Revisiting Ben Roethlisberger’s Sexual Assault Allegations in the #MeToo Era

Being a star athlete has highs and lows. The media thrives on reporting the news — the good, bad, and really bad. Plenty of NFL greats have their share of negative press, including Ben Roethlisberger. From the rise of “Big Ben” to disturbing sexual assault allegations, his career has been a rollercoaster. How would the drama play out today?

A stunning senior year

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Roethlisberger spent his high school years playing three sports: football, basketball, and baseball. His senior year, the well-rounded athlete became the starting QB for the varsity team. He finished the season with 4,041 passing yards and 54 touchdowns.

Miami (Ohio) invited Roethlisberger to a summer camp. He wasn’t offered a scholarship until Miami coach Terry Hoeppner watched him score six touchdowns in the first game of his senior year. After Roethlisberger’s impressive football career, the college retired his jersey in 2007 — the first time in 34 years the team retired a football number. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted the college star in the first round of the 2004 draft. Roethlisberger signed a 6-year, $40-million contract.

Rise to NFL fame 

Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers warms up in 2009
Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers warms up in 2009 | Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

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After starting QB Tommy Maddox got injured, Roethlisberger played in the second game of the 2004 season. The first QB to compile a 13-0 record in the regular season, he broke records set by the legendary Dan Marino (a rookie QB completion percentage of 66.4% and a passer rating of 98.1%). In 2006, Pittsburgh defeated Seattle and Roethlisberger became the youngest QB to win a Super Bowl. 

Despite an impressive career in football, Roethlisberger’s personal life has been quite controversial, as Bleacher Report details. He may have charmed fans on the field, but people’s personal opinions of him were a little different. Some say he was self-centered, reckless, and even abusive — a far cry from the leader we saw on game day. 

Ben Roethlisberger’s sexual assault allegations

In 2009, Andrea McNulty, an employee of Harrah’s hotel in Lake Tahoe, accused Roethlisberger of rape, as Fox Sports reports. She alleged the assault took place in his hotel room in 2008 after he asked her to help him fix the TV. McNulty said she begged him to stop. She said she experienced depression after the assault, and she eventually entered a mental health institution.

She also accused eight fellow employees of covering up the incident. The case was settled out of court in 2012, and Roethlisberger faced no negative action from the NFL. In 2010, Roethlisberger was in the spotlight once again.

A second sexual assault allegation surfaced, reports Sports Illustrated, this time from a college student in Milledgeville, Georgia. The 20-year-old woman claimed that Roethlisberger assaulted her in the bathroom of a nightclub. Due to a lack of evidence, Georgia prosecutors did not press charges and the case was dropped a month later.

Although Roethlisberger escaped both accusations without much of a penalty aside from missing a few games. Some fans began to wonder if these alleged assaults indicated a pattern of violent behavior. 

Would Roethlisberger have faced different consequences in the #MeToo era? 

If we compare Roethlisberger’s story to recent names associated with sexual assault — guys like Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer — does it seem like Big Ben got off a little easy? Is it the timing? Would he have faced harsher consequences had these alleged assaults occurred a few years later?

Weinstein, accused of assaulting a slew of young actresses, lost his company and landed in jail. The Today Show fired Lauer after allegations of sexual harassment. Numerous alleged sexual predators accused during the #MeToo movement have faced serious punishments.

It’s impossible to say what would have happened if the accusations against Roethlisberger took place later. His fans may argue that he never received a conviction and that his accusers either lacked evidence or recanted their stories. Maybe this is the case.

Another possibility is that those women were afraid of the consequences of a public stand against a popular NFL player. Perhaps the #MeToo movement would have given them strength and support, reassuring them that it was OK to take a stand.