The number of NFL teams still in the running toward becoming America's Next Top Big Tackley Dudes has been narrowed down to two, and both teams contain players with serious sexual assault allegations. What's a fan to do?
You're undoubtedly familiar with Ben Roethlisberger's creepy-as-fuck history of sexual assault (in fact, with
two rape accusations, I wonder if his punch card's almost full), but that other team playing for The Most Phallic Trophy In All Of Sports on February 6th also not surprisingly contains some players with questionable histories.
Back in the summer, police were called to a resort in Wisconsin Dells that housed several Green Bay Packers players in response to two women who accused the men of holding them down while multiple players sexually assaulted them. When the women changed their story, linebackers Brad Jones and Clay Matthews, guard Josh Sitton, safety Khalil Jones, fullback Korey Hall and backup quarterback Matt Flynn were cleared of charges. A seventh player, Brandon Underwood, is currently under investigation. Football fans rejoiced at the news that, once again, those bitches were lying about rape and their football gods could go on playing America's game sans distraction. Because ladies lie about stuff like this all the time, right?
The Super Bowl isn't the only place to find player misconduct, though. According to a 1998 study entitled Pros And Cons: The Criminals Who Play In The NFL, more than one in five NFL players has been accused of at least one serious crime. The study's more than twelve years old at this point, but has anything in the culture surrounding football shifted enough to change the epidemic it exposes? It shouldn't come as a shock that a sport gathers exceptionally large men together and encourages them to be aggressive has a complexion dotted with horrifying blemishes.
In 2010, former New York Giants star, two-time Super Bowl Champion and forgettable Dancing With The Stars contestant Lawrence Taylor was accused of raping a 16 year old prostitute in a New York hotel. He pled guilty to charges of solicitation of a minor and will henceforth have to register as a sex offender. In 2009, former Super Bowl Champion running back and two time Pro Bowler David Meggett received a 30 year prison sentence for raping a 21 year old woman in her North Carolina home. This was his second sexual assault charge. In 2007, legendary wide receiver Michael Irvin was accused of raping a woman in a Miami hotel room. Former Arizona Cardinals player Eric Green has been sued by a transgender woman who claims he forcibly sodomized her in 2009.
America's staunch denial of the impropriety of beloved athletes is reminiscent of the maddening denial displayed by cuckolded spouses when faced with all but the most overwhelming evidence of their partner's betrayal. We don't want to believe that our heroes aren't worthy of our adoration. We want our conscience clean when we celebrate their victories alongside them; after all, we've been suffering for the team for so long that there's no way that our jubilation over their success should be sidelined by off-the-field conduct. The athletes themselves need not even say anything; we put words in their mouths and make excuses on their behalf that come apart at the seams with just a little prodding.
"But those charges were dropped!"
"She's just trying to get money out of him!"
"She just regrets a sexual encounter!"
"She's just trying to get famous!"
When it comes to athlete misbehavior, we can accept what we suspect might be true (that our heroes are actually complete fuckfaces who tricked us into thinking they were good people and caring about them) and reject the truth that we know (our heroes are awesome and throw the ball/catch the ball/tackle dudes really kickassedly) or we can violently reject the uncertainty and choose to cling to our preferred truth. I'm guilty of this. My childhood hero was former Minnesota Twins center fielder Kirby Puckett, who, after glaucoma tragically cut his career short, engaged in a series of gropings that most of his fans have just chosen to ignore. Whenever I declare my nostalgia for his playing days and admiration for him in mixed company, I'm reminded of his late-in-life creepiness, and I always find myself brushing it off. "Yeah, but Game 6 in the 1991 World Series..." I'll say, realizing as it comes out of my mouth just how messed up it sounds. Yes, he was a good player. Yes, he was a bad person. These two truths, frustratingly, must learn to coexist in my mind. Steelers fans and Packer fans will do this before settling in to cheer for their teams in the Super Bowl, but no amount of rationalization can justify idolizing a rapist.
I'm not suggesting that rape is the only crime wherein the accused are guilty until proven innocent, but the wealth and power of the men in question and our historical mistreatment of victims who step forward merits close consideration. Accusing someone of rape isn't easy or fun or profitable; just as athletes accused of rape bear a stigma, so too do those who come forward to accuse athletes of rape. Until America's justice system is perfect in resolving sexual assault allegations, until the NFL takes rape accusations more seriously, until wealthy and powerful athletes aren't given a free pass to treat women any way they wish, we have to assume that at least some of the women who accuse NFL players of sexual assault are telling the truth. We have to understand that some of the players competing for a Super Bowl ring aren't worthy of our fandom, or of our respect, and perhaps consider voting with our remote control and skipping the big game this year.
Image via AP