If someone were to ask me my personal opinion about the Ben Roethlisberger case -- which was in the news again yesterday because the NFL suspended Roethlisberger without pay for four-to-six games at a cost to Ben of possibly more than $3 million -- I'd tell him that I found Big Ben's behavior on the evening of March 4, 2010 to be morally repugnant.
Please understand, my opinion has precisely nothing to do with Ben's purported act of "forcing himself" on a drunken co-ed. I don't buy the "forcing himself" part of the story. I find her behavior equally morally repugnant -- and in the end, more revolting, because it is being whitewashed by treating her as a "victim" who was taken advantage of by a brutish, undeservedly privileged male.
But should Mr. Roethlisber have been suspended for actions that came to light solely because he was accused of rape? Stick with me on this one, it's longer than usual, because I'd like to hear your opinion.
I believe the evidence fairly indicates that Mr. Roethlisberger was the victim in this case. While I cannot say definitively what occurred, based on the co-ed's various accounts about what occurred, her narrative can aptly be described as a moving target. It is my suspicion that Mr. Roethlisberger was falsely accused of rape. Let's briefly recap the accuser's three statements:
First statement: "Mr. Bright, the local district attorney in charge of the case, said that 'when the accuser first approached a police officer outside the nightclub immediately after the incident, 'The police officer asked 'Did he rape you?' And her response was 'No.' Then he asked, 'Did you have sex?' And she said, 'Well, I'm not sure.' "
Second statement: This was a written statement the woman prepared not long after the incident. In this statement, she suddenly remembered having sex, but her words don't yet sound like rape. Immediately prior to allegedly having sex, she claims she told Roethlisberger the following: "'I don't know if this is a good idea,' and he said 'it's OK', he had sex with me." In that statement, she admits that earlier Ben had called her a "tease," a characterization she does not deny. Moreover, she says, Mr. Roethlisberger assured her it was OK to have sex, and there is no indication as to her reaction. She does not say she was an unwilling participant. She says he "had sex" with her -- not that he raped her.
Third Statement: This was another written statement, prepared several hours later -- after she had ample opportunity to confer at length with her sorority sisters and to hone her narrative. The actual incident was not as fresh in her mind by this time (it is well to note that based on her first statement to a police officer, the actual incident wasn't fresh in her mind even immediately after the alleged incident). The note might more accurately reflect her later discussions about the incident. In this statement, however, her memory of what occurred suddenly achieved crystal clarity. As in the second statement, she "remembers" what she didn't know immediately after the incident -- that they had sex. But unlike the second statement, here she describes a far more elaborate scenario, with critical details not noted in either of the earlier statements. And here, for the first time, the crucial wording prior to the alleged sex act is materially different, and for the first time, it sounds like rape: "Ben came back with his penis out of his pants. I told him it wasn't ok, no, we don't need to do this and I proceeded to get up and try to leave. I went to the first door I saw, which happened to be a bathroom. He followed me into the bathroom and shut the door behind him. I still said no, this is not OK, and he then had sex with me. He said it was OK. He then left without saying anything."
Is it possible the unnamed co-ed was raped? Yes. But I think it's more likely Mr. Roethlisberger was the victim of a false accusation of rape. The accuser's various statements lack credibility because they suggest the evolving narrative of a woman groping for victimhood: The accuser's (1) "No" in response to a question about whether she was raped, and her "I'm not sure" if they even had sex, later became (2) her telling Ben "I don't know if this is a good idea" before they had sex, which later became (3) her telling Ben "no, this is not OK" before they had sex that she told him she didn't want to have.
Which brings me to yesterday's suspension of Mr. Roethlisberger by the NFL. Last week, I flippantly remarked in a comment under a post on this blog that I hoped Roethlisberger was traded. One of our readers chided me that this would be punishing the victim. The reader has a point that needs to be taken seriously.
Even though we don't know to a moral certainty what happened, Mr. Roethlisberger is not only presumptively innocent of any crime, the actual facts -- in fact, the accuser's own words -- indicate he probably was falsely accused.
It can scarcely be denied that none of the other information about Mr. Roethlisberger's boorish behavior on the evening of March 4 would have come to light if it weren't for what was likely a false accusation of rape against him. Sadly, such behavior is likely typical for many professional athletes in 2010; most of them, however, are not publicly humiliated with a rape charge.
