Hard sell -- Mark Ambrogi's take on Carmel 'victims'

Dateline: Tue 04 Jan 2011


As fascinating as Indianapolis Star sports reporter Mark Ambrogi's story (above) is on the Laskowski family of Carmel, even more intriguing is the backlash from Star readers in comments. So be sure to check those out.

To summarize: Scott Laskowski, 20, is one of four former Carmel High School basketball players charged in what the Star is calling "the Carmel basketball hazing case," which, in fact, is apparently more accurately a sexual assault case, no matter what the courts are calling it.

Last winter, Laskowski was among a group of Carmel athletes riding a bus through Hendricks County, in the wake of a Carmel-Terre Haute game.  Laskowski and two other guys on that bus, all seniors, were accused, a few weeks later, of sexually attacking a 14-year-old freshman. (restraining the freshman in order to "penetrate him with their fingers  through his underwear").

The freshman and his family, who have been through their own particular hell, are now planning to sue the school district for $2.25 million. Four Carmel jocks, including Laskowski, pleaded guilty to criminal recklessness charges. Hamilton County Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp called a grand jury. And, despite a huge media blitz, the videotape from the bus, which recorded whatever happened, has never been made public -- anyhow, the story goes on and on.

The focus of Ambrogi's Monday story, however, is very narrow: its aim is to portray Scott Laskowski and his family as victims -- of an inept school corporation, an unrelenting media (mostly TV and mostly Channel 8) and even of a vicious neighbor who targeted Scott with "sex offender lives here" yard signs, etc., at his own home. In general, the family's claim is that they underwent a life-altering series of events that forced them to move from Carmel to Bloomington, give up jobs, etc.

"If the school had not mishandled it, we would not be here today," says the father John Laskowski. And later, "The media thing was too much for the school to overcome. The truth was not going to win over the media blitz...we were dead."

That's a bit extreme.

The Laskowskis, certainly, are not without a voice or means to defend themselves: father John is employed by Indiana University to do color commentary on games; Mom Alice worked for the Pacers. They are articulate, and their son is now a freshman at Aurora University in Illinois, on that school's basketball team. And Scott, along with his peers in this incident, were permitted to graduate from Carmel -- another issue for critics of this case, since Carmel offiicals seemed to drag their feet re: charges in order that the guys could graduate and move on with their lives.

OK, my perspective: I found the Laskowskis' take fascinating and indeed did feel some sympathy for them. Media camped out on their lives; they had to hide in a dark house; their daughter was so frightened by threats and being followed (by a neighbor, apparently) that she thought she was having a heart attack.

This is all fallout, and it is messy, indeed. And people needed to read this -- to read what life is like from inside the case, or the glass house, as Ambrogi says. Life from the vantage of one of the four guys accused.

But did this story generate any real compassion for the family? Quite the opposite, if the comments are an indicator. There is already a perception that Carmel High is "Lord of the Flies"; if anything, this story perpetuated the myth (or reality) that Laskowski has never taken responsiblity for his actions (except legally) and does not seem to show remorse. He is still saying he did nothing more than hold down the ankles of a guy in a locker room, and he seems not to get how that could have led to his current predicament....and his family's.

Years ago, when I was raising kids, there was a mothers' ongoing debte on whether or not to make a child say, "I'm sorry." A more progressive friend assured me she could never make her son apologize, because, "If he didn't feel it, I wouldn't force him to say it," or words to that effect.

But in cognitive therapy, my favorite form of mental health, "say the words and the feelings will follow." Act out what you are supposed to do, responsibly, as a young adult, (or a little kid, when possible) and eventually, you will find yourself doing that right thing.

I have to wonder if the Laskowski lad has in his heart felt any remorse -- certainly he does for what has happened to his family, but what about what happened in those locker rooms or on that bus?

Hence, the family is getting raked over the coals...again, with comments going so far as to suggest that Mark's story is nothing more than PR.

Interesting gambit, on behalf of the reporter and the family. I don't blame the reporter -- he got some good insight -- but as for the family's efforts to correct the record, there's only one conclusion: FAIL.


Parent [unverified] said:

I read the story and couldn't believe that the family would choose to air their side of the story in the media. They should have stayed quiet and kept their whereabouts private. Maybe they should have allowed their son to do an interview about how he's moving on, without the focus on a situation that was so wrong in so many ways. As a parent, I always feel partially responsible for my children's mistakes. Maybe I should have done this or that. But never would I dream of blaming their mistakes on the school they attended or the attention their actions drew.

