You Haven't Forgotten About Big Ben ... Have You?

ben-roethlisberger.jpgI admit it: I thought the cacophony following the rape charges against NFL star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was going to be louder. You could say I "Steeler-ed" myself for it, actually. Last summer's charges that Big Ben raped a woman at a Lake Tahoe casino-hotel cued a throwdown that's typical when a high-profile athlete is accused of such a crime--victim-blaming and chest-puffing defenses of Roethlisberger were the least of it.

Feminists and others with common sense spoke up loudly when ESPN issued an absurd "do not report" memo to its staff, and when the Lake Tahoe hotel was charged with covering up the rape. Whatever the results of the charges, no one was going to get away with propping up the architecture of rape culture.

At least for awhile.

What's up with the quietude ever since? I'm not saying that I want to see a garish public shouting match about this case, but I'm absolutely bewildered at how there's nary a public whisper anymore. Especially now, in the heat of the NFL season, when Big Ben is quarterbacking before crowds of thousands every Sunday. Almost like normal.

Oh yes, there was news in the Big Ben rape case just yesterday ... did you hear it? A Nevada judge denied Roethlisberger's motion to dismiss the charges. According to the itty-bitty AP report, "Washoe District Judge Brent Adams also refused a request by a lawyer for the two-time Super Bowl champ to sanction the woman's attorney for pursuing the case without sufficient evidence."

So this story is going to continue--whether are not there are narrators in the media or, god forbid, in the sports world that I love and hate at all the same time. Maybe this relative lack of attention to the rape charges is best; the most likely landscape for justice to be served with minimal collateral damage done to the persons involved. The court of public opinion, after all, is notorious for distortion and cruelty.

Maybe, however, this inattention is dangerous; an implicit message that if you are athletically heroic enough (and Ben Roethlisberger is certainly that, if nothing else), then we as a culture will look the other way when you are accused of terrible, brutal acts. Maybe we will tune in every Sunday to the game, we'll tailgate with our friends and families, and we won't even have to pretend that the star quarterback on the field was accused of rape ... because we will have actually forgotten it ever happened.

Image Credit: Sports Illustrated

by Anna Clark
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8 Comments Have Been Posted

Without knowing a lot about

Without knowing a lot about the case, since little has been made public, it's fairly easy to see a stark difference in regard to race. A white athlete is accused of rape, and people argue that to talk about it is to assume his guilt and smear his good name. Very infrequently are black athletes (or black public figures of any sort) afforded that same sense of innocent until proven guilty. My cynical side wants to say then that when an assault or rape committed by black athletes makes headlines, the reports are not rooted in our culture’s collective hatred of rape, rather our collective fantasies about the black male as sexual predator.

The way we talk about rape often reveals an imbalance of social power between men and women. It's interesting in this case how rape potentialy reveals an imbalance of social power between men. Believing some men are more capable of rape by their nature certainly must feed rape culture as much as do victim blaming and believing that men are entitled to sex with women.

Yes, yes, and yes.

jordanb, thank you for that comment. So insightful and so right on. We might compare how the the rape charges against Kobe Bryant were discussed to how we're discussing the current charges against Ben R. It seems to me that it is wildly different.

Yes but..

These are great points, especially in regards to the way rape charges reveal inequalities between men as well as women. However (and this is just my personal experience here), when the rape charges came out against Kobe, I didn't see tabloids covered with accusatory headlines about HIM, but rather tabloids covered with photos of the accuser (dancing in night clubs, as proof that she couldn't have been raped; because, of course, dancing=unrapeable.) So I think it's important to note that yes, black athletes charged of a crime get much more media attention than white ones, but the alleged victims in these cases seem to be the ones taking the brunt of the media blame.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately: the fact that a person being a great athlete or actor or musician seems to absolve him of any responsibility in regards to crimes of a sexual nature. Sure you raped somebody . . . but you throw a great pass! So . . . we'll just get over it.


Thank you!

