Apologizing for Ben Roethlisberger

Last Friday, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger became the subject of a police investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct for the second time this year. The alleged victim was hospitalized following the incident, which occurred in the restroom of a college bar in Georgia.

When an athlete is accused of sexual assault there’s usually no shortage of voices expressing doubt about the allegations.

This case, however, is different. Now that Roethlisberger is at the center of his second sexual abuse scandal in nine months, commentators have been forced to revise their typical skeptical responses. As it turns out, the classic approach of discrediting or blaming the victim doesn’t play as well the second time around, so, instead of maligning the quarterback’s 20-year-old accuser, many in the media have simply ignored her.

Take Tuesday’s article in The Atlantic by Hampton Stevens, who echoes fellow Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates’ sentiments by calling Roethlisberger immature:

To keep partying like a frat boy when you’ve got much bigger responsibilities would have been irresponsible…. Ben clearly is.

I’m not one to rush to the defense of fraternity members, but equating alleged sexual abuse that sent a woman to the hospital with “partying like a frat boy”?  Stevens goes on to say:

Ben isn’t the only one Ben’s actions affect… The Steelers have invested millions of dollars in his future. So have the corporations whose products he happily endorses. More importantly, the nation’s army of Steelers fans have invested their time, money, hopes, dreams, and love.

Stevens doesn’t include the alleged victim on the list of “entities” affected. Bleacher Report columnist Todd Kaufmann even more willfully disregards her:

If you’re Ben Roethlisberger, how do you put yourself in a situation where this kind of thing might happen to you again? Whether he assaulted the girl is irrelevant in my thinking at this point. What matters is why he put himself in this situation…again.

Yes Ben, why did you put yourself in that situation? How could you leave yourself so vulnerable? Going to a bar, you were asking to be accused of sexual assualt!

Kaufmann also asserts that whether or not the allegations are true is irrelevant. Really?? Consider if Roethlisberger had been accused of child molestation for the second time. Would a columnist have said, “Hey, it doesn’t matter if he really did it, the real question is, ‘What was he doing hanging around children … again? Has he learned nothing?'”

No, of course, because that would be asinine.

These columnists’ responses to Roethlisberger’s  newest scandal betray that they don’t take these kind of allegations seriously, even the second time they are made. Rather than dealing with the quarterback’s alleged sexual misconduct, they criticize him for partying, as if that’s what the police investigation will be about. They do not denounce the alleged sexual assaults, because they try not to acknowledge them. And since they can’t as easily get away with vilifying the second accuser, they dismiss her entirely.

I wonder how many allegations have to be made before the media changes its tune.

Follow Ms. coverage of sexual violence issues here. 


Annie is the Community Editor at The Nation and the former New Media Coordinator at Ms. magazine. She studied sociology and women's studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She's a big fan of birds, plants and things that are funny. Her animal totem is the bat.