Thursday, April 15, 2010

Suspend Ben Roethlisberger for the Whole Season - Without Pay

I am a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, so this is hard to say - Ben Roethlisberger needs to be suspended for the WHOLE SEASON, without pay. Not by the NFL, who will no doubt suspend him for up to four games (I'm guessing), but by the Steelers organization.

No other team in football has the "moral code" that Pittsburgh enforces. They just gave away a Super Bowl MVP receiver for almost nothing because of his off-field issues (drugs, domestic violence, etc.). A superstar quarterback should not get any less punishment for his off-field behavior (a life-threatening motorcycle crash, and two sexual assault accusations in the last year). But he is the franchise quarterback, so they probably won't trade him. Yet he needs to be disciplined or he is never going to grow up and act like a man - there can't be a double standard for Big Ben.

The first time he faced accusations of assault, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. This time, the situation is obvious and it's wrong.

There is some kind of violent concept of masculinity that allows him to think he can do things like this and that it's alright - or his right as a superstar athlete. He clearly had issues with alcohol consumption in both incidents, which seems to be part of why police have not filed charges either time.

The records were released today:

A friend of the woman who accused Ben Roethlisberger of sexual assault told authorities that Roethlisberger's bodyguard "dragged" the woman into a bathroom where the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and woman had sexual relations.

In 500-plus pages of documents released Wednesday, Nicole Biancofiore told investigators from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations that her friend, a student at Georgia College & State University, "was dragged by a bodyguard to the back room in Capital [City, a local nightclub]. She was extremely intoxicated and not aware of what was happening."

"He had sex w/me and meanwhile his bodyguards told my friends they couldn't pass them to get to me," the accuser wrote in her statement, which was reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The woman also told him "no, this is not OK," according to the statement.

Roethlisberger was not charged in the incident, which occurred in the early morning hours of March 5 in Milledgeville, a central Georgia college town about 30 miles from where Roethlisberger owns a lake home.

Ocmulgee Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright said Monday that after exhaustive interviews and inconclusive medical exams, the student's accusations could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. He also revealed the young accuser no longer wanted him to prosecute.

The reality is that the police/prosecutor could prove rape beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a legal definition not a moral definition. He did it - the evidence is clear, though maybe not enough to convict.

Terry Bradshaw, who knows a bit about alcohol abuse, has been tough on Roethlisberger in the last couple of days.

Bradshaw didn't back off his pointed comments yesterday.

"I've always been real good to him on TV, and he's deserved my good comments as well as he deserves my comments now," said Bradshaw, who is an NFL studio analyst for FOX. "My honesty says this: Clean your act up. You are about to (throw) away a career.

"If you need help, the Rooneys will get you help. If you need to fire the bodyguards, then you have get rid of them. Build a wall around yourself. Dedicate yourself to your career. He's on the right path of being one of the greatest that ever played, and now he's dragging baggage with him."

Bradshaw drank to self-medicate depression, for which he eventually sought treatment.

"It's hard for me to put into words the horrific feeling of being depressed," says the NFL Hall of Famer and current co-host of Fox NFL Sunday. "It is the most sickening feeling in the world when you believe you are miserable and you're all alone."

And like many people struggling with depression, Bradshaw looked for a way to numb the pain he was feeling by self-medicating.

"I was drinking a lot, and I didn't like the path I was on," Bradshaw admits. "I was frightened by what might happen. I wasn't sure if I was going to drink myself to death."

Bradshaw finally confided to his preacher and began a process of counseling that involved first his preacher then a psychologist and finally a psychiatrist. The latter eventually prescribed anti-depressants.

Ben may have an alcohol problem, or he may be dealing with some kind of mental health issues - if he wants to stay in the league and play as a Steeler, he needs to clean up his act - and if he needs help, he needs to be strong enough to say, "I need help." That may take more strength for him to admit than anything he ever does on a football field.

* * * * *

I'm not a fan of athletes, actors, or musicians being held up as role models, but the reality that people do exactly that, which raises a whole other issue in this situation. Ben has gotten off twice now without going to jail for rape or assault. He may have to pay out some money in civil suits, but he has plenty and will make a lot more. This sets a very bad example - both his actions, and the DA decision not to prosecute him.

The "'no' really means yes thing" in this situation is a serious problem in this country, especially with athletes it seems. Mitch Abrams, PsyD who writes the Sports Transgressions blog at Psychology Today, has some thoughts on this whole case.

The Dangerous Message the Roethlisberger Case Delivers

Athlete's non-prosecution may steer male athletes wrong about sexual assault.