That is precisely my problem with saying that the Kobe Bryant case was about his race. It was not. The woman was not even afforded the status of victim by the media. She became "the accuser," a word with more than a slightly negative connotation. That term was originally introduced by Bryant's defense attorney, as were the questions about the "appropriateness" of the woman's behavior. In fact, defense views and strategies quickly began to shape how the story was reported. From the word "accuser" to claims that she was sexually promiscuous (and, thus, incapable of being raped, I guess), it all came from his legal camp. The fact that he chose a woman to represent him was part and parcel of getting this view of the victim into the mass consciousness. If the misogyny and tendency towards rape apology were pointed out, it could be countered with the fact that it was another woman who was saying these things. It was a very shrewd (and cynical) choice by Bryant, but it didn't make it any less nauseating. Just one more woman who was willing to be co-opted by the patriarchy, to attack another woman for the benefit of a man. And it worked like a charm, didn't it?

In my opinion, the myths about black men and rape seemed to actually work in Bryant's favor. It was as though the underlying subtext was that she was victimizing a black man, becoming his "accuser," by the very fact that she was white, he was black, and she had reported the crime of rape (with all of its historical connotations vis-a-vis race). Her whiteness made her his victimizer; his blackness made him an innocent victim of the ways of racism. Apparently, white women are supposed to accept rape if it comes at the hands of a minority male.

In the early part of the investigation, it was reported that the police found her blood on one of his shirts. That is hardly indicative of a consensual encounter. That fact slowly disappeared from the news reports, with the more "important" story being that of whether her post-incident behavior was "appropriate." Running down so-called friends (which, proof that they were "friends"?) who would say nasty things about her became a favorites ESPN past time. Talking about the men with whom she'd had sex--both before and after the incident in that hotel room--became an acceptable topic of news coverage. So, the old myths about rape were in full swing. The rush to paint the victim as "loose" and a liar were alive and well. Added to this was the new implication that her charges against a black man made her a racist, as well.

By contrast, only one story after that attack went into the sexual behavior of Kobe Bryant. That story appeared in Playboy. It included interviews with women with whom he had had sex (in short, the women he'd been screwing while his pregnant wife was at home). They reported that his sexual tendencies included grabbing a woman around the throat while he had sex with her from behind. This was what got him off in consensual encounters. This was extremely similar to the behavior the victim in the case reported. She reported kissing him, saying that this was entirely consensual. Suddenly, he grabbed her by the throat, forced her to bend over, and had "sex" with her. He then tried to force her to let him ejaculate in her face. People who saw her afterwards reported that she was crying and had bruises on her throat. She immediately asked to leave work, basically running out in tears. She had to be convinced by others to go to the police. In his later apology, Bryant would say that he understood why she might have "felt" that she was being raped. While details of this woman's consensual sexual encounters were plastered all over the Internet and the newspapers, no one discussed that even Bryant's idea of consensual sex is based upon exerting control over and humiliating women.

Sorry, but saying that the coverage was racist just doesn't fly with me. If it were, these facts would have received much more play, while the woman would not have been savaged day after day in the press. This was a typical blame-the-female-victim case. The woman was a "whore" who felt "remorse" after the fact and "cried rape." (I've always wondered about the logic of this argument: if a woman is ashamed of a sexual encounter, why would she file police charges that guarantee that everyone will know what happened? Especially when the person she is identifying is famous, thereby assuring that it won't just be a local story, but a worldwide one. Wouldn't she just go home and keep her mouth shut? Of course, expecting logic from rape apologists is not terribly realistic.) The twist in this case was that the man was black, and was depicted as the victim of historical racism.

(A little aside: in the latest stories about the Erin Andrews case, ESPN is taking steps to protect her from public attacks. They posted warnings on their comment boards that anyone who didn't show their colleague respect would have comments deleted. I admire them for stepping up to the plate for Ms. Andrews. I despise them for their hypocrisy. During the Bryant case, I often wrote that I wondered how the reporters would feel if their friend, sister, wife, lover, daughter was the victim in that case. Would they think the media's attempts to tear her down were appropriate? Would they think it was appropriate to publish the endless streams of character assassination that found print during that case? The Erin Andrews case proves that they would not. Fucking hypocrites.)

