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Hazing aftermath makes Robert Underwood a lifelong reporter to sexual offender registry

A 17-year-old former Tallmadge High School football player was placed on probation today for one year and ordered to undergo psychological counseling for an attack on a younger teammate last summer at the school.

Robert Underwood, who was found guilty last month of juvenile delinquency charges of rape and hazing in connection with the incident, turned to face the 16-year-old victim and his family in court and tearfully read a written letter of apology.

”It was never my intention to cause you harm in any way. I thought that what I was doing was nothing more than a silly prank to get people to laugh. I realize now the severity of what I did, and it was nothing to laugh about,” Underwood said.

The victim, who was 15 at the time of the attack, testified in Summit County Juvenile Court last month that he was accosted by several teammates last August after football practice. He said he was forced to the ground, his pants were pulled down and he was jabbed repeatedly in the buttocks with a plastic drinking straw.

Special prosecutor Dan Riedl of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, who was appointed to handle the case, told Juvenile Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio before sentencing that Underwood ”picked up that straw and pushed it multiple times into the victim’s rectum . . .” ”That was an intentional act. It wasn’t merely something that got out of hand. It was an intent to cause a real violation . . . of another person,” Riedl said.

As part of Underwood’s sentence, Teodosio ordered the teen to be classified — under mandated state guidelines for the offense of rape — as a Tier 3 sexual offender.

It is the most serious sex offender classification under Ohio law, and it will require Underwood to register his address with the sheriff’s office every 90 days for life.

Underwood also was ordered to undergo an alcohol assessment and treatment program, to write a letter of apology and make amends to the victim and his family and to perform 40 hours of community service.

If he violates any of those terms of probation, then he could be sentenced to incarceration in a Department of Youth Services facility for a period of at least one year up to his 21st birthday, Teodosio said.

Riedl, the special prosecutor, asked the judge to prohibit Underwood from returning to Tallmadge High as another part of his sentence, but Teodosio declined the request, saying she would leave that decision to school officials.

Underwood has not attended classes at the school since the incident, the judge noted.

The teen’s mother and father accompanied him to court, and Teodosio praised them in her concluding remarks, saying ”it took a lot of courage to take this case to this level.”

”If more people would step forward and be brave enough to come into court to speak about these kinds of things, then hopefully . . . they will not occur to other young men and women” the judge said.

Underwood’s mother, sobbing as she addressed the court, called the incident ”horseplay” and said the same type of thing has been going on on the team ”for generations.”

She declined further comment outside of court.
Special prosecutors were brought in from Columbus because the son of an assistant county prosecutor also is a Tallmadge football player.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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