Remember last offseason when everyone bitched about Brett Favre’s retiring/un-retiring dominating the sports news? Or the offseason before that when everyone bitched about Brett Favre’s retiring/un-retiring dominating the sports news? Well, this year it was a foregone conclusion that he was going to play again. As it turns out, that might not be the case, but the story didn’t dominate the sports news until today.
Personally, I’d love it if Brett Favre had dominated the sports news this offseason. It’s so much more palatable than the story we were stuck with instead.
On the subject of foregone conclusions, it’s a foregone conclusion that athletes are unable (and often unwilling) to control their hormones. I don’t think I believe that, or at least not to a degree any greater than the rest of us. They just get more (and often better) opportunities to express that emotion, and when they’re caught (or even just suspected), it becomes a matter of national discussion. By comparison, if I were married (thank God I’m not) and elected to cheat on my wife (thank God I wouldn’t), Mike & Mike wouldn’t give a damn (unless one of them was related to my wife, and even then it still wouldn’t make the show).
Thus, allegations of sexual impropriety are taken at face value. So are allegations of violence, probably due to the nature of the occupation. The consequences of the former are purely personal. Nobody in professional sports loses a job over an alcohol-fueled misadventure with an exotic dancer in Miami after an away game. The consequences of the latter are far greater, but, unlike adultery, the sin itself leaves its own concrete, visible evidence, and is far more likely to have been witnessed. Therefore, an athlete isn’t likely to be accused of punching a guy in the face unless he actually punched a guy in the face.
Then there’s Ben Roethlisberger. Or Kobe Bryant. Or the Duke lacrosse team.
My mother dedicated the latter part of her working life to a division of the United Way that assists in counseling and legal preparation for victims of sexual assault. In the absence of extenuating circumstances (i.e. other signs of physical abuse) it’s a crime that’s nearly impossible to prosecute. Because consent is so difficult to prove, guilt is never a foregone conclusion for anyone, regardless of occupation.
Unfortunately, accusation is sometimes used as a weapon. It can be used as a means of extortion against a politician or a wealthy celebrity. It can also be used, as we’ve discovered and rediscovered again and again over the last decade, against an athlete as a means of distraction. I call it the Ell Roberson Effect. I use Ell because in his case the accusation was egregious, the timing obvious, and the subject woefully ill-equipped to deal with that sort of adversity. Consequently, the accusation had its intended effect. Ell shat the bed the following day in the Fiesta Bowl, completing a little under 40% of his passes.
Because these accusations are so frequently used as weapons, they no longer hold currency with us. When someone of fame or wealth is accused of sexual assault, we’ve become trained to eschew the accusation as baseless. I don’t know if it’s a Pavlovian knee jerk reaction that’s unique to modern American society or if it’s a biological imperative on the basis of disbelief that anyone could commit an act so heinous. I do know, however, that we’ll reconsider that position if (A) the accused is a repeat subject of accusation, or (B) if the accused has a reputation for being a complete bastard.
Here’s where this summer’s story comes into play: Ben Roethlisberger fits both of those descriptions. Just ask Andrea McNulty or Terry Bradshaw. They’ll be happy to elaborate. Ben’s personality makes this newest accusation completely believable. More troubling, however, is the timing. The accusation was not made midseason or preseason. It was made during tax season. The victim wasn’t seeking money; thus, there was, ostensibly, nothing to gain.
His guilt, however, is a foregone conclusion, and, as with any foregone conclusion, is subject to being just plain wrong. Its basis may be rooted in fact, but is it based in enough fact for any of us to state with certainty that what we believe to have happened actually happened? What seems plain enough to you and I didn’t seem plain enough to a district attorney to press charges. It seemed plain enough to Roger Goodell to issue a suspension that will likely cost the Steelers a chance at a playoff appearance, but Goodell doesn’t make it a point to operate with only facts in mind. Thus, in a sense, if the intent of the accuser was to invoke the Ell Roberson Effect, she was successful in doing so, albeit in a rather unusual way.
Somehow I kind of doubt that was the intent, however.
There is no greater moral lesson to today’s story. There are no lessons in life or in football for me to impart. The morality is self-contained, and none of it is new. Keep your junk in your pants. Don’t tell lies to get your way. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Then again, maybe I’m making a foregone conclusion by thinking you apply these principles in your lives already. If so, here’s the moral lesson: keep your junk in your pants. Don’t tell lies to get your way. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
It’s good to be back, sports fans. Who wants to talk about Brett Favre?