Under Ohio state law, coaches are among the many school officials mandated to report crimes involving their students. And according to witness testimony and text messages introduced as evidence in the Steubenville rape trial, head football coach Reno Saccoccia knew about the rape of a 16-year-old girl by two of his players, but didn’t say a word about it to school administrators or local law enforcement.
So why does he still have a job?
Deadspin editor Barry Petchesky has a theory, and it’s that, much like Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, “local legend” Saccoccia believed that his status as a local football celebrity put him above the law:
Reno Saccoccia is a local legend, in the way that 30-year coaches of football powerhouses in economically depressed Ohio Valley towns tend to be legends. He’s in the Ohio Coaches Hall of Fame. He’s won three state titles. When Saccoccia won his 300th game last year, a sellout crowd of more than 10,000 people packed Harding Stadium—christened “Reno Field” in 2007—and chanted “Reno, Reno, Reno” as he left the field.
He breakfasts regularly with the sheriff. His sister-in-law works in the county’s juvenile court, where he is licensed as a mediator. He “molds young boys into men.”
But text messages seized from Mays’ cellphone indicate that Saccoccia had seen the video in which another student “joked” that “Trent and Ma’lik raped someone” as soon as it was released.
The day after the incident, Mays texted a friend: “I got Reno. He took care of it and shit ain’t gonna happen, even if they did take it to court. Like he was joking about it so I’m not worried,” according to an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, who testified in the rape case.
As Petchesky notes, “the players were convinced they were untouchable because they’d committed the rape on Saccoccia’s turf … They were right, for a while.” Adding, “If the Times hadn’t turned its eyes to Steubenville, and hacker groups not exposed the graphic evidence, it’s a legitimate question whether justice would have been done at all. Whether or not Saccoccia took a personal hand in protecting his players, the Steubenville reaction is a symptom of what happens in a football-mad small town run by a deified coach.”
Petchesky makes a crucial point, but it is important to add that this kind of coverup behavior isn’t limited to small towns with untouchable local celebrities — it’s a symptom of a culture that normalizes sexual assault on the regular, especially in high school and college settings.
But Saccoccia isn’t in the clear. While the trial against Mays and Richmond ended with a guilty verdict for both boys, Ohio state Attorney General Mike DeWine’s investigation into the parents, coaches and school officials who may have tried to hide the rape is ongoing.
It’s an investigation that DeWine hopes will show that ignoring sexual violence when it’s right in front of our faces isn’t a problem unique to small football towns, but an issue that cuts across all communities — yours and mine included.