WARNING: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual and physical assault some readers may find disturbing. This week, Idaho teen John R.K. Howard pleaded not guilty to charges of an alleged sexual assault against a mentally impaired football teammate. Howard is being charged as an adult, as he was 18 at the time of the attack, and faces life in prison. Two additional teammates have been charged in the case, though both cases will be handled in juvenile court.
In October of 2015, John R.K. Howard, Tanner Ward and one other purportedly lured their African-American teammate, who has been diagnosed as having below average intelligence, into the Dietrich High School locker room after practice with the promise of a hug where they proceeded to overpower him and shove a wire coat hanger into his rectum. Not stopping there, Howard allegedly kicked the hanger several times, causing severe pain and injury to the victim. According to the victim’s mother, this wasn’t the first time her son had been the target of this type of bullying. The family of the young man has filed a civil lawsuit, which claims coaches and staff members knew of the situation and did nothing to stop it. Aware of the continued harassment her son faced, she frequently spoke to school staff about what was happening to no avail. She said, “I needed to know how to keep him safe. And we were just shunned.”
In addition to the sexual assault allegations, the civil claim also states he was ridiculed mercilessly by his fellow “teammates,” who taunted him with the N-word and other racially insensitive epithets while Howard taught the victim the lyrics to “Notorious KKK,” a song which praises the White Supremacist hate group, and commanded he repeat them back to him. It also alleges other members of the team would tackle him in practice and “aggressively hump” him while he was on the ground unable to escape.
Prior to the October attack, the victim participated in an exercise designed by the coach to toughen his team up, which consisted of physically fighting with each other in front of the coaching staff. Encouraged by both his teammates and head coach, the victim was placed in a circle to face-off against Howard. The victim was given boxing gloves while Howard fought bare-fisted. Howard hit the boy so hard, he was knocked unconscious. The coaches did nothing. What kind of animalistic society are we living in when we can’t even trust grown adults to have any semblance of a moral conscience? It’s typically adults like these who breed such sadistic predators but I can’t help but wonder why they are chosen among countless other qualified candidates to be in charge of the welfare and safety of young students?
Howard currently resides in Texas but will be required to appear in Dietrich, Idaho, to face the charges against him. Though there is no current trial date, one is expected to be set sometime next week. In response to the allegations and subsequent not guilty plea, Dietrich’s mayor Don Heiken said, “We’ve never seen anything like this. No one knows how to deal with it, what to make of it.” How could ANYONE possibly make sense of something so undeniably horrendous?
This is not a “boys will be boys” situation and I am so sick of our society excusing the all-too-often sickening actions of young men simply because they are athletes. We have a country condemning a black athlete for sitting in peaceful protest, yet we continue to fail as a nation to teach these young, privileged, generally white young men there are consequences for their disgusting behavior by continuing to applaud their athletic achievements while brushing their unspeakable crimes under the rug. When will the justice system wake up and do its job, already? At some point, enough has GOT to be enough.
I hope he gets life in prison, but that’s probably just wishful thinking on my part, eh?