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Silsbee cheerleader rape case carries wide-ranging implications for the sport inTexas
It seems reasonable that raping a high school student should get someone kicked off their sports team. But in Silsbee, a Texas town north of Beaumont, it was the rape victim, not her attacker, who was kicked off her cheerleading team by school officials.
Sound unfair? She thinks so, and she's appealing to the Supreme Court.
It all started in 2008, when the student, known publicly as H.S., was at a party. According to H.S., then 16 and a cheerleader at Silsbee High School, three men including Silsbee football star Rakheem Bolton forced her into a room, locked the door and sexually assaulted her until others attempted to get into the room, when they fled through a window with Bolton leaving his clothes behind.
Bolton was indicted, pled guilty to a lesser charge of Class A assault and was sentenced to a year in prison, which was commuted to two years probation, a fine, community service and anger management.
But pending indictments weren't enough to get Bolton dismissed from the basketball team, and though H.S. was willing to cheer for the team that her alleged rapist played on, she drew the line at cheering for him personally. During a game in Feb. 2009, she quietly folded her arms at sat down during his free throws, rather than chanting "Two, four, six, eight, ten, come on, Rakheem, put it in!" to her attacker.
For this protest, she was summarily dismissed from the cheerleading squad by the principal and district superintendent. She sued the school officials for violating her right to free speech, and claimed the school had made other attempts to convince her to keep a low profile by not eating lunch in the cafeteria or participating in homecoming activities.
"As a team, I cheered for them as a whole. When he stepped up to the free-throw line, it didn't feel right for me to have to cheer for him after what he did to me ... After that game I decided I started this, I'm going to get my point across now," she told ABC.
Last year a district court in New Orleans dismissed her suit as frivolous, stating that as a cheerleader she "served as a mouthpiece for the school" and had no right to refuse to cheer Bolton's name. The court found that her refusal to do so "constituted substantial interference with the work of the school," and was reasonable grounds for her dismissal.
Essentially what the court was saying was that the sole function of cheerleading is to vocally support the (male) athletes who are doing "the work of the school" — playing football or basketball. But cheerleading, whether or not you want to call it a sport, is an activity on its own. Cheerleaders compete, train and are members of a team — and in Texas, they tend to be at the top of the all-important high school status system. It's not something that a rape victim should be required to give up.
Instead it seems like the school officials did everything in their power to protect Bolton at the expense of another student, choosing instead to discipline H.S. when she refused to disappear or forget her assault. Despite unrelated threats of violence against a teacher, Bolton was later removed from the school only after a complaint was made to the University Interscholastic League.
It's by no means certain that the Supreme Court will accept the case, but the federal ruling as it stands is a tribute to misogyny.
Texas women — yes, even cheerleaders — deserve better.