2011-01-04 11:59:30

ruthholl [Member] said:

I agree with you. The parents called the shots on this, and it really did nothing to advance their son's side.
However, it was an emotional look at the turmoil they felt, and how it affected their daughter and their lifestyle, but the idea of Scott being a victim just does not wash. He and the other boys were seniors; they had a responsibility to be role models, not goose around with younger guys and cause them physical/emotional pain. They screwed up. Now, everyone involved is paying a price.
Nobody seems to have looked real hard at the coaches' roles, either. I have read their were adults on that bus, obviously out to lunch if they were there.
There is plenty of blame to go around.
But bottom line: big kids don't get physical with younger kids. If they do, there are consequences.

2011-01-04 12:29:22

jersey [unverified] said:

So all Scott did is hold on to the victim's ankles...really? That's it?
And if someone was holding on to their daughter's ankles, would that be okay?
If this were Tech or Manual students, they would be in orange jumpsuits right now.
Live in Carmel, so don't tellme that I am bitter about this.
(actually, I am bitter by nature, but not about this...)

2011-01-04 14:36:18

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

So much fodder, so little space.

The Laskowskis should've followed their lawyers' advice and remained quiet. This interview did them no good.

My kids played against Carmel for years. Those parents, and our team's families, were friendly through years of AAU and winter school basketball. (I thought) we rooted for one another's kids until they played our team--even then, we took pride in particular athletes' performance and off-court accomplishments. Regardless of school.

Throughout that relationship, now a decade past, I was wrong. I later discovered there was mostly a seething competitive under-the-horizon attitude. The professed interest in our kids was mostly fake.

There's an unmistaken aloofness in Carmel athletic programs. It's thick in the air--you can almost pluck it from your teeth. Those kids aren't born with "attitude"--they learn it. Well.

It's a strangely patrician thing--kinda like Babs Bush muttering about the Katrina refugees being "better off" in the Astrodome.

The Carmel smiles are just slightly less-bright than the pearls, or vice versa. Through oft-gritted teeth, dahhhhling.

Yeah, it's generalities. And yeah, horseplay happens lots of places.

Your coach question was poignant. Whatever happened on that bus, four athletes apparently knew the'd get away with it. Why else would they do it? The sexual overtones were strong.

Something not discussed was the racial overtone...leave that for another post.

Kids need supervision. Adults entrusted with that responsibillity should take it seriously. Or risk firing, or likely, criminal charges. In 91 of 92 Indiana counties, at least.

Nonetheless, good Karma to the four offending youths, and triple Karma to the victim. I'm hoping all can recoveer and move on.

16-18 is a helluva age to get cynical.

2011-01-04 14:41:04

Jason [unverified] said:

Kids get hazed this bad and worse weekly in Indianapolis and it's NEVER in the news. I'm sure there were some quirks in the way the case was processed, but I think the very reason this whole thing got blown up the way it did was BECAUSE it was in Carmel, not despite it. The coverage did a good job of exposing how unbelievably difficult it can be to maneuver through the criminal justice system as a victim (speaking of the criminal victim, not the Laskowskis.)

The worse part, IMHO, was their behavior when they were being processed, after that I find it hard to believe anybody could give them much sympathy. I've heard on good authority that at least one news outlet researched what grade school David Bisard's children attend and actually tried to pull them out of class to get a statement. I don't doubt most of the suspects and their families involved in the case are dealing with the same thing.

2011-01-04 16:05:29

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Wow, Jason, really? Bisard's KIDS? Seriously?

As for the hazing--my kids are now out of college. But unless they've lied to me (entirely possible) on this issue, I can assure you,this kind of hazing does NOT go on regularly.

And even if it did, this one was reported and investigated.

We're in a brave new world regarding bullying and related incidents. I think students are more empowered and enlightened on the varying forms of bullying/taunting/hazing. That is a good thing.

Hamilton County Sheriff Carter has seen the various political shenanigans in Carmel for years. He's tip-toed around it with electoral success. He wasn't afraid to call it out, in print, when he dissed the kids' behavior at the booking cell.

