La Vernia High School sex scandal prompts questions of preferential treatment for athletes

La Vernia (Graphic by Jack Dennis)

News and media around the globe are watchfully drawn to how the government and school district of La Vernia, Texas are handling the high school boy’s athletics sex scandal being investigated. Ten students were arrested in the last two weeks for sexual assault of at least ten teammates in a series of shocking and brutal attacks.

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La Vernia Texas

This week six football players at Hamilton High School in Chandler, Ariz., were charged with sexual assault, kidnapping and aggravated assault that officials say was part of abusive hazing events that occurred over a 17-month period against multiple male victims.

What’s going on? These media reports are becoming more frequent. Particularly disturbing is the expanding trend of these athletes receiving preferential treatment. Throughout their teens, many experienced the special benefits of being a star athlete.

“On one hand athletes are put on a pedestal and protected, but on the other hand they’re being taken advantage and prevented from maturing and gaining a sense of personal responsibility,” says David M. Reiss, MD, a psychiatrist in San Diego and Chief Medical Officer of 1@Equilibirum, a sports psychiatry program. Reiss likens it to the treatment celebrities receive by being protected from responsibility, but the results may not be so good.

These athletes, “both male and female, develop a distorted view of what their future is going to be. At times, it’s either overtly or covertly reinforced,” says Reiss. “It’s in the schools’ or coaches’ best interest to have athletes think that way to motivate them.”

Reiss points out that the “big person on campus” teens get away with behaviors that other kids can’t get away with. Academically they may suffer or misdeeds get covered up. They may be protected to some extent, causing others to resent them. It also interferes with developing a sense of responsibility and accountability. They may never have to face responsibility for what they do.  You can end up with young adults who either are protected from maturing or think they’re above it all.

Jerry Sandusky

The June 2012 conviction of Penn State University’s Football Coach Jerry Sandusky made national headlines for his sexual abuse of 10 boys between 1994 and 2008. While Sandusky serves his 30-year prison sentence, heads rolled at the University that should have been a lesson for university and high school officials everywhere.

University official Graham Spanier was found guilty for child endangerment for failing to tell the police about a 2011 shower-room encounter.  Other officials were relieved of their duties by the board of trustees and were charged with failing to report an allegation of child abuse, endangering the welfare of children by failing to act strongly enough to the Sandusky allegations, and taking other steps to interfere with the state Attorney General’s probe from 2009 through 2011.

A quick look at the last three months suggest the phenomenon is trending.


February 2017 –Holy Rosary Catholic High School 

A student football player at Holy Rosary Catholic High School in Lloydminster School Division in Canada had an object inserted into an orifice, but was not taken for medical treatment until three hours later.

“There was a student in the locker room, who, as part of a hazing incident, or some kind of punishment for poor performance, had an object inserted into an orifice, with potential for injury,” revealed Chief of Staff at the Lloydminster Hospital Dr. Kevin Govender. “My understanding is that the student was not taken to seek medical help immediately after the incident. The student was allowed to practice, and had a regular practice after the injury, and was only taken to the emergency approximately three hours after the incident.”

“There is potential that the child could have bled out from a laceration of the area of penetration, and there was no way that a football coach would be able to determine whether that would happen or not,” said Dr. Govender. “The reality of the situation is that the child could have had no symptoms at rest, but as the child engages in more demanding physical exercise with an increased heart rate, there is potential that there could have been a bleed from an area that had already clotted. The potential bleed could have been catastrophic, but we don’t know that.”

“I think the school, and the schoolboard, have a responsibility to inform parents about what has happened, and I think it’s important for the parents to have an opinion,” the doctor said. “I think it’s important for the schoolboard to hold a town hall meeting, with the parents, of students in the Catholic School Division, to answer questions as to this incident…”

January 2017 –Baylor University 

A former Baylor University student and member of the Baylor Bruins on campus recruiting and hosting group, accused the football program of fostering a “culture of sexual violence” where coaches encouraged female students to have sex with recruits and players. Her lawsuit, which listed her as “Elizabeth Doe,” indicated at least 52 rapes were committed by more than 30 football players over a four-year period.

The lawsuit alleges the Baylor Bruins were also encouraged to take football recruits to strip clubs, promise sex, alcohol and drugs. When the attack was reported to Waco police no charges were filed and the players were retained to remain on the team. Court documents show her case was not investigated by campus officials until 2015, three years after her rape.

Baylor faces at least five lawsuits from women who allege they were attacked but the school ignored them and failed to protect. By 2016 football coach Art Briles was terminated and university President Ken Starr departed. An internal investigation at the time found that the football program operated “above the rules” while assistant coaches and staff interfered or stifled investigations into alleged assaults by players.


John R.K. Howard, 19. (Tarrant County Sheriff)

December 2016 –Dietrich High School 

A former Idaho high school football player was sentenced to three years’ probation and 300 hours of community service after making an Alford plea with prosecutors. John R.K. Howard, 19, was accused of assaulting a mentally disabled teammate with a coat hanger by “forcible sexual penetration by use of a foreign object.” The molestation occurred inside the Dietrich High School locker room on Oct. 22, 2015. He could have faced the possibility of life in prison if convicted at trial, but by pleading guilty to felony injury of a child, Howard faced a maximum sentence of ten years in prison. Howard returned back to his hometown of Keller, Texas, where he is serving his probation and community service.

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