On the Ben R. front, I think a lot of things are at play. Perhaps some of it is residual from the Bryant case, but I think more of it has to do with Duke Lacrosse. The consensus in the public and the sports press was that these poor little rich boys were cruelly victimized by a low-class, black stripper. She sought to punish them (for their racist comments, by the way) by accusing them of gang rape. The media storm was fierce because the victim was black and those she identified were white. Most of the public accused the media and the prosecutor of a rush-to-judgment. The facts that these men were--at best--drinking illegally, bringing strippers on campus, and hurling racial insults at this young woman were all discounted. After the charges were dropped, the team members were treated as if they had done absolutely not one thing wrong. She was a low-class stripper (i.e. a "whore") and a liar; they were good boys who were victimized by a vindicative "whore" and a politician. So, with that being their mindset, ESPN is not going to treat new cases the way they treated the Duke Lacrosse story. I believe they will behave more like they have in the Ben R. case.

These are interesting

These are interesting observations about the Kobe Bryant case. They lead me to the conclusion that the case was very much about race, rather than not. The fact that the woman was painted as a deviant by association with Bryant also doesn't negate, but adds to the race/gender/power narratives at play. Obviously, ideas about the predatory nature of black men are also very sexist - forcing women into the passive victim or slut-who-sleeps-with-black-dudes role. We also have a history in this country of black men being lynched for sexual relationships with white women. It's not surprising that this would come up in the context of the case. However, when white men lynched black men who associated with white women it was because white women were perceived as objects or property. It was sexist in a very modern way for Bryant's defense team to cast doubt on this woman's claim by alluding to that historically real form of racism. I feel as though none of this negates the argument that racism plays a role in how we perceive men accused of rape.

I agree that when famous men are accused of rape, there is often a palatable hope that the accusation with be false. I'd argue that this is an extension of a deeper held cultural misconception that rapists are "other men." Not men you know, love or admire. Other men. The wealth and visibility of famous men adds doubt to all accusations of rape. This certainly applies to famous black men as well. Yet, there is something that draws us to these cases. It's almost as if people are collectively saying "Bryant's famous so I assume he didn't do it, but he's he is capable." I'd argue that regardless of content, the duration of the media circus is significant. It's as though our racism confuses our default sexist cultural responses to rape.

Rule of thumb

<i>Sure you raped somebody . . . but you throw a great pass! So . . . we'll just get over it.</i>

So representative of media coverage, and not just for athletes; try replacing "throw a great pass" with "sing great music," or perhaps the most obvious variation right now: "direct great movies!"

The reason most people

The reason most people haven't talked about it in the media is because unless you go in assuming he's guilty, the evidence all points to a non-case. Atheletes should never get the pass on rape, nor politicians, or anyone else thats "famous" regardless of race, but there's no physical evidence, no police report or medical treatment (both of which were available for the Kobe Bryant case), and there's the emails she sent to her co-workers. This added to the questionable timing of her complaint, and the stretch that the whole casino conspired to cover up the crime(breaking into her house and deleting her emails and computer records, which any competent IT professional could forensically pull from the harddrive even after deletion). This is from an objective view, a case that has the shadow of doubt all over it.

If the case is a fraud you can just add it to the bin with Tawana Brawley, the Duke Lacross team, and most recently the Megan Williams story, as reasons some people question rape allegations with no evidence beyond an accusation. Those hurt women too, because it makes it harder for the next real victim to be taken seriously, and unless you're out to crucify Roethlisberger because he's a pampered "white" athelete than I can't see how you would not harbor some skepticism.

Most of all I'm outraged by

Most of all I'm outraged by the men's view on this story I've met online. I just don't understand the way some men's minds work. They had people calling in on the subject on NPR yesterday and some of the responses were like, "Well I won't judge because only he and she know what really happened" and "Since there's no charges then there's no crime so there should be no punishment."

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