That was never-quite Hall of Famer Pete Rose, responding to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Alex Coffey on Sunday, after Coffey, rightly, asked him about allegations that he raped an underage girl in the 1970s.
Back in 2017, the Phillies banged plans to honor Rose after a woman came forward and alleged that Pete Rose began a “sexual relationship” with her in 1973 when she was just 14 or 15 years old and he was 34. The allegations were part of testimony in the defamation lawsuit Rose brought against former federal prosecutor John Dowd, who claimed Rose had engaged in statutory rape of girls from 12-14 during Spring training in the 1970s. Rose eventually dropped the suit.
Rose admitted (after the statute of limitations had expired) that he had “sex” with the woman, but believed she was of the age of consent (16) in Ohio. Looking back, “I thought she was 16!” is a truly terrible defense, but it’s potentially an honest one from a guy who is rarely honest. And in case you’re wondering, the reason I’m putting “sex” and “sexual relationship” in quotation marks is that when a 34-year-old man engages in sexual intercourse with someone under 16, it’s not a “relationship,” it’s statutory rape.
Of course, even after Rose admitted to “having sex” with a child, fans stood and cheered and applauded his return to Philly. They always do. There is nothing you can do to a woman in America that will turn fans away if you’re good enough at a professional sport. We’ve seen men accused of violent sexual assaults, like Ben Roethlisberger, Trevor Bauer, and Kobe Bryant, all of whom have cadres of male fans (and even a few women) ready to defend their honor anytime anyone brings up allegations of their past misdeeds. (Roethlisberger and Bauer have denied the allegations against them.) But back to Pete Rose.
Rose was in locker rooms when Melissa Ludtke broke the gender barrier in 1976. It was a time when women reporters had buckets of cold water dumped over their heads, were pulled onto players’ laps mid-interview, and even had dead rats sent to them by players. Rose apparently thinks this is still the 1970s, as evidenced by his dressing down Coffey and referring to her as “babe.” Then there’s that whole thing about him shutting down the one woman who dared ask the most important question — the one Rose certainly didn’t want to answer.
I wonder how many men in the media scrum with Coffey stood up for her? And how many stood there silently while she was dressed down by a legendary player?
But even after Rose behaved like the boorish sexist he is, he was invited into the Phillies’ booth, where he proceeded to spew profanities and generally crack himself up with boring old stories:
How much longer are we going to celebrate guys like Pete Rose? Is it really so difficult to say that someone is such a bad person that they are no longer deserving of our attention? Even yesterday, there were so many Rose defenders out, it was dizzying:
At a time when it feels like women are constantly under siege online, at the voting booths, and even at our doctors’ offices, for crying out loud, one good and easy and true thing baseball fans could do is to say “we’re not going to stand for this kind of behavior anymore. Not from the great Pete Rose, not from anyone.” It’s hard to divorce sports fans not caring about the harm their heroes have done to women with Americans not caring about harm to women in society at large (looking at you, men celebrating the overturning of Roe).
And yet, so many MLB fans would rather pluck out their eyelashes than admit that one of their heroes might be a bad person who hurts others, and they sure as hell aren’t going to give a bunch of loudmouth women the satisfaction. But why not? What is so special about Pete Rose or Aroldis Chapman or Trevor Bauer or Roberto Osuna that fans refuse to condemn the alleged behavior that earned them suspensions or, in Rose’s case, a lifetime ban for betting on baseball? (Chapman, Osuna, and Bauer have all denied the allegations against them.) After all, there are plenty of athletes out there to idolize who treat others admirably and with respect.
So, in 2022, knowing what we know now about Pete Rose, why is still invited on radio shows? Why is he in the booth during a Phillies game? Why are fans still standing and cheering for a guy like Pete Rose? Because once he was good at baseball?
There’s a mantra out there among a certain faction of (cis white male heterosexual) fans that “when I watch sports I don’t want to think about politics!” “Politics,” in this context, usually means “anything that contradicts my politics,” but it has another meaning: “I don’t want to be forced to feel compassion for anyone but myself.” Of course, those fans who are Black, women, members of the LBGTQ community, and who are part of any other marginalized group don’t have that luxury. It’s impossible for us to separate sports, and the way it punches down, from our standing in society.
What does it cost us, as a society, to walk away from someone who was good at sports but bad at life? And what does it cost us, as a people, when we refuse to?
Maybe it’s time to start thinking about it.