SEATTLE — The decision of a Washington state school district to allow a high school student charged with rape to continue to play on the football team has sparked anger from parents amid national scrutiny over how college and professional athletes are censured for violence.
Tyler Smith, 18, was arrested last month during football practice at his high school in Hoquiam in western Washington, and charged with raping two teenage girls — one in July and another in 2012, court documents show.
Smith, who was released on bail pending trial and has returned to school and the football team, told investigators the girls said “no,” but that in one case: “I thought she was saying ‘no’ for pleasure,” according to court records.
Smith’s return to the field comes as the National Football League faces public criticism and the loss of sponsors over how it has handled allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault among professional athletes.
The NFL domestic abuse crisis was touched off when former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice was suspended for two games for punching his then fiancée, now wife, unconscious, a punishment many believed was too light.
Families of students in the Hoquiam district said Smith’s return to the field sends the wrong message.
“I don’t think he should be allowed at school, let alone allowed to play,” said Shawn Sinor, whose grandson will attend the high school next year. “The school is definitely downplaying how serious this is, and it sends the message that bullies can get away with it.”
Other community members pointed to the pressure facing the NFL to suspend players charged with felonies.
“I think it should be the same deal as what the NFL is doing. They should be off from it and not playing,” Larry Perry, the grandfather of a Hoquiam High School student, told KOMO-TV.
Hoquiam School District Superintendent Mike Parker said the allegations facing Smith were both “disgusting and disturbing,” but that the school was respecting the judicial process that assumes the young man is innocent until proven guilty.
“In consultation with legal counsel, the district will follow a legal path that we trust will lead to justice for all parties,” he said.
School officials said that Smith removed himself from the football field on Tuesday. It was unclear if he permanently quit the team.
It was also unclear how he intended to plead to the rape charges. His attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.