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Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011

The Roethlisberger Payback

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This week, I received a message from a reader asking me to pledge to donate $10 to a rape crisis center every time Ben Roethlisberger is sacked by the Green Bay Packers during the Super Bowl. Inspired, I agreed and asked the hostess of the Super Bowl party I'm attending if I could encourage her guests to do the same. Why should you also embrace this idea, despite the fact that it's bound to be controversial? Read on.

The men behind this informal, word-of-mouth "Roethlisberger Payback" campaign are the same folks who put together the Vick Payback,which asked people to donate $10 to the Wisconsin Humane Society for every time Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was sacked during the regular season. Vick was convicted of running a dogfighting operation (a federal crime) and spent two years in prison before returning to the NFL in 2009. Organizer Brent Gohde and friends each donated $340 to the Humane Society earlier this month, $10 for each of Vick's 34 sacks.


One of the main differences between Roethlisberger's situation and Vick's is that Roethlisberger hasn't been convicted of anything, although he was suspended for six games (later reduced to four) for violating the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy. Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual assault at least twice. Yes, in this country, we hold that those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty. However, in the case of sexual assault, "proven guilty" can be a much harder place to reach than it is for other crimes. Rape is one of the most underreported crimes , and when it is reported, arrests, convictions and jail time are fairly low. If the person being accused of rape is white, rich and/or famous, chances of conviction drop precipitously. This is largely due to the fact that we as a society rush to heap blame on women who bring charges of rape to light, picking apart what a victim was wearing, if she was drinking alcohol, who she's had sex with in the past, and all kinds of other details that we would never consider for the victim of any other crime. Judges and juries engage in victim-blaming the same way that everyone else does, unfortunately. A conviction of a white NFL quarterback on a sexual assault charge is highly unlikely.

This brings us to the other difference between Roethlisberger and Vick, which is that Vick was torturing dogs, while Roethlisberger was allegedly torturing women. I feel pretty confident that following Vick's case, no one accused those skanky, gold-digging dogs of "asking for it" or opined that drunk slutty canines really want to be beaten. However, those are just the sorts of things that are routinely said about women who accuse professional athletes of rape. We are far more sympathetic to animals than we are to women.

So, let's set aside our arguments about whether Roethlisberger is innocent or guilty, and leave off dragging the women who accused him through the mud. Let's take this controversy and use it to generate something positive. As Gohde says, "[It's] a way to take something horrible and make something good come out of it… It's a good opportunity to raise awareness and money for a worthy cause."

So Packers fans, unite. Don't let one quarterback's conduct besmirch the whole game. We want the Pack to win! We want to see Roethlisberger get sacked! Take that happy energy and use it to right the wrongs that Big Ben may have caused. Defy stereotypes about football fans. During the Super Bowl, every time Roethlisberger is sacked, pass a jar around and collect money from friends, family, partygoers and those folks next to you at the bar who have suddenly become your BFFs. Then donate that money to a Milwaukee-area rape crisis center like the Sexual Assault Treatment Center , the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program in Waukesha County  or the Healing Center . For updates about the Roethlisberger Payback, or to let Gohde know how much money you raised, check out his Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/brentgohde.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to
laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.

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