Football can be a brutal sport and, unfortunately, that brutality is not always reserved for the field. Locker rooms can be the site of vicious acts of cruelty. That was the case in the small Idaho town of Dietrich last October, when a mentally disabled young man was assaulted by three teammates in that High School’s locker room.
At Dietrich High School, two players — John R.K. Howard and Tanner Ward and a third unidentified teammate — visited a savage assault upon a 17-year-old black student. The unidentified accomplice is not being identified because he was 16 and is being tried as a juvenile. Howard and Ward, 18 and 17 respectively, were charged in March and are just now facing hearings. It was at the preliminary hearing for Ward, where details of the attack were made public for the first time.
At the hearing, the victim told how the younger teammate lured him into a hug, then motioned for Howard and Ward to attack. And attack, they did. Tanner (allegedly) took a clothes hanger and shoved it into the victim’s rectum. Howard (allegedly) kicked the hanger five or six times, according to a witness. The witness said that the three attackers “laughed at” the victim who, he said “looked like he was in pain.”
Well, of course he did! The victim also testified at the hearing, as his anguished parents watched. Later, they said that they were very proud of his courage. Indeed. It is very brave to talk about sexual assault. The boy said:
I screamed. I was pretty upset. I felt really bad. A little bit betrayed and confused at the same time. It was terrible — a pain I’ve never felt.
This attack was the culmination of frequent abuse aimed at the victim. Abuse that included name-calling, taunting, bullying and humiliation. He was called “Kool-Aid,” “chicken eater,” “watermelon” and the N-word. He endured painful wedgies (and if you think those don’t hurt you’ve never had one), being stripped naked and photographed and being subjected to “humping,” the very essence of stupid machismo. And, while most of the victim’s teammates were in on these things, it was Howard who seems to have been the ringleader.
The family of the victim, a white couple who adopted the black child when he was four, has filed a $10 million lawsuit against the High School, naming 11 employees of the school as well as the defendants who attacked their son. It calls Howard the instigator and blames the school for not stopping his behavior, claiming, in part:
Mr. Howard is a large and aggressive male who had been sent to live with his relatives in Idaho due to his inability to keep out of trouble in Texas. Mr. Howard is a relative of prominent individuals in the community and, at least in part due to his athletic ability and community connections, the Defendants ignored or were deliberately indifferent to the behavior of Mr. Howard which included aggression, taunting and bullying of The Plaintiff and other students in the District. With deliberate indifference, the Defendants did nothing to curb the vicious acts of Mr. Howard who brought with him from Texas a culture of racial hatred towards the Plaintiff.
Howard, who is finishing high school in Texas, has a hearing set for June 10th. Ward’s trial is set for September 26. Both Howard and Ward are being tried as adults. If found guilty, they could be sentenced to life in prison. Where they can find out exactly what the boy they attacked endured. Over and over again.
The terror, pain and humiliation that boy must have felt makes me sick. That anyone could visit such depravity upon another human being is so awful that it literally takes your breath away. I keep going back to the initial contact before the attack: the fake hug. That boy thought he was going to receive one of the simplest forms of human contact we can give one another. But it was, instead, a cruel farce leading to a vile act.
I hope the family wins their lawsuit and that young man is cared for for the rest of his life with that money. And I hope that the boys who perpetrated this foul act are punished and, more importantly, understand why what they did was wrong on every level.
We don’t know that boy’s name but I hope that he knows that there are so many of us who would give him a real hug.
Here is a summation via The Washington Post: