Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Shut her up and let the man play football"

Tonight is the Pittsburg Steelers’ season-opening game. I’m not a big a football fan, but the Steelers have been in the news a lot lately: first, because they have a kickass team, and second, because their quarterback might be a rapist.

Last July, Andrea McNulty filed a civil suit against Ben Roethlisberger, accusing him of sexual assault. Roethlisberger is the Steeler’s star quarterback. McNulty is a concierge at Harrah’s Hotel & Casino in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

She Said:

According to McNulty’s complaint, Roethlisberger sexually assaulted her while he was a guest at the hotel in July, 2008. Roethlisberger asked McNulty to come to his room to fix his television. Once they were behind closed doors, Roethlisberger forced her onto the bed and raped her.

McNulty complained to the head of security, who told her that “most girls would feel lucky to get to have sex with someone like Ben Roethlisberger.” Harrah’s management threatened to fire McNulty if she went public with her accusations.

McNulty stayed quiet, but fell into a deep depression. She spent the next six months in and out of hospitals. Unable to eat or sleep, she lost 30 pounds.

In July, 2009, McNulty filed a civil suit against Roethlisberger and Harrah’s. She demanded over $400,000 for medical expenses and lost wages. This week, McNulty offered to settle the case if Roethlisberger admitted to the allegations, apologized to her and donated $100,000 to the Committee to Aid Abused Women.

For a more thorough description of McNulty’s story, click here.

He Said:

Roethlisberger calls McNulty’s accusations “reckless and false.” He refuses to discuss the case in the media, choosing instead to “respond to her outrageous allegations in the appropriate forum.” To see Roethlisberger’s official statement, click here.

The NFL is investigating McNulty’s accusations, but Roethlisberger’s status with the Steelers has not changed in response to the suit.

After McNulty filed her suit, one of her coworker’s claimed that McNulty bragged about having consensual sex with Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger’s attorney contends that McNulty is exploiting the athlete’s celebrity status to secure “an extortionate payday.”

For a more thorough description of Roethlisberger’s story, click here.

Public Outrage!

The public has been unsympathetic to McNulty’s plight. Bloggers compare Roethlisberger’s case to other “false rape” cases, like the one against the Duke Lacrosse Team, or Kobe Bryant. To read the full blog entry, click here.

Roethlisberger’s fans are even more hostile, blogging:

* "please shut her up and let the man play football"

* "Honey your 15 minutes are up."

* "Okay... This lady is starting to get on my damn nerves now... Ben, Give me a call... She may need to be silenced."

To read more of the fans' blog posts, click here.

Getting Away with Rape?

McNulty’s faces an uphill battle. Professional athletes’ are substantially more likely to escape rape convictions than regular defendants. USA Today conducted a study of 168 rape cases involving athletes. Generally, 52% of rape cases result in conviction. In stark contrast, only 6 of 168 athletes were convicted of rape (less than 4%). USA Today offered three explanations for why athletes are more likely to escape rape convictions:

(1) Pressure to Stay Silent: Victims face enormous pressure to drop their charges when a rape conviction could ruin the athlete’s career.

(2) He Said/She Said: When the victim and the celebrity-defendant’s stories differ, juries are more likely to trust the celebrity-defendant.

(3) Motive to Lie: It is easy to undermine the victim’s credibility by accusing her of filing charges to exploit the athlete’s wealth and fame.

To read USA Today’s study, click here.

Let’s give McNulty the benefit of the doubt.

The media has demonized McNulty as a mentally unstable opportunist who is trying to exploit a beloved football hero. At trial, the evidence might prove the media is right. But what if the media wrong?

Let’s assume that McNulty’s accusations are legitimate. Roethlisberger’s supporters have employed the exact same strategy the USA Today study discussed.

(1) Pressure to Stay Silent: McNulty faced enormous pressure to stay silent. According to McNulty, Harrah’s threatened to fire her if she publicly accused Roethlisberger of rape. In response, McNulty suffered in silence for almost a year before she took legal action.

(2) He Said/She Said: The public has overwhelmingly sympathized with Roethlisberger. Bloggers compare Roethlisberger’s case to other false rape cases involving professional athletes. Without a trial, the public has already concluded that McNulty is lying.

(3) Motive to Lie: Roethlisberger’s attorney accused McNulty of using the rape allegation to extort money from Roethlisberger. In reality, McNulty is willing to settle for an apology.

Give McNulty the benefit of the doubt and let the jury determine if her claim is legitimate. In the meantime, I’ll be rooting for the Packers.


Eve said...

I don't follow sports, however I do remember the Kobe Bryant and Duke Lacrosse scandals. I remember the Duke one in particular because I had a couple of female acquaintances at Duke at the time. One of these women joined a Facebook group dedicated to posting about how ridiculous these accusations were. It didn’t surprise me when she joined because she is one of those anti-feminist conservatives who generally believes that women who are survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault must have done something to contribute. However, I was disappointed that the other acquaintance, who is a liberal feminist, immediately joined the same group.

The story quickly transformed into how this Black, female exotic dancer was falsely accusing three white men of sexual assault – and then later how the prosecutor became disbarred for fraud and misrepresentation. It turns out that the woman was not being truthful, but that is really beside the point. The problem I have is how these men, were somehow victimized by an untruthful accusation. Sure, they lost money and were embarrassed, but think of the number of women who regularly suffer discrimination after coming forward and have to deal with their names being dragged through the mud without a single apology or defender. At the time, many fellow students came to the players’ defense, my acquaintances included, even before they had all of the facts. They for there for the men, but if the accusations turned out to be true, I seriously question whether they would have been there for the woman.

anonymous said...

This is somewhat analogous to the Michael Vick controversy that, although not directly a women's issue, is indicative of the kind of leeway sports celebrities are afforded. Michael Vick was recently reinstated by the NFL, and after being signed with the Eagles, is scheduled to be on the field again in the September 27th game against the Kansas City Chiefs. As a sports fan in general, and a football fan in particular, I am outraged that this man would be allowed, not just by the NFL, but by football fans, to return to a position of prestige and celebrity.

I think there are some interesting parallels to be drawn, too, between the paltry enforcement of animal welfare, domestic violence and rape laws. Michael Vick served just 20 months for a federal dog-fighting conviction, and even this sentence is abnormally long. Similarly, men who are abusive towards women are often given soft sentences, if they are convicted at all. I think it is important to remember what kinds of crimes these are: violent and cruel. I invite anyone who thinks they can stomach the atrocities that are commonplace in dog-fighting culture to do a simple google image search. The pictures are truly shocking. Obviously, I don't think anyone needs reminding of the kind of physical and emotional damage that affect a woman who has been raped or beaten. And, perhaps not surprisingly, animal abuse and violence against women are often linked. Given the brutality of this kind of violence, I am viscerally angry over the NFL's nonchalant treatment of both Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick.