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.

Photo courtesy of flickr, using CC BY-SA 2.0


  1. Well said Annie! How dare any men go out to bars, go to work, or simply exist in a public place – they are just ASKING to be accused of sexual assault…..

  2. I’m glad that you are taking the side of the unheard in this article but in doing so you are completely ignoring the other end of the spectrum. The exact same thing that the media you so dislike is doing. Neither side wants to acknowledge that yes, rapes do happen and that yes there are fictitious allegations of rape… both on a regular basis. Working with a HEART team at my University in my Junior and Senior Year there were 3 Rapes and 3 Allegations proven false… So I can fully acknowledge the potential for both.

  3. Matt, I’m not sure that the author’s point is that there are no “fictitious allegations of rape.” I believe the greater issue is that the media too often attempts to either discredit the victim or ignore the victim entirely. Even if there are 1,000 false reports for every actual incident, routinely discounting victims is counterproductive to making sexual assault less tolerated.

  4. Only 16% of rapes are reported – making rape the most underreported violent crime in the country. But then again, it’s no surprise more women won’t report rape if our society continues supporting an archaic idea that women are terrorizing men with false rape charges.

  5. Plus, FBI stats show that only about 2% of sexual assaults are “false allegations,” a rate similar to other violent crimes. And again, that’s just of those that are reported! Focusing on that small percentage doesn’t make sense, we should be asking why so many rapes are happening, period, and why people like Roethlisberger continue to get away with it, and gets a free pass from media, fans, the Steelers and the NFL.

  6. hollytomlinson says:

    Matt, this victim was hospitalized! Whether he will ultimately be found guilty of the exact accusations she is making, it is obvious that something serious happened. It is up to the court to decide what happened and whether he did it and while the legal system requires that the accussed be assumed innocent, that does not mean that the alleged victim’s experience should be trivialized.

    The media that Shields refers to not only ignore her experience, but also trivialize rape and sexual assualt as a whole. They talk about the seriousness of the accusation, but only in terms of its affect on his reputation, not on the harm sexual assualt does to physically and psychological damage victims.

    They write as if sexually assualting girls and women is just part of an average frat boys Friday night (insulting to say the least for all the non-assaulting frat boys out there). Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about it as “dumb behavior” as if sexual assualt can be equated to embarassing yourself by getting too drunk, throwing up, stealing traffic cones and passing out on the toilet. Just another one of those things that college boys eventually grow out of.

  7. Well done, Annie. It’s unfortunate that so often the coverage of a rape is, like the rape itself, all about the guy who did it. By focusing overmuch on *his* reputation, *his* experience, we remind him that his wants, needs, and ego are paramount.

  8. Thank you for writing this. I kept thinking the same thing when I was reading the articles about this. Yes, why concentrate on a crime when we have the MONEY to think about? Isn’t that the most important thing, even in sports? Oh wait, that is the most important thing. What was I thinking?
    Catherine, you hit the nail on the head, isn’t it always about the man and his life and his money.
    Oh, and fans. Geez whiz, I almost forgot those knuckleheads. They spent money on him!

    But another thing that gets me about these reporters is that they are intimating that he is being falsely accused and then they are victim blaming him(why was he at that bar, anyway?) so they don’t seem more asshatty when letting him off the hook. But they are asshatty. No getting around that, try as they may.

    I’d love a full detailed description of what he was wearing so that Matt can warn other men about not wearing those clothes so they don’t “get” themselves into this “situation”.

  9. Look at this story from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

    Roethlisberger’s accuser’s attorneys urge restraint
    Tuesday, March 09, 2010
    By Tom Birdsong, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Attorneys representing the alleged victim in the Ben Roethlisberger sexual assault investigation released a statement on her behalf today, urging the media not to identify her and to respect her privacy while the investigation runs its course.

    The 20-year-old woman’s school, Georgia College & State University, also has released a statement, instructing other students not to talk about the woman or what they know about the alleged incident.

    “We join the school in urging the media to respect the family’s need for privacy during this extremely difficult period in their lives,” said attorneys Lee Parks and David Walbert of the Atlanta law firm Parks, Chesin & Walbert.

    “Their daughter has done the right thing and reported this matter to the police. She has been, and will be, available to the authorities to assist them in the criminal investigation. While the matter is under investigation, we ask you to respect her privacy, keep her name out of the press and allow the family space and time to heal.”

    Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10068/1041430-66.stm?cmpid=news.xml#ixzz0hz8ShaRi

    So are the media ignoring her story?
    Or simply (for once) respecting the wishes of the victim?

  10. I think the public has largely decided that the first Roethlisberger accusation was a consensual encounter, based on the afffidavit of the accuser’s coworker, as well as the accuser’s decision not to press criminal charges. The Kobe Bryant accusation similarly looks consensual to the public. The second accusation against Roethlisberger is inevitably going to be evaluated by the media and the public against that backdrop, so it feeds into a narrative of athletes being vulnerable to these accusations.

  11. Dave,

    Your point that the victim’s privacy should be respected is absolutely valid. Requests like the one you cited are almost always made on behalf of the victim in sexual assault cases, and rightly so. It is extremely important that the alleged victim’s identity is not made public and that the details of her personal life remain private. I never suggested otherwise.

    The point I am making is not that journalists ought to engage in speculation and investigation about the victim. Obviously that is the opposite of what should happen. The point I am making is that to ignore the victimization component in sexual assault allegations is problematic.

    When a Catholic Priest is accused of sexually abusing a child, it is not the typical response of the media to ignore the abuse itself and instead ask why the priest would “put himself in a situation where that kind of thing might happen to him.” That’s because the notion that something ‘happened to’ the priest is seen as absurd, and instead there is an acknowledgment that, in fact, something ‘happened to’ the alleged victim. In such a case, the alleged perpetrator is treated as just that, the perpetrator, and not the victim. And likewise the alleged victim is treated as such. This doesn’t mean that the alleged victim becomes a public figure. It really has nothing to do with the level of media attention paid to the individual, it has to do with the level of respect given to them. And that is what is lacking in the Roethlisberger case.

    Maybe to say that many in the media are ignoring the victim is unclear. Maybe it would have been better to say that the victimization is being ignored. The alleged act itself, the hospitalization, the invasive rape exam, the evidence gathering, the police questioning, and the unquantifiable physical, emotional, and psychological toll that the events have likely taken on the woman who now simply asks for privacy. That’s the reality of sexual assault. That’s what is being ignored. And that’s the problem I was talking about.

  12. DO NOT USE BLEACHER REPORT AS A CREDIBLE NEWS SOURCE. It’ll just make your head explode, honestly. Horrible site full of ridiculously ignorant sports writers. No, I wouldn’t even call them sports writers. Just overall ignorami.

    Time to get sites like that — and other sports sites and writers siding with Roethlisberger, not taking this issue seriously — OUT of here.

  13. Ben better get suspended!!! If a man fighting dogs gets suspended, a man getting underage females drunk and raping them in a dark bathroom BETTER GET WORSE!


  1. […] Magazine Blog! Thanks to Ta-Nehisi Coates for quoting Annie Shields’ comments about the Ben Roethlesberger rape charges, and thereby reintroducing me to the stellar feminist media […]

  2. […] Annie Shields, at the Ms. Magazine blog, might be a bit closer to the truth when she observes that the victim has all but disappeared from the latest commentary: “”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.” […]

  3. […] case has been extensively discussed here at the Ms. Blog. Roethlisberger released a statement of “apology” last […]

  4. […] a regular reader of the Ms. Blog, you’ll know that we’ve given one quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, a much-deserved hard time for his alleged off-the-field sexual assaults of women. But now […]

  5. […] a regular reader of the Ms. Blog, you’ll know that we’ve given one quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, a much-deserved hard time for his alleged off-the-field sexual assaults of women. But now […]

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