in Steubenville. Nor it is intended to be a broad brush with which to paint every male or every athlete or every football player.

If we are being honest, really honest, what happened to that girl that night has tentacles into so much of what has become business as usual in our sports culture and probably society in general.

The men are the story. The girls wear the bikinis in the background.

How else do you explain how so many could see, many in real time, what was happening to this girl and do nothing other than they did not view her as a human being?

What saddens me most for this girl, and what I kept coming back to this weekend, was not that something awful happened to her. Tragedy befalls us all. My sadness stems from how many ostensibly good people did nothing, how many girls turned their back on one of their own, how with all the texts and pics flying around that night nobody called the police or their parents or physically forced them to stop, how in the face of the wrong thing nobody was willing to do the right one.

We pretend there is a huge morality gap between being the rapist or simply LOL-ing at them. I am not so sure it is as big as we like to say. There is right and wrong. Scope only matters in legal proceedings. Political philosopher Edmund Burke was dead-on right when he said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Doing the wrong thing in small matters is what emboldens others to do so in big ones. And we are so afraid of being accused of being judgmental that we have forgotten this. The fine line between being judgmental and standing up for what is right has become blurred with a litany of justifications.

Until the thing that crosses the line of just too wrong and then we start blaming.

The reality is these moments should cause us to hold the magnifying glass up to ourselves. As more and more sickening texts and tweets were revealed, what hit me was we have created a society where this kind of degradation of a young girl prompts LOLs instead of APBs, a society where the football player is worshipped at the expense of the 15-year-old, a society where we justify what we are doing by noting we are at least not as bad as those people.

The truth is we are those people, or at very least they are operating in a world that we helped create.

(1 and 2) Really? After all of these years, we are still blaming the victim in rape cases? Really? I am furious for having to type this sentence yet I will. It does not matter how much a girl has to drink, how short her skirt is or how into you she seemed only minutes ago, "no" means no sex. And if she is not coherent enough to say no, that is a no. Any sexual penetration that takes place after this is rape. The only people who think that warrants an LOL have never been raped or known someone who has or are morally bankrupt.

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