It’s easier for me to lower my standards. I’m a cisgender male, and never been sexually assaulted. I shouldn’t, and it’s just the path of lesser resistance, but it happens. So when it comes to coverage from networks or major websites or newspapers of athletes whose involvement in sexual assault is known, I can live with less because I’ve given up hope of more. I don’t expect constant mentioning of a player’s past, much less serious investigation or labeling. I can do that, not everyone can.
I understand, or have accepted, really, that when discussing a player’s on-field performance or influence, those reporters/writers/producers think that there’s no place for off-field stories along with it. Or that they use that excuse as shelter to not talk about it at all. It would be great if these athletes had to carry it every day of their lives, which really should be the least we’re aiming for, and maybe one day we’ll get there. Which won’t even be much of an accomplishment.
But there are some things that are insulting. Yesterday, during ESPN’s pregame coverage of Portugal-Belgium, of course there was a segment on Christiano Ronaldo’s chase for the all-time international scoring record. You can’t not discuss Ronaldo when analyzing Portugal. He’s the captain, he’s still the focal point of their attack (however detrimental that might be now that he’s immobile), and he’s arguably the greatest player the country has ever produced. You can’t simply ignore him.
But when you put this on the screen, and make it a major bullet point of your segment, it’s a problem:
I don’t expect Ali Daei to recognize all the problems with this, because I know nothing about him as a person. I doubt too many at ESPN do either. But I do expect ESPN to see the problems with this.
You cannot echo or trumpet Ronaldo as a “humanist” when there are two rape accusations in his past. Which leads to the discussion we’ve had too many times of how many would it take? Why do women have to be itemized and a collective before we believe them? What’s the magic number before Ronaldo has, at the very, very least, it just mentioned in every story about him, on-field or not?
Ronaldo has definitely influenced lives, including being accused of ruining a couple in the vilest fashion. And it’s part of the story. If ESPN is going to put this on their pregame show, then it’s incumbent upon them to discuss the whole thing. If you’re going to present the point of view that he’s a positive force in the world, then we have to see how he’s quite possibly the exact opposite of that, as well. Quite simply, this is gross. Once you take the discussion or story off the field, which ESPN did here, then you have to discuss the story. The whole story.
Yes, it’s beyond folly to expect ESPN to be some bastion of journalistic integrity when it’s been about promoting its brand and coverage during its coverage for decades now. But it’s hardly exclusive to ESPN. Again, I can accept (begrudgingly) that discussions and analysis of on-field performance can remain there, but many others can’t (and shouldn’t, and really neither should I). But once you get outside the lines, you’re outside the lines.
Perhaps ESPN fears that doing so would cause it to lose the rights for the next Euros. Perhaps it fears an exodus of viewers, though it’s hard to see how that can happen when they’re the only game in town for so much. ESPN is inevitable, really.
What it is is that they just don’t care. Because it’s inevitable, it doesn’t have to. And the risk of exodus from viewers is far smaller by not covering every aspect of Ronaldo’s story than it would be by doing so. It feels like it propagates itself, and maybe Ronaldo’s story would be different if ESPN was all over it all the time. There’s obviously less risk with a European soccer player. It’s not like he can cut off access in the same way Tom Brady or LeBron James could. But ESPN has never been about risk. Or really anything other than ESPN.
Moving on, let’s kick the week off and end this with something jolly. Here’s how FC Augsburg announced their Bundesliga fixtures: