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Salon Errs in Portrayal of Roethlisberger vs Michael Vick, “Rape Culture”

Roethlisberger Has Done Anything But Escape Scrutiny for Past

by Josh Guckert

On Wednesday, Salon writer and University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown Professor Marissa Landrigan penned an article entitled “Michael Vick isn’t the problem: Steelers fans need to talk about rape culture,” in which she compares the reaction many Steelers fans had toward the signing of Michael Vick, who had previously served prison time for a dog-fighting conviction, and Ben Roethlisberger, who was accused of sexual assault in 2008 and 2010, but was never charged with a crime in either instance.

Landrigan states how much outrage people generally have about Vick’s past, going on to say that, “What I don’t understand is why almost no one expresses that same discomfort over the guy first in line for Vick’s job (Roethlisberger).”

This very first statement of her narrative is flawed beyond belief. “No one” expresses discomfort? I defy anyone to find a post about Roethlisberger anywhere on the internet which isn’t closely followed by a snide remark by an opposing fan about the quarterback being a “rapist,” despite the fact that, again, Roethlisberger was never charged or arrested for any such crime. Given the seriousness of rape, it is important to look at the specifics of each accusation in thorough detail, something Landrigan fails to do.

In reference to the first instance, the author states only, “At the very least, we know that his defense team used character assassination against his first accuser, who declined to press criminal charges for fear she’d lose her job.”

To give more perspective, this civil suit involved Andrea McNulty, an executive casino host in Nevada. She sued Roethlisberger, as well as 8 other defendants (hotel officials), for a near-combined $500,000. She alleged that Roethlisberger had invited her up to his room to fix his television before entrapping her in the room and forcing her into sex.

In an affidavit, one of McNulty’s co-workers stated that McNulty had told her about the sexual encounter, saying that “she was hoping for a ‘little Roethlisberger.'” Further, the co-worker said that McNulty asked her to travel to Pittsburgh for a Steelers game and to try to “run into” Roethlisberger, and later McNulty asked her to obtain Roethlisberger’s cell phone number from one of the casino hosts. According to the co-worker, McNulty was at the time very emotionally distraught, as she had previously been the victim of an online hoax wherein she thought she was dating and engaged to a US soldier stationed in Iraq.

On the second incident, Landrigan states the following: “We also know that his second accuser was in her early twenties, a college student, and was so intoxicated at the time of the alleged assault she had to be dragged to the back room of the club. We know she and her friends went to the first police officer they could find. And we know that the hospital she was taken to found bruising and bleeding in the genital area. We know that his second victim, like his first, eventually asked that a criminal case against Roethlisberger not be pursued. We know how incredibly common this is among rape victims, and how unlikely a conviction would have been, had charges been pursued.”

The accuser in this case was a 20-year-old Georgia college student, adorned in a “DTF” nametag and using the aid of a fake ID to hop from one bar to another, often (either intentionally or not) following Roethlisberger. She and her friends took shots and pictures with Roethlisberger while spending time with him in a “VIP room,” leading a bartender to make a status update saying “[B]en [R]oethlisberger was here last night hanging out at the bars in Milledgeville… he was molested by girls everywhere he went.” A later status update stated “[S]he was all over him that night.”

The facts seem to point to an accuser who was far from conscious enough to be able to substantiate a claim that she was sexually assaulted. To further direct one toward such an assertion, while it is correct that the accuser approached Police, when the Officer asked if Roethlisberger had raped her, she stated, “No, I did not know what was going on,” because she was too intoxicated. He again asked, “Did he rape you?” and the victim stated “no.” When asked if they had sex, she responded by saying, “Well, I’m not sure.” Roethlisberger told the Officer that he had told her that she was too drunk to be back there, and that he remembered her falling and hitting her head. Roethlisberger was also noticeably drunk at the time of the incident, seemingly leaving most of what happened as a blur to all parties and eliminating any possible suspicion that this was in instance of a sober person taking advantage of someone who was incapacitated.

It’s also notable that the reported laceration to the genital area that Landrigan points to was deemed by the examining doctor and nurses to be inconclusive in determining whether trauma or sexual assault was the case. Further, the accusation put forward did not allege forcible intercourse, as the accuser stated that she did not resist or fight back, supposedly fearing that the much larger Roethlisberger would harm her; therefore, even if the accuser’s version of the facts were true, the “traditional” signs of a forcible rape would seemingly not be applicable in this case.

The author goes on to say that in relation to these incidents, she’s “heard a lot of gender-coded language that reminds me that female rape victims have the hardest time of anyone being taken seriously. I’ve heard a lot that reminds me how little we think of women. I’ve heard a lot that sounds like hypocrisy.”

Here’s how seriously the mere accusations of rape were taken: Roethlisberger lost any and all endorsement deals; further, he was suspended for 6 games (later reduced to 4) by the NFL under its “personal conduct” policy, making him the only player in the league’s history to be suspended under that provision without having been charged with a crime. In addition, if there is anything that results in “female rape victims hav(ing) the hardest time of anyone being taken seriously,” it is the perpetration of false rape accusations: an act which should be deemed to be just as serious as rape itself. While there will never be definitive evidence in these particular cases, or in most cases, scrutiny is of the most importance if we are to protect the rights of both victims and the falsely accused.

The author states that “Ben Roethlisberger should face serious questions about what happened on these nights, and should have to answer for his mistakes.” During the 2010 season, Roethlisberger held several interviews and press conferences confronting his errors in judgment. To this day, as noted earlier, there are those who see him as a “rapist,” and that is something he may never shake from his reputation.

In recent years, Roethlisberger has done his best to mature and become a better person off the field, and most in Pittsburgh have taken notice. Rather than staying out late at bars, drinking in excess and having sexual encounters with strangers, he has gotten married and had two children, while giving time and money to charity and the community.

Undoubtedly, Roethlisberger was in the wrong for putting himself in these situations. He needed to grow up, and this set of circumstances made him do so very quickly. It was irresponsible for him to act in such a way when he was as famous and successful as he was, no matter what actually happened in regard to the sexual assault allegations.

However, to act as if society has just forgotten that all of this happened or simply given Roethlisberger a “pass,” is simply irresponsible and not based in reality. Every day, Roethlisberger has to work to earn back the trust of his community, some of whom will never be won over. Perhaps it is for the best that accusations of rape are taken so seriously; however, the picture painted by Marissa Landrigan — of a society entrenched in “rape culture” — could not be any further from the truth.

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