I get it. You see a headline like “Real Madrid Star Karim Benzema Charged In Sextape Blackmail Case” or “Transcript: Karim Benzema Helped Facilitate Blackmail Plot Against Teammate Over Sextape” and you aren’t quite moved. Sure, words like sex tape and blackmail seem juicy, but who is Karim Benzema to you, the typical American sports fan? You might know about Real Madrid—though even that is no guarantee—but why, you think, should some scandal taking place half a world away with protagonists you don’t know in a sport you don’t even like take up precious time out of your day?
The answer to that, as you might’ve surmised by now, is that this is the most batshit crazy thing happening in sports right now. Imagine Chris Bosh getting investigated in a blackmailing scheme targeting Tyson Chandler over a sex tape, and over the days following the gradual accretion of evidence leading you from “Hold up, there’s no way he actually did this, right?” to “Holy shit, he actually probably did this!?!”
A STAR PLAYER WAS BEING BLACKMAILED AFTER SOME SHADY CHARACTERS STOLE A SEX TAPE FROM HIM! MULTIPLE OTHER STARS HAVE BEEN ARRESTED FOR KNOWING ABOUT IT! AND IT NOW LOOKS LIKE THE MOST FAMOUS ONE OF ALL WAS DIRECTLY INVOLVED IN THE EXTORTION PLOT!!! Do you not see why this is huge?!
Okay, okay, I get it. Sort of. So this Benzema guy is a big deal?
Yes. That Chris Bosh comparison wasn’t a toss-off.
Benzema has been the starting Real Madrid striker for seven years now. (I know this is supposed to be a remedial, Non-Soccer Fan’s Guide To The Benzema Scandal, but I hope when I say “striker” you know that means “chief goal-getter,” and with goals being the object of the game, that’s like the highest profile position in the game. If you didn’t know that, maybe it really is best if you stop reading now.) Real Madrid are the biggest, most famous club in the world, and because of that are usually one of its best, too. He is an extremely good player on the most famous club team, is still in his prime at only 27 years old, and is also one of the biggest stars for the France national team. Suffice to say, Benzema’s name is immediately recognizable to anyone with anything above the most cursory of understandings of European soccer.
So he’s famous.
That’s what I’m saying, yes. Not only is he a big deal in the game itself, he’s also (and here the Bosh comparison unravels) known as sort of a rakish bad boy off of it. He’s handsome, drives expensive, fancy cars, wears expensive, fancy clothes, parties with beautiful women, and is a somewhat regular figure in the gossip pages for his antics.
Uh, yeah. That’s the best way I can think of to encapsulate the entirety of his off-field notoriety.
For instance, his most recent forays in the tabloids (before the sex tape stuff, obviously) came from his rumored relationship with Rihanna. This summer, he was spotted around town with Rihanna for a good while, after the two first got to know each other when she admitted her crush on him during the 2014 World Cup. (She was the World Cup Twitter MVT.) While the relationship didn’t end up working out for the two of them, it did inspire this typically spectacular Media Takeout headline: “Rihanna Must Feel Like SUCH A DUMMY . . . Her SOCCER PLAYER Boyfriend . . . Was Spotted Taking Some OTHER LITE SKINNED GIRL Home From The Club Last Night!! (Why Can’t She KEEP A MAN??)”
While Benzema’s behavior is usually of the benevolent playboy type, there are also seedier stories linked to him. For instance, he and a few other big-time French soccer players were embroiled in a prostitution scandal back in 2010. Benzema’s part involved him having sex with a prostitute who was, at the time, either 16 or 17 years old. The age of sexual consent in France is 15 and prostitution itself is legal, but to engage in sex work the participant must be over 18. Benzema admitted to sleeping with the prostitute—the now-famous Zahia Dehar—but claimed that he did not know she was underage. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges.
More sensationally, just after the blackmail case came to light, he was linked to a massive international drug trafficking case. Apparently two of the men being investigated for that had ties to Benzema. Benzema’s alleged involvement in this stuff is a lot more tenuous than the the other incidents surrounding him, but the point is that as crazy as it sounds, it’s not all that shocking that Benzema’s name comes up in ridiculous-sounding stories.
What about that other guy, Valbuena? Is he a big star?
Yeah, but not quite on the Benzema scale. In France, where he’s spent most of his career, he’s regarded as one of the best players in the domestic league. He’s also a regular with the national team, and the exposure from that side of his game is mainly why he’s known by most all committed soccer fans. Again, he’s like Tyson Chandler: if you follow the NBA you definitely know who he is; if you don’t, you might not.
So what exactly happened with this sex tape ordeal?