The role that the media plays in sexual harassment allegations against sports stars cannot be understated – we are all at fault for cases like Cristiano Ronaldo’s and Kobe Bryant.
Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid ran riot at the Wanda Metropolitano in the first leg of their Champions League tie against Juventus, racking up two away goals to stun the bianconeri. The providers were none other than the Uruguayan center back pairing of José Giménez and Diego Godín.
And yet still, despite this, they were unable to stop Cristiano Ronaldo from scoring another sumptuous hat-trick in the second leg, one that brought his side back over the precipice and into the Champions League quarter-final. The media and journalists all over the world sung his praises in both the morning papers and on social media as the 34-year-old made the headlines once again.
And rightly so. As the tournament’s leading goal-scorer, there is no doubt that he is of a different calibre to the others, a class above the rest. Yet as entertaining as it is to reflect on his career and the mark he continues to leave on the sport, it is also important to remember the ongoing allegations concerning the Portuguese international off the pitch.
Ronaldo is in the midst of a case whereby he was accused of rape by Kathryn Mayorga – a 34-year-old teacher whose world was turned upside down in the early hours of June 13th, 2009 when the Juventus forward allegedly raped her anally.
The two met at a party where Mayorga stated that Ronaldo sought her out privately to commit the alleged act. Yet the 35-year-old’s measured silence meant that the case would only be looked into in greater inspection seven years later after a German magazine – Der Spiegel – published an article detailing the events of the night of June 13th. Ronaldo was painted as the perpetrator who had repeatedly penetrated Mayorga despite her telling him to stop ‘several times’.
The media reaction was instant: Who was this young girl who had the audacity to threaten one of the greatest, most well-respected athletes on the planet with life in prison? And why had she marred his recent successes with such an outrageous allegation?
This was followed up by Ronaldo’s lawyers who wore down Mayorga with countless questions, lawsuits and interrogations – all of which were published in newspapers across the country.
It’s quite obvious that in our efforts to label the 34-year-old as one of the greatest players to grace the game, we have ensured that he remains protected from the allegations made against him, and thus any punishment void. Our sensationalisation of his domestic and international feats and career off the field means that he has remained above the law.
And what’s even more worrying is there seems to be a pattern emerging. This isn’t the first time that the media and journalists have played a crucial hand in freeing a sports star from a rape case, despite damning evidence being provided against them.
This has happened before, concerning a man known to be the ‘Cristiano Ronaldo’ of his sport: Koby Bryant.
On June 30th, 2003, Bryant arrived at the Cordillera Lodge and Spa in Edwards, Colorado. He was in town for a knee operation, yet came across a 19-year-old girl working at the same hotel he was staying at.
Bryant then invited the young girl to his room, yet a mere five minutes later, the girl left the room distraught. Her underwear was bloody, as was Bryant’s shirt. The evidence was damning against the Los Angeles Lakers star. Yet just as in Mayorga’s case, once news of the incident hit the newspapers, the media and journalists alike turned their focus into the girl’s life, rather than exploring the accusations made.
She was branded in tabloids across the country as a sexually active teen looking to gain some public exposure. To make matters worse, once the public found out about her mental health history, she was labelled as psychologically unstable. In the space of a few weeks, she had very quickly been painted as a fame-hungry, weak woman willing to do anything for attention.
Just as in Mayorga’s case, the media ousted the teenager as blame-worthy, and the pressure and trauma of such claims against her led her to drop the charges. Meanwhile, Bryant was able to return to his dazzling sports career (after gifting his wife with a £4 million dollar apology ring) picking up where he left off prior to his injury.
Kobe Bryant’s rape case left behind a legacy of victim blaming, media sensationalism and the notion that the wealthy and famous are above the law because of the platform that we provide for them in our newspapers.
The ongoing Ronaldo case proves as evidence that despite our best attempts to tackle rape cases and sexual harassment, it’s clear that for many newspapers, the headlines come first and the consequences later. By sensationalising their presence, whether it be Ronaldo, Bryant or Darren Sharper, we paint them as superhumans, unable to do wrong as they score touchdowns, three-pointers and goals.
In both cases, one thing is clear: Sports stars, like directors, actors and music artists, must be held accountable for their actions, whether that be doping, match-fixing, or in this case sexual harassment. They are not above the law. But in refusing to challenge the climate that allows them to remain in their protected bubble of fame and wealth, we as media and journalists, have not only failed Kathryn Mayorga, but women all over the world.
It is our job to paint pictures with our words and images. Now is the time to put pen to paper and break the stigma around cases like Ronaldo’s, so that women like Mayorga do not have to wait seven years for any and all inspections into their cries for help.
By: Maryam Naz