When Ocmulgee Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright announced on Monday April 12th that he would not be prosecuting Pittsburgh Steeler Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the alleged sexual assault of a 20 year old college student, he simultaneously communicated some very dangerous messages to young men about sexual responsibility and legality.

In his press conference, Bright reported the following facts of the case. He stated that on March 5, 2010 Roethlisberger was barhopping in Milledgeville, Georgia while drinking with his friends in celebration of his 28th birthday. He bumped into a student and her sorority sisters several times through the night and later he invited them to a VIP section of a club and bought them a round of shots. Eventually, that student and Roethlisberger were in a small bathroom and the student later told police that she had been sexually assaulted.

Medical reports were inconclusive of whether or not a rape could definitely explain a cut, bruises and vaginal bleeding found in the examination. The DNA that was found was not enough to match; hence why Roethlisberger was not asked to submit a DNA sample.

He concluded that, taken in totality, the evidence did not produce a viable prosecution. Bright stated, “I know when I have a case, and I know when I don’t. I don’t have enough evidence to convince twelve jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Roethlisberger was guilty of the crime of rape.” He also added that, “We do not prosecute morals. We prosecute crimes.” Being the District Attorney of that county in Georgia, I have no doubt that he knows far more about the laws of Georgia than I do, but, there are some crucial aspects to this case that young men need to hear in a different light; especially since, in some states, the evidence that was reported in the conference might very well have led to winnable case.

A principal legal component regarding sexual assault, and this is also the central theme that is stressed when doing dating violence prevention, is the importance of the victim’s consent; specifically the lack thereof. Young men are socialized to believe that when a woman says, “No”, she really means, “Yes”. While there are times in sexual encounters that communication may be misconstrued, the burden to make sure that the woman is consenting to the activity is on the person who may be arrested if in fact she isn’t. Often I entitle trainings for young athletes, “Did You Get My ‘Yes’?”

Further, there are many circumstances (and there is variability in state laws) that explain what constitutes when someone is unable to give consent. If the victim is underage, they don’t have the moral development to appreciate the rightness/wrongness of sexual behavior and hence, statutory rape captures any such situation. In many states, if the woman is unconscious, in a coma, severely mentally disturbed or incapacitated due to being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they may no longer have the mental capacity to give consent, and under those situations, anyone who has sex with her may find themselves arrested for sexual assault.

In some state law, the issue of “forcible compulsion” can also be used to prosecute a sexual assault. This is when a victim complies with sexual action out of fear that if they don’t, they will be seriously harmed, kidnapped or killed. This can be via an overt or implied threat. For athletes that may be large and intimidating, one could argue, that a woman complied because of what she feared he would do if she didn’t. Time and time again, I educate athletes, if you’re going to be sexually active, allow there to be no doubt that she is as consenting as you are. It is the epitome of safe sex.

The laws in many states have swung to make sexual assault prosecution easier because there were so many victims that either refused to come forward because of the retraumatization that cross-examination can cause or because they were dissuaded that the legal process would not lead to their perpetrators being brought to justice. The shift was necessary. Too many women are sexually assaulted. Depending on the statistics you refer to, most average that 1 in 4 women will be a sexual assault victim over the course of their lives. This effects our society and the only way rape isn’t a man’s issue as well is if he has no females in his life that he cares about.

When people work hard to give young people education about rape prevention, and your cautioning men about the legalities of sexual behavior that they should be sensitive to, and then a multi-millionaire athlete seems to “get off”, there is the real danger that young men throw away all that they are trained.

Women have the right to say no. Men should be clear that anyone they are sexually active with is consenting to do so. Assuming that they are consenting can be perilous.

There is a huge difference between guilty and convictable. DA Bright did not say that Roethlisberger was not guilty. His conclusion was that he was not convictable. The only two people who know whether what happened was truly a sexual assault are Roethlisberger and the victim; and that only leaves Big Ben if the victim was too intoxicated to remember, let alone consent, to any behavior. I have no interest in presuming Roethlisberger guilty, but I have great concern about what young men, especially athletes, may conclude wrongly, about what is sexual assault and what is not.

There are some seriously mess-up beliefs about men, women, sex, and power in this country - and we need to educate young men in particular that this kind of behavior is not tolerable. The only way to do that is to set an example of what can happen when you abuse your power or status.

There is NEVER any situation in which a man can have sex with a woman who has said NO in any way, shape, or form, or is otherwise unable to give proper consent (due to alcohol, drugs, mental defect, or being a minor). To disregard that NO is rape . . . every time . . . no matter what . . . end of story.

In this case, the woman said No, and she was too drunk to consent. Ben Roethlisberger raped her. And his body guards are accomplices in that crime.

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