2011-01-04 16:39:12

ruthholl [Member] said:

I have to wonder if Carmel is not a perfect storm. After TTT posted his recollections, I recalled attending a track meet there. The jaws were set tight -- and that was the moms, not the kids. It was different than anything I'd seen in Wash Township or Catholic schools, for sure. And really, that was an itty bitty event...but there was just this ferocious will to win among the parents I saw.
Bisard kids: WOW. I believe it, tho. I can totally see some of these news organizations using those sorts of tactics.
Has anyone read the report Straub put out? That's up next...
Oh, and Jason -- yes, I agree those guys goofing off at processing did not help them. Scott's explanation is plausible, (nerves) but it's still lame.
Didn't these guys attend Boy Scouts, or a church event, where they learned some humility? They look nice in their suits, but that's where it ends.
I am telling you, this Carmel incident is ripe for Lifetime Movies for Women. It just has that tone. (Of course, we need some women, but maybe moms can fill in the ranks...)

2011-01-04 17:05:13

Parent [unverified] said:

How about a "Housewives of Carmel" series for Lifetime? A key part would be the "lessons" the kids learn from their parents. The football players from Carmel are as dirty as the Warren Central players who punch kids in the throat when they're on the bottom of the pile. And the parents revel in the cheap shots. Add to that the racial insults that accompany punches from the Carmel players and it's no wonder some of us love to hate Carmel.

2011-01-04 18:27:49

ruthholl [Member] said:

The creativity and insight of those who comment on this blog never ceases to amaze and delight me.
I know it's a serious subject, but Parent hits a nail on its head, plus adds an intriguing spin.
Nip and Tuck, Carmel style.

2011-01-04 18:31:39

hendy [Member] said:

Achievers. Face to keep. Believing their own PR. Ignoring the violation to a minor child. Media steps in and amplifies it all. Bad PR gets worse. Predator now victim. Lilly-white suburban over-achiever culture in action. No apologies, no remorse, we're-the-victims mentality. Not FAIL. Provoke. SUCCEED-- by veiled defense.

You're watching chutzpah in action. Be the first one to tell the story, and you're the one to beat. Boo hoo. Crocodile tears at best, serious cataclysm at worst.

It also shows the underlying tensions in the region, crime and victim aside. One more legacy of Unigov..... Indianapolis' version of Beacon Hill dramas.

2011-01-05 01:28:41

Jason [unverified] said:

Now this I can relate to. As a parochial school product we never played Carmel, but to a one each and every Archdiocesan school despised Cathedral. Whether it was the purveiling sense of classlessness, or the unscrupulous recruiting practices many of us witnessed firsthand, or the downright cheating, everybody knew you had to keep your head on a swivel, and this was a city league that included all the IPSAC schools. Unfortunately, the parents did a pretty good job of explaining where the behavior originated.

Athletics have definitely changed a lot. I remember playing a 16 game little league season and being tired of playing organized baseball. Now you have kids playing 60 or 70 games a summer. That's a whole other can of worms, though.

2011-01-05 02:42:28

varangianguard [unverified] said:

Most of my comments have already been covered, but didn't anyone else notice that the ages of the accused seemed to be a year older than what I would have considered "normal" for seniors in high school. IIRC, at least three were already 19.

That insinuates that Carmel holds back athletes so they can play a year older than their peers at other schools.

Nineteen year-old seniors? I was still seventeen for a month when I was a freshman in college.

2011-01-05 04:13:36

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Nah, Varan...not at all. We made that decision for all our kids. The decision is made in their fifth year, and all three of my kids(summer babies) were in tremendous church-based preschools. We wanted that to continue for another year. It helped cement their social skills and gave them another year of solid Christian school. There was no athletic motive.

All three turned out to be fantastic athletes and scholars. We hoped for the scholar thing. We had no idea about the athletic prowess. I was an OK athlete, their mother ditto.

At the outset, we enrolled the kids in Y intramural-type programs. As they grew more skilled, we changed programs. It's that simple.

2011-01-05 05:01:00

Johnathan Doe [unverified] said:

Been following this story from the start. Kent Sterling has been covering it on his blog. Dad Laskowski recently did a readio interview with Dan Dakich.

The family is trying to say this was just your typical horseplay at hand. There is a line in the sand though, and that line is crossed, in my mind, when someone sticks anything up another person's anus.

