Trying to be a Feminist and a Football Fan

by Katie Oldaker

I am a Pittsburgh native, which means I am obligated to spend every Sunday of the late summer into early fall watching the Steelers play (and this season, beat) various other teams in the NFL. This season, though, I’ve been finding it hard to push aside my ideals and totally support my team. As some of you may know, our star quarterback (and former golden boy) Ben Roethlisberger was accused of rape this past spring. Surprisingly, this was not the first time this happened: in 2008, a civil suit was brought against him after he allegedly assaulted a woman in a Las Vegas hotel room. Steeler Nation was ready to give him a pass: surely false accusations do happen. This could be one of those. But then he was accused again, this time in a club in a Georgia college town. It was March, the season was over, the magnifying glass was put to the allegation. The Rooneys were allegedly furious. The fate of Roethlisberger hung in the balance. Then charges were never filed. The victim sent a letter to the police saying she no longer wanted to press charges, but made it clear that she did not retract her accusation. Roethlisberger was suspended by the NFL for six games (later reduced to four) and people, slowly, seemed to forget.

But I haven’t. Every time I watch a game, my stomach turns when the camera zooms in on Roethlisberger grinning or pumping his fist in the air. Why, in order to cheer on my team, do I have to cheer on someone who seems to be some sort of sexual predator? When Haoli Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens broke Roethlisberger’s nose in a game in December, I cheered. Maybe Mike Tomlin would send in Charlie Batch or Dennis Dixon, maybe I could cheer for someone who doesn’t allegedly corner women in club bathrooms. But then Roethlisberger went back onto the field–and the commentators acted like he was some kind of hero for it. In fact, in every game, it’s mentioned like it’s something he didn’t put into motion: the commentators say he’s had a rough season. A hard time. An image to repair. As though this is just another motorcycle accident, not a series of accusations of crimes.

Why didn’t the Rooneys fire Roethlisberger? Or pull a move like they did with Santonio Holmes (after his multiple substance-abuse suspensions) and trade him away? The answer is obvious: he’s a good athlete. But it puts me–and surely, many others in the Steeler Nation–in between a rock and a hard place. In order for someone like Hines Ward–who I love dearly–to get that football down the field, the pass needs to be made. Roethlisberger has to throw it. If I want the team to win the Super Bowl, I need those passes to be made. I can’t cheer on a team and somehow not cheer on its quarterback. The thing that gets me even more than the actual accusations is the attitudes of some of my fellow football fans. I watched the Steelers-Jets game with an acquaintance who, when the commentators brought up Roethlisberger’s “hard time” this season, said “I’ve been to that town in Georgia, those girls are straight-up whores,” as though that was a legitimate excuse for him. The attitude of “she’s lying” or “but he’s still a good player” or, worse, “even if it did happen, she deserved it” is what puts me off the most. Why do I have to bite my tongue or somehow compromise my basic morals to be able to fully support a team?

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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