Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Following up on old news

Lori and I have returned home after an enjoyable, if not short, week in PV; I have a post or two about that trip that I'll write shortly. First, there are a couple of follow-ups to previous posts of mine that I wanted to note:

Last January, I wrote about the unbelievable story of Genarlow Wilson, a young man from Georgia who was sentenced to ten years in prison because he, when he was seventeen years old, received consensual oral sex from a fifteen-year-old schoolmate. I am pleased to discover that, as the result of a ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court, his draconian punishment has been lifted and he has been freed.

In a 4-3 decision, Georgia' high court decided that Wilson's prison sentence - he was convicted of felony aggravated child molestation, and the ten-year sentence was mandatory - constituted cruel and unusual punishment:

"Although society has a significant interest in protecting children from premature sexual activity, we must acknowledge that Wilson's crime does not rise to the level of culpability of adults who prey on children," the court's majority found.

"For the law to punish Wilson as it would an adult, with the extraordinarily harsh punishment of 10 years in prison without the possibility of probation or parole, appears to be grossly disproportionate to his crime," the majority opinion concluded.

With that ruling, the Georgia Supreme Court - or at least a majority of it - finally injected some sanity into what has been a truly insane debacle. Wilson was offered a plea-bargain that would have kept him out of prison, but he turned it down because he would have had to register as a sex offender and wouldn't have been able to live at home with his nine-year-old sister anymore. The jurors who convicted Wilson were outraged by Wilson's sentence because they were not told until after they rendered their verdict that the ten-year sentence was mandatory. The Georgia State Legislature changed the law under which Wilson was convicted, but did not make it retroactive to apply to his conviction. A Georgia county judge later voided Wilson's conviction, but Georgia's Attorney General appealed the ruling. The case gained international attention and generated considerable outrage.

Now it's over. Genarlow Wilson can move on with his life. He has plans to enter college and study sociology. Perhaps he can pick back up on his plans to play college football as well. "I plan on succeeding in life," he says. Good for him.

As a teenager, Genarlow Wilson exercised poor judgement. (What teenager doesn't?!) And, while Wilson should have been held responsible for his actions, the idea that a kid can be labeled a sex offender, be thrown in prison for ten years, and have his life ruined simply because he was a horny teenager in a room full of other horny teenagers doing what horny teenagers typically do is, in a word, cruel. I'm glad Georgia's high court was able to recognize this and, finally, bring an end to this absurdity.

Back in July, I wrote about the All American Football League, a new professional football league that plans to begin play in the spring of 2008 and hopes to appeal to collegiate, rather than pro, fanbases.

The league has announced a six-team lineup for its inaugural season; each team carries the name of a state, and no team nicknames have as of yet been revealed. Alabama will play in Birmingham's Legion Field, Arkansas will play at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Florida will play most of their games at "The Swamp" in Gainesville, Michigan will play at Ford Field in Detroit, Tennessee will play at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville and the Texas team will play right here in Houston at Rice Stadium.

Given the desire of this league to tap into rabid college football fanbases, I was surprised that a Texas team would be located here in Houston instead of in Austin (presumably, this team will wear the same burnt orange color that the Longhorns wear) or even College Station. Houston itself is not exactly a college football hotbed, as attendances for Rice and University of Houston games can attest, but the league appears to be banking on the idea that they can attract the tens of thousands of football-crazy Longhorn alumni who live here in Houston.

I'll probably attend at least a few of these games next spring, not just because I am a college football junkie but also because I am intrigued by the fact that the team will be coached and managed by infamous former University of Houston head coach John Jenkins. Jenkins, who proved his worth as an offensive genius at UH but, unfortunately, not as a defensive mind or a keen recruiter, left the Cougar program under a cloud of controversy in 1993 (allegations against him included charges that he spliced game films with pornography to keep his kids' attention) and wandered through the football world, coaching in both the Arena and Canadian leagues. Most recently, Jenkins served as the head coach of the CFL's short-lived Ottawa Renegades franchise. Now he finds himself back in Houston, bringing his wild offense to a new league that hopes to succeed where other spring football leagues - the USFL, the XFL and the NFL's own World League among them - have failed. Only time will tell if things will be different for the AAFL.

Team Texas expects to begin its season on April 12th. The preliminary schedule can be found here.


John said...

Here's something to think about the Wilson case, though; you comment that he exercised poor judgment, and obviously, given the results, he did.

But it was a mistake because he lives in a word that has decided that two teenagers having sexual contact is a huge problem. Why?

Is it because the sexual activity is damaging to them? There's no sign of that. Is it because there was coercion? No sign of that. The problem is that adults don't like it - despite that any observation of teenagers tells us that that sexual curiousity and experimentation is a normal part of growing up, and probably a healthy part of human sexual development.

Yes, there are perils - like pregnancy and disease - but Wilson showed bad judgment by failing to realize how neurotic the adults in his world are about sex. And so he's a criminal and the girl has no doubt been told over and over that she's a victim, despite apparently having not thought of herself as a victim. (Is that healthy for her?)

You have to wonder what's going on when we've designed a system in which teenager doing normal things and showing normal autonomy have this happen to them. Is this really good for anyone?

Thomas said...

You are correct, John. It's not good for anyone.

Like I said: Wilson got thrown in prison essentially because he was a horny teenager doing what horny teenagers do. His case, extreme though it may be, is merely an example of the absurd and medieval attitudes that adults (especially, but by no means confined to, those in heavily Southern Baptist states) generally have towards teenage sexual activity in general.

With all that said, it was probably not a good idea for Wilson and his friends to videotape the activities that occurred on the night in question.