Author: Kaitlyn Shirey
Recently I saw a video in my feed of the “Law and Order SVU,” intro where the characters were replaced with players for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was meant to be a fun watch for fans, seeing our city’s football stars compared to the often triumphant police officers and detectives depicted in the television show. Those images of big beefy men in costume-like suits were also meant to be intimidating, the sepia harkening back to old Hollywood detective aesthetic. A well-made video for a city that loves its team…
Unless you remember either of the rape accusations against Pittsburgh’s quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the first in 2009, ending in a civil suit settled out of court, and the second in 2010, when the accuser asked the district attorney not to prosecute because the process would be so intrusive. This information can be found in more detail in Broadly’s entry to the Rapey Roster for Roethlisberger: https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/ben-roethlisberger-quarterback-twice-accused-of-sexual-assault.
Do I have any doubt that Roethlisberger indeed committed these assaults? Of course not. Furthermore, considering the statistical rarity that a victim would lie about rape, it may be easier to understand why this video was not thought through well enough. To place a repeatedly accused rapist in the figurative position of the men and women who bring rapists to justice, who are supposed to bring solace to victims makes a mockery of the reality. In this video Ben Roethlisberger, the accused rapist, is triumphantly depicted in the place of characters known by the very nature of the show for catching and punishing men like him. For the greater population of Steelers fans, though, it is easy to continue rooting for Big Ben even as they watch “Law and Order: SVU,” and root for Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler and for the victims of violent crimes.
Consider the position of a survivor: seeing an attacker’s face superimposed over pop culture symbols of justice. Consider how it makes Pittsburgh and the Steelers community look, to let a man like Roethlisberger’s fame and athletic success outweigh the crimes he has been accused of and the experiences of the women he has allegedly attacked—and if there are two, then there are likely to be more out there who have not come forward publicly—and outweigh as well the safety of all women?
This story also tells us a lot about how our justice system is flawed. If Ben Roethlisberger is really a bad guy, why isn’t he in jail? Well, if an accuser can receive more compensation through an under-the-table payoff than she can through the court systems—or worse, if sending a beloved football star to jail makes that person feel even more unsafe—then it’s easy to see how Ben could still be a free man.
I think Pittsburgh can hold itself to a higher standard, and by that I mean that we as Pittsburghers can hold our city and its representatives, to higher standards. Maybe someone like Big Ben doesn’t go to jail for a crime we are all sure he committed (more than once, against more than one woman), but we can choose not to let him represent us. For example, after Michael Vick became a Steeler, even my own grandparents were reluctant to accept him. They didn’t consider him truly a Steeler, and certainly do not consider him a representative of themselves. I’ll leave the question of why an animal abuser seems to be more despised than an abuser of human beings for another day, and ask this: if my 80-something grandparents and exert a little effort in their dislike of Michael Vick, contributing to the backlash against a man who did actually go to prison for his crimes, then what could happen if Steelers fans banded together in reasonable opposition to an accused rapist like Ben Roethlisberger?
Steelers Nation holds immense consumer power, plenty enough and more to make punishment for “bad professional behavior” more than a simple 6 game suspension. And if we held all of our stars to higher standards maybe our teams would be better role models—the kinds of people who spend their (undeserved) millions because they want to uplift their city, rather than paying off their victims or donating to assuage guilt or public blame.
As for “SVU,” where is the episode about a Ben Roethlisberger character, who is repeatedly accused of rape and skirts the consequences, only to eventually be caught and rot in jail? That is the one I’d like to see: a skilled quarterback fallen from favor, abhorred by the fans that he never thought would leave him, stripped of his Super Bowl rings, hated justly by all, spending the rest of his life in jail, muscles turning to more and more flab, and his team forsaking him, proclaiming that they are better off without him, and then finally forgetting him.
I recommend fans of all NFL teams check out Broadly’s Rapey Roster, because Pittsburgh isn’t the only city with rapists on the field.