Last summer, I saw some news that I knew would rock my household – Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was accused by Andrea McNulty, a hostess at a Lake Tahoe Harrah’s, of sexual assault. My father, a die-hard Steelers fan, took the news better than I expected. But thousands of Steelers fans did not – and the defamation of McNulty’s character began almost immediately. There appeared to be very few consequences for Roethlisberger, and discussion of the case mostly disappeared.
That is, until Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault for the second time in early March, by a college student who alleged that he assaulted her in a Georgia nightclub. Charges were not filed in this case, but Roethlisberger was given a 6-game suspension and was ordered to undergo a “comprehensive behavioral evaluation by professionals.”
So who’s still standing by Roethlisberger, if not the NFL? Even Roethlisberger’s hometown newspaper seems shaken, and his local beef jerky company has dropped their sponsorship (and believe me, I know first-hand how rabid Steelers fans can be). But Nike, one of the most important sports endorsement companies, remains loyal. And although admittedly no charges have been filed, you have to ask: why? Reading the latest accusations detailing Roethlisberger’s alleged conduct in Georgia is a sickening experience. As Timothy Egan writes for the NYT‘s “Opinionator” blog,
“If this guy didn’t have a pair of Super Bowl Rings and a $102 million contract to entertain us on Sundays, most people would see him for what he is: a thug with a predatory sense of entitlement.”
But Nike seems to have a history of standing by “troubled” athletes – Kobe Bryant, for example, during allegations of rape (these were later dropped) and Tiger Woods. The only person who seems to be too problematic for Nike is Michael Vick, who admitted to running a felony dog-fighting ring and was promptly dropped by his sponsor. “We consider any cruelty to animals inhumane and unacceptable,” the company explained.
Roethlisberger has denied both allegations and no criminal charges have been filed in either case. But one does have to question the mentality that would lead Nike to continue to support someone who has a serious history of sexual assault accusations, and it appears that Nike assumes that Roethlisberger will escape from this unscathed. Is that enough of a reason to continue to sponsor Roethlisberger? What does it say about what matters to the company’s image?
And what does it say about how corporate America deals with sexual assault? And what message is sent when someone like Roethlisberger appears with Nike’s logo? Tiger Woods doesn’t seem to be hurting Nike’s sales – so why should Roethlisberger? The takeaway is clear: cruelty to animals is unacceptable. But assaulting women? That seems to be more of a gray area.
This whole situation is especially ironic because, as fellow Care2 blogger Jaime-Alexis pointed out to me, the Nike Foundation created The Girl Effect, dedicated to promoting the wellbeing of girls in developing countries. Strange that Nike seems to care so little about the well-being of young women in the U.S.
If you’d like to tell the company what you think of their continued sponsorship of Roethlisberger, Nike’s contact information is here.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.