This is a sad example of how we can go mad over sports and how our justice system sometimes fails to protect common sense and individual rights.
A high school cheerleader in south Texas was kicked off her team for refusing to root for a certain player when he shot free throws.
A certain player who was accused of raping her and pleaded guilty to assault charges.
The courts twice denied her appeals.
At a party in October 2008, the cheerleader—known only as H.S.—said she was pulled into a room by several teenagers and then raped by Rakheem Bolton, a football and basketball star at Silsbee High.
Bolton was arrested two days later, but returned to school after a grand jury refused to indict him. He was later indicted on sexual assault charges, but not until after H.S. was booted from the Silsbee High cheerleading team.
At a game last February, while Bolton was at the free-throw line, H.S. crossed her arms, sat down, and remained silent as her teammates cheered on.
“I didn’t want to have to say his name,” she said, “and I didn’t want to cheer for him. I didn’t want to encourage anything he was doing.”
At halftime, the school’s principal and the district superintendent told H.S. she needed to start cheering or go home. Fans began to mock and laugh at her. She started to cry. Her father came down from the stands to console her, confronted school officials, and took his family home.
In the following days, throughout town, residents mocked H.S. Students called her a slut. The abuse forced her younger sister to transfer schools.
H.S. then filed a lawsuit, accusing school officials of discriminatory behavior for punishing H.S., but not Bolton. It’s main allegation, though, was that the school denied her the right to free expression.
Tanner Hunt, a lawyer for Silsbee Independent School District, dismissed the case as “absurd, apocryphal and fantastic.” When asked by a San Francisco Chronicle reporter to explain, he said, “I don’t know why this is a news story,” and hung up.
Amazingly, the courts have agreed with Hunt. In October 2009, a federal court ruled that H.S. was not actually engaging in free speech “because her actions conveyed no specific message to onlookers, other than disapproval of Bolton.”
Then a panel of judges for the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court Of Appeals reached a similar ruling. But that wasn’t enough. They took it a step further and ordered that H.S. pay the school district’s legal fees because the suit was “far-fetched and frivolous.”
Two days prior to the appeals court ruling, Bolton, now 19, pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor assault charge. He received a $2,500 fine and 150 hours of community service. According to his lawyer, Bolton is planning on going to college and “going forward with his life.”
Well, that’s the final stake through the heart of free speech on high school campuses.
Here’s an objective recap of the events: A girl was assaulted, possibly raped, by a star athlete. She refused to cheer for him at a basketball game. The girl was kicked off the cheer squad and ostracized from the community. The athlete remained in school and on the basketball team. Two U.S. courts then verified the legitimacy of these events.
Isn’t the point of the judicial system to preserve justice and common sense? That’s the exact opposite of what happened here.
And to think, some of these judges were within a shout of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Charles Pierce put it best:
Except for the victim and her family, there isn’t a single person of any value anywhere in this story.
H.S. graduated from Silsbee earlier this year, but is taking a semester off from college, where she plans to study forensic science.