On September 16, 2006, Antwain Easterling, the 18-year-old star of Northwestern High’s football team, had sex with a 14-year-old girl on the floor of a bathroom in the school. By all accounts, the girl–who was an honor student and band member– consented to the sexual intercourse. Nevertheless, given her age, the act was considered statutory rape. Two other males were arrested with Easterling for lewd and lascivious behavior. Another man, Vincent Shannon Jefferson, was also arrested for statutory rape. Jefferson was 24 years old, and the same girl had said she had sex with him off the school grounds.
The incident might have ended there, but it erupted into scandal when it became clear that school officials knew about the event but covered it up so that Easterling could play in the football state title game, which Northwestern won. Easterling, who had a baby daughter from a different relationship, had already received scholarship offers from Florida, Miami, Rutgers, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. School officials were told about the incident in October 2006. The girl’s mother spoke to a guidance counselor and two teachers, and the guidance counselor told the school’s principal and two assistant principals. The girl’s mother said that Principal Dwight Bernard assured her that he would call the police, but he did not. She contacted the police herself on December 5, which prompted Easterling’s arrest. He should have been suspended for 10 days, according to Miami-Dade School Board policy. He was not, nor did he ever receive any sanction from the school. Easterling actually played in the state championship game while out on $7,500 bond. In June 2006, a grand jury released a document showing that at least 17 school employees knew about the incident.
Given the scandal, Easterling had to settle for a lesser-known college. He began playing football for the University of Southern Mississippi in fall 2007. The girl involved in the incident twice attempted suicide and was institutionalized. Bernard was indicted on two charges of third-degree felony official misconduct stemming from a report he wrote about the incident that the grand jury called “riddled with lies.” During the trial, Bernard claimed he did not contact police because he did not want to report a false allegation. When the trial concluded in April 2010, Bernard was acquitted on all charges.
Bernard had been fired from his position at Northwestern. A number of other teachers who knew about the incident were fired as well. Athletic Director Gregory Killings resigned from his position in July 2007, after 24 years at the school. Coach Roland Smith and his entire coaching staff were fired. A grand jury report also found that the school district had interfered with the police investigation of the incident and that then-Miami Dade Superintendent Rudy Crew was aware that Easterling had been arrested, yet approved of allowing him to play in the state championship game. In July 2007, Superintendent Crew was considering canceling the entire 2007 football season. The community, long known as tremendous supporters of the team, was outraged. As the season approached, Crew changed his mind, perhaps partly because the team had been ranked first in the nation by Rise magazine. They went on to an undefeated season and won another state title.
- Finley, P., Finley, L., & Fountain, J. (2008). Sports scandals. Westport, CT: Praeger.
- Football team faces suspension over sex scandal. (2007, July 11). NBC Sports. Retrieved from http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/19709971/
- Navarro, M. (2006, December 8). Easterling charged with sex crime. Miami Herald. Retrieved July 11, 2007, from LexisNexis Academic database.
- Powell, R. (2007, September 14). Sex scandals, stadium sponsors, and national TV. Slate. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/sports_nut/2007/09/sex_scandals_stadium_sponsors_and_national_tv.html