The most American of sports acted in a very un-American fashion on April 21. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell laid a suspension on Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a Milledgeville nightclub on March 5.
Pardon me, Herr Goodell, but I’d like to remind you of this concept called “innocent until proven guilty.” It probably seems inconsequential to you, but the American legal system actually places quite a bit of weight on it.
I realize it was cool back in 2000 when World Wrestling Federation superstar Stone Cold Steve Austin instituted a “guilty until proven innocent” policy to find out who ran him over with a car about nine months prior, but this is real life.
(Yes, wrestling is fake. If you didn’t hear it from me, it would’ve been someone else.)
In real life, we only punish people when there is sufficient evidence of a punishable offense. Ocmulgee Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright admitted, “looking at all the evidence here, we don’t even have probable cause,” in an April 12 press conference.
Perhaps most significant was the fact that the emergency room doctor who treated Roethlisberger’s accuser after the incident could not definitively state whether the “superficial laceration and bruising” on the woman’s genital area was a result of assault.
Additionally, there was no semen, and the male DNA found was insufficient to create a profile or establish that an assault had occurred. Being unable to win a case is the same as losing a case in my book, so Roethlisberger certainly appears innocent to me.
The problem is that there are so many unanswered questions, which allow for too many wildly disparate possible scenarios. I’m not asserting that any one is what happened. The point is that we can’t discount any of them due to want of further evidence. The NFL and the public should’ve considered all possibilities before making any proclamations about Roethlisberger’s innocence or guilt.
For instance, most people who have turned against Roethlisberger will point to the fact that Bright consistently referred to Roethlisberger’s accuser as a “victim,” which suggests that Bright believes Roethlisberger is guilty.
What a novel concept. A district attorney is perhaps trying to bolster his public image by selling the idea that the accused is a scumbag and that the helpless citizens need some mighty hero — let’s say, oh, I don’t know, a district attorney — to swoop in and save the day? Would this really come as a surprise to anyone?
Bright is a government official who isn’t immune to the pressures of the wicked game of politics. A cleverly constructed word, politics. “Poli“ means “many,” and “tics” means “little bloodsucking creatures who sustain their own life by exploiting others.”
I only have to point you four years in the past to find a cautionary tale of a DA who was willing to recklessly ruin the lives of innocent men. Mike Nifong was Durham County DA in March of 2006 (emphasis on “was”). He attempted to prosecute three members of the Duke University men’s lacrosse team after an exotic dancer accused them of raping her.
As the case progressed, Nifong was found to be as inept as Ray Charles trying to play “Where’s Waldo?” Attorney General Roy Cooper took over the case in January 2007 and declared the three lacrosse players innocent in April.
And let’s not forget that Roethlisberger’s accuser may have had ulterior motives of her own. The climate of the NFL is such that if a woman utters “rape” within five syllables of a player’s name, said player is likely to face substantial punishment. Is it unfathomable that this woman realized that she could do monumental damage to this high-profile person with a simple accusation and sought to capitalize on her position of power?
Or maybe the situation was more benign.
Reports of the incident mention consumption of large quantities of alcohol. Perhaps some bad decisions were made under the influence, decisions that Roethlisberger’s accuser came to regret, so she spun to story to convince both herself and others that she was the victim.
What if the woman was so heavily intoxicated that she was unable to clearly state that she didn’t want to have sex? What if Roethlisberger’s accuser suffered from a mental disorder which could have prevented her from perceiving the circumstances clearly? Again, I’m making no claims that any one of these scenarios is the truth. We just don’t know. What we do know is that, as Bright conceded, “the overall circumstances do not lead to a viable prosecution,” and this is the only fact the NFL should’ve based its decision on.
— Michael Yu is a senior from Houston, Texas, majoring in newspapers