Hi Lounge. It’s me Asshalo. After a long haitus, I have returned as an amateur cultural theorist in order to weigh in on the Roethlisberger case.
You may ask, “What does this have to do with sports or even the Packers?”
The truth is it does not directly relate to either, so much as allow me to vent my opinions on the cultural forces that underlie how society judges athletes.
First, there have been a number of people who have already expressed doubts as to whether Roethlisberger sexually assaulted the female victim.
Consider this quote from ESPN:
"A doctor who examined [the victim] at a nearby emergency room discovered a cut, bruises and vaginal bleeding but could not say if she was raped. And while some DNA was found, there was not enough to determine whom it belonged to.”
We do know Roethlisberger fed an underage college student shots, followed her into a dark hallway escorted by his bodyguard, and entered a bathroom with her. Can we agree injuries of this nature at the very least convey a struggle of a sexual nature occurred? Based on witness reports wouldn't it also be reasonable to assume Ben and the victim were alone in the bathroom? You do the math.
Although DNA evidence is "inconclusive" (which I will get to later), we do know the witness did not want to testify at trial, something that would be vital to a guilty plea if only Roethlisberger and she entered the bathroom. Due to the traumatic and embarrassing nature of the crime, it is not uncommon with victims of sexual assault to forgo testifying at trial. Do any of us honestly believe Roethlisberger gets acquitted if the victim agrees to testify?
Alas, Roethlisberger is not going to get charged criminally. But I find it interesting to wonder how society will judge Ben? So far media criticism has largely centered not on whether Ben committed the crime or not, but that he let down his team by putting himself in an unfavorable position in the first place. It won’t be the first time sports has simultaneous highlighted and ignored the social issues facing its athletes.
Here are just a few factors to consider:
1.) Roethlisberger is White-- I can hear critics already. But before you start, answer this question: All else equal, do you think a black man would be given the same due process under our law that a white man would given the facts of this case? History would say probably not. Would the fans and the media judge Roethlisberger differently if he were black? The Kobe Bryant case is almost identical to this one, except with Roethlisberger the dominant criticism is how he let down his teammates by putting himself in an unfavorable position—what happened to the victim here? Accuse me of selective memory, but I remember the resentment against Bryant being much more intense than against Roethlisberger.
2.) Roethlisberger is an investment— The NFL and the media have a lot invested in the brand that is Roethlisberger. Mike Florio accused ESPN of dragging their feet during the first sexual assault story, but he made the mistake of stopping at the story’s break. Would we (the fans and especially the media and the NFL) judge Ben differently if he played a less important position (long snapper, punter)? A less important sport? If he weren’t one of the highest paid players in the league? If he hadn’t won two Super Bowls?
3.) Sexual Assault is invisible- Yes this sounds like a blurb out of “The Accused”, but the phrase is a cliché for a reason. Getting an accurate measurement of rape and sexual assault is already extremely difficult. Again, due to the traumatic nature of the crime, many victims do not want to face the psychological torment of reliving the assault publicly. Can we agree this would be especially intense considering Roethlisberger’s fame?
Feel free to answer these questions. However, the truth is we will not know whether Roethlisberger truly committed sexual assault this year or in 2008 and many will have their reservations. At the very least, the material facts related to a very serious crime are being marginalized by forces that not acting in the best interest of the victim or justice.
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