Super Bowl: On Rape and Opting Out

Super Bowl: On Rape and Opting OutThe story is now familiar. First, in July 2009, Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a hotel in Lake Tahoe. Then, in March 2010, Roethlisberger was again accused of sexual assault – this time from a woman in Georgia. Aside from a mild six game suspension at the beginning of this season, Roethlisberger has largely gotten off without repercussions for his possible actions. Tonight, before praise is placed on Roethlisberger as he leadsĀ  his team into the Super Bowl, it’s worth considering the merits of celebrating a person with such a seemingly sordid record.

People aren’t perfect. There’s no reason to say that someone cannot do something bad (or even terrible) and not manage to seek help and redeem him or herself. Just look at Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Michael Vick. The thing is, unlike Vick (or the multitude of other non-famous people who have sought help and rehabilitation for personal problems), Roethlisberger has not really done anything to redeem himself. His action’s are not in his past – they are very much in the present. And they leave casual Super Bowl watchers in an odd situation – is it really worth watching and celebrating a person with this kind of background? Or is it better to just opt out?

Of course this is not the first time a major sports figure has been clouded by rape allegations. For this, just look to Kobe Bryant. In 2003, Kobe – who was at the time leading the playoff contending L.A. Lakers – was accused of raping a woman in Colorado. The charges were eventually dropped, but it has taken years – and multiple championship rings – for Kobe to come out of their shadow. Even though it can be arguably hard to reconcile Kobe’s past actions to his current grandeur, he is clearly a different person than he was in 2003. Today’s Kobe is more of an NBA elder-statesman than that flashy kid who once took Brandy to his high school prom.

But again, this Roethlisberger situation is happening right now. And he has yet to show any signs of attempting to change either his image or himself. And unlike Kobe Bryant and others, if the Roethlisberger accusations have any truth behind them, then he could be a multiple offender.

This has led some serious NFL fans – like Ta-Nehisi Coates – to opt out of watching tonight’s game. There’s a really worth reading discussion going on on that post there over at The Atlantic about the merits of watching the game tonight. And yes, it has to be obviously stated that Roethlisberger has not been convicted, and we obviously should presume innocence for even celebrities and athletes. But on a day with no parallel where star athletes are celebrated by millions, this is a debate worth having.

Do you think that Roethlisberger’s actions have tainted this year’s Super Bowl? Do you think that character issues are irrelevant to tonight’s game? Sound off in comments.

UPDATE (2-7, 8:40 PM): So the Super Bowl is over. And I’m gonna turn the comments off on this post. It’s always a bummer to do that, but as many of you have pointed out, some of these comments got a bit out of hand. So to those of you who had insightful things to say: thanks a bunch and it’s appreciated. To those of you who didn’t: stick to YouTube next time.

Photo by Patstuart

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Matt Berman is a writer and student living in Washington, DC. He has also fumbled around the internet elsewhere. If you Google him, he is the one who has written for Talking Points Memo and Newswee more


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