Don't Call Ben Roethlisberger a Rapist

I'm not saying he's *not* a rapist. I'm also not saying he is.
Publish date:
January 26, 2012
rape, twitter, issues, nfl, football, ben roethlisberger, steelers

I don’t think people should call Ben Roethlisberger a rapist.

There, I said it. And no, it wasn’t easy. Three weeks, two introduction attempts, and countless deleted words later, I realized there’s no way to say that, except by being blunt. So I’ll say it again:

I don’t think people should call Ben Roethlisberger a rapist.

As someone who loves, reads, writes and breathes football, I am inundated with Roethlisberger rape jokes and name-calling every weekend from September to January. And until now, it never really bothered me. In fact, I never really gave it much thought. But when I saw people attacking him on Twitter a few weekends ago during the Steelers-Broncos game, I suddenly realized that not only did I like people joking about Roethlisberger a rapist, I didn’t like them calling him a rapist at all.

Believe me: I didn’t want to come to this conclusion. Certainly, it would be far easier for me to agree with the masses, open another Bud Light and forget about the whole thing. Unfortunately, once I've made up my mind about something, all the Bud Lights in the world wouldn’t make that possible. Don't worry, my boyfriend finds that just as annoying as you do.

So how did this happen? Honestly, it was just another Sunday in the NFL...

The Pittsburgh Steelers were facing off against the Denver Broncos in an AFC Wild-Card matchup. As with most football games, I was following both by watching on television and reading Twitter. I usually find the everyman commentary to be a perfect complement to the oftentimes-tedious announcers.

However, during that game, instead of enjoying the usually harmless off-color remarks about the players and the game, I found most of the tweets to be inciting and grating. People had taken good-natured banter to a place that was much darker and somewhat unsettling.

In case you haven’t heard of Tebow or Roethlisberger, let me quickly fill you in. Tim Tebow is the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos and is known for being outspoken about his fervent belief in Christianity, praying on the field, and filming a Super Bowl commercial for Focus on the Family, a conservative pro-life ministry. In fact, “Tebowing” is now a “verb” that means, “to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone around you is doing something different” and is also something I’ll likely do right around the time this post goes live.

Ben Roethlisberger is the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, nicknamed “Big Ben” because of his stature and “Rapelisberger” because he has been twice accused of sexual assault.

During this game, everyone picked a side. But no one picked based on football; rather, everyone was judging based on alleged morality. “How can I pick between a Jesus freak and a rapist?” people asked. “Organized religious zealot vs. the rapist,” others declared. Everyone was quick to condemn Roethlisberger as a confirmed rapist. (And don’t get me started on the fact that they were just as quick to condemn Tim Tebow, who’s never even had sex with a woman, much less assault one. That’s a post for another day.)

But the thing is, while Tim Tebow is (love it or hate it) outspoken about his faith, Ben Roethlisberger is not a convicted rapist. In fact, not only was Roethlisberger never convicted of sexual assault, he was never even charged. Therefore, I am just not comfortable saying Ben Roethlisberger is a rapist. However, just to be clear, because I don’t have all of the facts, I am also not comfortable with the converse statement either.

Before I go any further, I want to address a point I think some of you may bring up in the comments. A few months ago, I wrote a post about how I believe Michael Vick served his time and has every right to play in the NFL.

In case you don’t want to click, the short version is: I don’t think we should forget what Michael Vick did, but I do think he deserves the second chance he's been given, as do most felons who serve their time.

But just to be clear: I would never defend Michael Vick if someone called him a dog killer. After all, he was convicted of being just that. He may have served his time and he may have earned the right to play in the NFL, but regardless: he killed dogs. He is a dog killer. And that is a label he both earned and will have to live with for the rest of his life.

The same cannot be said of Ben Roethlisberger.

I know what you’re probably thinking. “But Daisy, how can you defend a man who was accused, not once, but TWICE, of sexual assault?”

And my answer is: I hope if someone accused you of something, but you were never charged or convicted, society wouldn’t just assume your guilt. After all, anyone can accuse a person of doing something horrible. Just last month, the ex-girlfriend of one of my best friends told whomever would listen that my best friend hit her. As far as I know (and believe), nothing even close to that ever happened, but with something as polarizing as assault, one accusation can change someone’s life and reputation forever. Even if it’s not true.

Again, I don’t know what’s true and what’s not true in regards to the sexual assault accusations against Roethlisberger. All I know is what I’ve heard in the media. And just in case you’re not familiar with the accusations, here’s a quick recap:

The first accusation came from a woman in Lake Tahoe who said Roethlisberger raped her in his hotel room on the night of July 11, 2008. The woman never filed a criminal complaint, so there's no objective evidence. Do I believe it’s possible for a woman to go willingly into a guy’s hotel room and be raped? Of course. Do I even think that she could brag about having sex with him next day (which she allegedly did) as a coping mechanism? Yes. But was it ever proven that she was raped? No.

Again, I understand many women who are raped choose not to press charges. She did file a civil lawsuit against Roethlisberger, after which he asked for counter damages. They reached a settlement this week that ended her lawsuit. No one is saying if any money exchanged hands, but to be clear, even if Roethlisberger did pay his accuser money, in no way does that imply he’s guilty. Oftentimes, it’s cheaper to settle out of court and a settlement allows him to move on and attempt to put this behind him.

The other rape accusation came from a college student who accused Roethlisberger of sexually assaulting her in a club bathroom. Ultimately, after weeks of investigating, authorities decided not to charge Roethlisberger due to a lack of evidence.

Again, do I believe that unless there’s enough evidence to prove a woman was raped, it couldn’t possibly have happened? Of course not. But is it fair to label Roethlisberger a rapist without that evidence? In my opinion: no.

Roethlisberger is certainly guilty of being an idiot at times, but he’s not legally guilty of anything else.

And since we don’t know whether or not he raped anyone, I don’t think we should callously call him a rapist. We don’t know if he is one. And we don’t know if he isn’t. So maybe we should just cut out the name-calling altogether.

The fact that someone in the U.S. is assaulted every two minutes, but 60 percent of assaults are not reported to police is heartbreaking. That each year there are over 213,000 victims of sexual assault, but 15 of 16 rapists will never spend a day in jail seems unfathomable to me.

I would love to change the world so that rapists are prosecuted and punished to the fullest degree. But I would also love to change the world so that a man who might be innocent isn't presumed guilty and treated as such.

The civil suit against Ben Roethlisberger was dropped. Charges weren’t filed against him in Georgia. But, let’s be real: None of that matters. For the rest of his life, wherever he goes, he will be scrutinized and judged. Sure, he’ll be remembered as a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback, but perhaps even more than that, he’ll be remembered as a rapist.

Maybe he deserves it. But just ask yourself: What if he doesn't? What then?