The Criminalization of a High-School Dare

A teenage football player who exposed himself during a team photo faced a felony charge and 69 counts of indecent exposure.

Sure, if I were in charge at Red Mountain High School in Mesa, Arizona, I would’ve been angry at Hunter Osborn, a football player who decided, on a teammate’s dare, to expose himself. He did it during a team photo as dozens of teammates lined up in the bleachers. True, he was only 18 at the time, the knucklehead.

And no, the photo isn’t all that graphic. The penis partly peeking out the top of number 42’s waistband is less noticeable than Waldo in one of his illustrated spreads. But that’s precisely why no one noticed what Osborn had done for months. It’s why the photo was reproduced in football programs and the high school year book.

All that time, the prank went unnoticed. Then, someone spotted it.

“Do you think I need this kind of headache a month before summer vacation?” I’d have growled at the kid. “In-school suspension for a week! You’ve lost the privilege of prom. And you won’t get your diploma ‘til you repay us for reprinting the yearbook.”

Something like that is my notion of how responsible adults might’ve handled the inappropriate prank. Instead, irresponsible adults in Mesa went completely overboard.

First, the school called the cops, because Americans seem to have decided that educators should farm out educational problems they once handled to law enforcement.

Next, when the police department answered, they didn’t say, “We’ve got unsolved murders on the books, a couple hundred rape cases to deal with in an average year, and more than one robbery committed here per day––since you’ve assembled a workforce specifically trained to discipline students who act up at school, do you think you could manage the inappropriate football photo without us?”

Instead, they launched an investigation. They continued this investigation even after looking at the photo and seeing that the partly exposed penis is about the least graphic, imposing, or plausibly harmful thing imaginable––an Arizona newspaper featured a photo of the yearbook page and nothing untoward can be seen at that resolution.

That is supposed to have hurt high schoolers with the whole Internet in their pockets? The micro-concussions of a single football season did more harm to these kids. Even a school spokesperson later said “it was unlikely the yearbook staff would have been able to identify the minor but critical spot during a normal production review.”

Still, the Mesa police questioned Osborn.

This is supposed to have hurt high schoolers with the whole Internet in their pockets?

USA Today reported what happened next: “After confessing to exposing himself on a dare and telling police he was ‘disgusted’ by his own behavior, Osborn was charged with 69 counts of misdemeanor indecent exposure—one for each of the students present at the photo shoot—and one felony count of furnishing harmful items to minors.” They even outfitted him with an ankle monitor.

Beyond the absurdity of treating this as a criminal matter at all was the weirdness of the 69 counts. The other kids in the photo didn’t see Osborn’s penis that day. They were looking at the camera. What’s more, this team presumably showers together regularly, with no school officials or police officers imagining that anyone is harmed. So why the pretense that a bunch of guys who’ve likely seen Osborn stark naked were victims? Why charge according to the number of teammates?

It was dispiritingly familiar madness.

A position calling for the teen to be spared gathered more than 6,000 signatures. It indulged an impulse to impose even harsher punishment on another individual. “He didn’t put the picture in the yearbook, he didn’t create the page, he wasn’t the editor that approved it, or the teacher responsible for publishing it and distributing it to students,” it states. “The teacher responsible for the yearbook should be fired. Red Mountain High School is using him as a scapegoat instead of taking any responsibility!”

On the contrary, no one should be fired. There was never cause to permanently alter anyone’s life over this. And thankfully, sensible people in Mesa, mostly people who weren’t in positions of authority, managed to avert catastrophe with common sense:

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Arizona announced Wednesday that high school football player Hunter Osborn will not face charges after he exposed himself during the team’s yearbook photo as a prank. Officials dismissed the case after all 69 people at the photo shoot—who were considered “victims”—declined to press charges.

Osborn shouldn’t have exposed himself in the photo. He should’ve face some punishment at school. But the educators and cops who thrust him into the criminal-justice system exhibited comparatively less maturity and more irresponsible behavior.

Shame on them.