The younger Laskowski participated in some fashion in these "horseplay" incidents. Did he ever participate in one where fingers, objects, anything, was inserted into another person's anus? If he did, he crossed the line.

Dad's radio interview says the son was guilty of 'holding legs' only. When pressed by Dakich about what else was going on as the legs were held, dad wants to point out son's requirement to testify due to the plea agreement and doesn't comment further. Dad slams TV media, and I do take his side with that. TV media is pressed for time, and they are after ratings. He said that he liked radio because interviews are uninterrupted, and then he mentioned the Indy Star article they would be doing. I got the feeling there would be no TV interviews, yet mom and son gave an interview to WTHR.

The son is trying to say he had no idea about what the other kids were doing while he was holding the legs of the other kid. That is just very hard to believe.

At a minimum, if the one victim didn't care, charges should have never been filed. It is pretty clear the other kid, the victim from the bus, likely received more harm than the victim in the crime Laskowski pleaded guilty too. The prosecutor's office should put out a detailed finding of facts, because if junior Laskowski only "victimized" one person, that should be made public by the prosecutor's office.

If you read the transcript of the Channel 13 interview, mom equates "gooching" (which is said to be some sort of anal penetration) with tackling and chasing.

The issue here: What is "gooching" and how are these people defining it. Son's statements to WTHR try to say that no penetration ever took place.

We will never know what really happened. The truth is somewhere in the middle. The prosecutor's office wouldn't allow for a probable cause affidavit and went the secret grand jury direction. Plea deals with vague allocutions.

The Laskowski PR campaign won't work, because the son's story about holding legs and being oblivious to something happening mere feet away isn't believable. Both parents are minimizing what happened, and most people will likely see this as an elitist God complex. That is why they are getting slammed in public comment sections.

2011-01-05 05:43:36

ruthholl [Member] said:

I feel like you all have made real breakthrough statements here; it reminds me of a moment in journalism, probably 30 years ago, when (as a features writer in Evansville) I decided it was impossible to write impartially about abortion, and instead allowed a page in the newspaper to be turned over to two women espousing different perspectives. What I am trying to say is .... thank you each for contributing, because it is a real learning experience. Gooching, Cathedral, the age of the Carmel athletes, UniGov, the whole megillah. Kent Sterling. Thank you.
Many of us have puzzled over this story, been frustrated by incomplete information, and fascinated by what motivates young people who "have everything" to risk losing their stature, etc., in moments of abandonment.
I'm gonna find Sterling's blog, too...
Gooching. Have to look that one up.
Seriously, I think this is how journalism is evolving, how information is shared, certainly, and I appreciate that everyone here keeps comments on an inquisitive/intellectual level and does not denigrate or disintegrate. Thank you.

2011-01-05 06:29:00

guy77money [unverified] said:

You have to remember that John played for Bobby Knight one of the worst roll models as a coach in the history of college basketball. I remember reading a front page editorial in the Steet & Smith College Basketball preview magazine about (this was after Knight's 2nd year at I.U.) how Knight was one of the most insincere assholes the editor had ever met in the college coaching ranks. This was way before he had won any titles at I.U. I suspect some of Knight's arrogance rubbed off on John Laskowski and his son.

2011-01-05 09:55:41

Jason [unverified] said:

Somebody give a gold star to John Doe.

I think the argument used to mitigate the gooching thing is because it's done above the clothing, if that makes sense. NOT that I agree with it, but if I was an attorney on the wrong side of the issue that's what I'd do...

Varangian, you make a point in one regard. A few years back the most highly sought after b-ball recruit ended up going to Kansas State. He was a 20-year-old college freshman. I know IHSAA has an age limit, but I think it's 20 (somebody correct me on this one.)

2011-01-05 11:30:33

whosear [Member] said:

The lack of information concerning the incidents makes it difficult for me to assess Laskowski's culpability. From gleaning the news sources, the plea agreement is for the locker room incident.

If he was involved in any incident that involves deviate conduct on the part others, then he is pond scum. If not, then it depends on the facts of the incident.

Carmel has an odd struggle between the old and the new...steroids were systematically used by the football team during the 80's, in a manner that suggests at least part of the coaching staff were aware or involved with it.

A sad situation no matter how you slice it.

2011-01-06 19:52:12

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