I don't know if the suspension was fair, but I do know this: this nation tolerates double standards when it comes to victimhood. If a young female athlete behaved in precisely the same way Mr. Roethlisberger behaved on the evening of March 4 but ended up being raped -- or even if she merely alleged she'd been raped -- no one would know about any of it. Her putative victimhood would serve as a mighty shield to keep her reputation unblemished. None of us would know anything about either the alleged rape, or her non-rape bad behavior. Does anyone seriously doubt that?
As regular readers of this blog know, the victim of a likely false rape claim is afforded no such protection.
Likewise, on many college campuses, when drunken young women report they've been raped, there are rules forbidding them from being charged with underage drinking. This is to encourage more women to "come forward" about the rape. One can only guess how this rule is abused: if a young woman is caught drunk, all she needs to do is throw the nearest classmate with a penis under the bus by crying "rape." She won't be charged with underage drinking even if turns out the rape claim was a lie, but the male student falsely accused of rape -- the victim -- will be charged with underage drinking if it turns out he was drinking, too.
And we know from this site that many false rape accusers are not named in the newspapers even after their lies are exposed. Nor are they punished, for fear of discouraging rape victims from "coming forward." (This policy, of course, also encourages more false accusers to "come forward.")
In contrast, we see time and time again on this site that men falsely accused of rape often suffer terrible consequences because of the false rape claim. A gay man in the military who didn't care to reveal to the world his sexual orientation, and thus destroy his military career, was forced to "out" himself to prove his innocence of a woman's rape claim. Men routinely lose their jobs after being falsely accused. Some men lose their businesses. Professionals, such as physicians and dentists, are destroyed by false allegations. I have first-hand knowledge of a high profile case involving a corporate president father who was falsely accused of molesting his daughters -- his board of directors completely believed him (as did the court) but quietly told him to get the story out of the news.
So I am conflicted about the Roethlisberger suspension. On the one hand, it is difficult to advocate that people should not assume personal responsibility for their actions, regardless of how those actions come to light. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that the victimization of men to false rape claims is treated as less serious, and less worthy of society's protection, than the victimization of women to rape claims, or even women's false claims of victimization to rapes that never occurred. The bottom line for me is that everyone should assume responsibility for their actions, including rape victims, but that given the double-standards that exist, the Roethlisberger suspension has left a bad taste in my mouth.
Robert Franklin weighed in on the Ben Roethlisberger four-to-six game suspension with his usual reasonableness: "Is Roethlisberger's punishment appropriate? Who knows? What's appropriate is what's required to impress on the men who play the game that they're not like everyone else - that they'll be held to a higher standard of behavior than just about anyone else. And if someone doesn't like that setup, there's a long line of guys who'd just love to take his place."
Robert also cited an article by Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports in which Mr. Whitlock noted: "But the ugly truth is Ben isn't all that different from a lot of guys and girls who use alcohol as their aphrodisiac of choice." Mr. Whitlock cites an e-mail he received from a former sorority president and current advisor to a sorority:
"She warned me that the media were being foolish for believing the allegations of drunken 20-somethings. She explained what she'd witnessed firsthand as a student and what she now deals with as an advisor.
"Some young women use alcohol as an excuse to be sexually aggressive at fraternity houses and nightclubs and then quickly concoct a story of sexual assault when confronted by their disapproving peers. Most of these allegations never make it to police headquarters. The allegations are too sketchy and the accuser's immediate jury of peers reject them.
"'I don't believe a bunch of hammered sorority girls in this situation,' the former sorority president wrote. 'I've seen too much bad behavior amongst them. It's all about having fun and then making sure you're not held accountable and your reputation is still good.'"
Robert Franklin adds this: "Read that last remark again, and remember it, particularly the part about 'making sure you're not held accountable.' There's a whole industry that's grown up around campus rape and violence that takes every allegation leveled at a man to be true regardless of facts, regardless of circumstances. That's the Duke Lacrosse hoax in a nutshell."
It's Duke, and it's Hofstra, and a thousand others. And that brings me back to my principal point. Mr. Roethlisberger is forced to assume responsibility for his actions because he is male. We need to stop treating women as infants and insist that they take responsibility for their actions as well. There will never be true equality between the sexes until we start applying the same rules to everyone.