The Collegian
Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Why do rich white kids get all the attention?

This column might not seem as though it's about sports, but it'll get there.

On Sunday morning a house burned down. In that house were seven college students from the University of South Carolina and Clemson University.

I heard about the fire on Sunday night during a local newsbreak during a football game. I went online to check it out further and, lo and behold, the story was on the front page of The New York Times' Web site. I then read the story of seven students who were on a weekend vacation at a resort house on the North Carolina coast when the house erupted in flames at 7 a.m.

My initial reaction was sadness. I can't imagine how terrible it would be to lose a friend, classmate, brother or sister in such an unimaginable way. My prayers continue to go out to the families of the victims.

But soon thereafter, a feeling of guilt came over me. I began to notice the incredible amount of media coverage of the incident, and it became all too familiar. I had seen this happen three years earlier with a close family friend of mine at the University of Colorado, and I was equally disappointed after the initial grief: Why did this case get so much attention?

My friend Gordie died on a Friday night during the first night of fraternity initiation during the third week of his freshman year. Within a month, his parents appeared on the CBS Early Show. A month later, his story was in People Magazine. Gordie had become the face of a national movement to curb hazing and increase alcohol awareness on college campuses.

I have written a lot about what national media outlets choose and chose not to discuss this fall, but that really just begs a larger question: What does our society hold most important?

Now, I am not discrediting the value of covering such tragedies as I have listed above. Especially in Gordie's case, the attention has been invaluable in creating a foundation in his name and an upcoming documentary called "HAZE" that explores his story and national alcohol abuse at colleges in general.

But what aggravated me about both Gordie's case and last Sunday night's was that had any of these victims not been wealthy, white college students, their stories likely would have been buried by most newspapers and TV stations. Their tragic tales would have likely gone unnoticed.

What made me come to this conclusion?

On Friday, a man named Genarlow Wilson was released from prison after serving nearly three years of a 10-year sentence for aggravated child molestation. When he was 17, Wilson had consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old, which, in Georgia, made him a child molester and gave him a minimum sentence of ten years.

Wilson, who is black, was one of the most highly touted high school football recruits in the country at the time of the incident, and he had just fallen victim to one of the most archaic and asinine laws any state has \0xAD— or had, at least. At the time, conditions such as similarity in age and consent by both partners were null in court because the state only recognized such provisions in cases of vaginal intercourse. So, Wilson got locked up.

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I first heard about that case almost a year ago. Now, I am a journalism major, an avid sports fan and tend to think of myself as pretty up on the times. But somehow it took two years for this story to get to me. Thanks to a writer named Wright Thompson, I got a glimpse of the kind of judicial injustice that is conveniently glossed over by most major newspapers each day.

Thompson wrote a piece that infuriated me. He painted the picture of a college-bound African-American whose reputation — he's now a registered sex offender, who wouldn't have been if the two had had vaginal sex — education and dignity had been compromised by a Good Ole' Boy justice system that doesn't work. He told a story that didn't need two years to mature, either.

So while Wilson likely lost his chance to attend schools like South Carolina or Clemson, as well as to play football there, those mourned at these universities on Monday morning were fondly remembered for one of their final acts: watching the South Carolina-Tennessee football game.

These students are mourned because of the great potential that was lost in that fire, just as Gordie's was on that night in 2004 at the Chi Psi house in Boulder, Colo. I sincerely hope that Wilson is given the chance to follow through on his commitment to play college football.

To those who know anyone involved in the house fire, I give my deepest condolences. But during the coming weeks when we learn more about the departed, just remember that for each of their stories, there are 1,000 more about people the same age, doing the same thing, that you won't hear about. I hope you might question what is becoming an alarming trend of selective journalism when tragedies involving college-aged students occur.

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