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Football wins? Steubenville coach’s contract extended despite allegations in rape case

The news is buried in a local newspaper’s story about a 25-minute long school board meeting in Steubenville, Ohio, that addressed a number of personnel matters. Among them was a two-year “administrative contract” for Reno Saccoccia, identified as director of administrative services.

Steubenville high school football players Trent Mays, 17, left, and 16-year-old Malik Richmond, were found guilty in juvenile court.. (Keith Srakocic, Pool/Associated Press.) Steubenville High School football players Trent Mays, 17, left, and 16-year-old Ma’Lik Richmond, were found guilty in juvenile court.(Keith Srakocic/Pool/Associated Press.)

Saccoccia is better known as Steubenville’s winning high school football coach. Some have alleged that he may have tried to cover up the rape of a 16-year-old West Virginia girl by two star football players on his team; at the least, he may have failed to report a case of sexual abuse as required by Ohio law of teachers and coaches.

“I got Reno. He took care of it and sh–  ain’t gonna happen, even if they did take it to court,” said a text from one of the defendants submitted as evidence in the rape trial last month, according to testimony from Joann Gibbs, an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Saccoccia’s role may be investigated during an East Ohio grand jury set to convene April 30. Ohio’s attorney general called for the grand jury to delve into whether additional charges should be filed in the high-profile rape case, in which the 16-year-old West Virginia girl was assaulted during a series of drunken parties Aug. 11 and 12 that were captured on cellphone photos and video and discussed in texts and tweets. High school football players Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, were found “delinquent,” the equivalent of a guilty verdict in juvenile court, on rape charges on March 17 after a four-day trial.

Meanwhile, news about Saccoccia’s contract extension has met with outrage across social media — although Steubenville School Superintendent Mike McVey told WTOV that it had nothing to do with Saccoccia’s coaching contract, in which he’s in year three of five. Still, an online petition calling for Saccoccia’s ouster had accumulated more than 134,000 signatures by Tuesday morning.

The town’s obsession with football has been blamed for fostering a “rape culture” in which athletes could do no wrong. The victim’s mother told the New York Times that she believed the football players had received “preferential treatment.”

What did Saccoccia know — and when? Was he more interested in winning football games than with the rape of a teenage girl? I hope the grand jury can come up with satisfactory answers. Meanwhile, Saccoccia is innocent until proven guilty.

But remember: Winning football coaches don’t deserve a free pass to ignore what happens off the field. Think of Penn State’s Joe Paterno. Think of Notre Dame and Lizzy Seeberg.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.


Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.

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