Campaigners risk a furious backlash if they mete out the same rough justice to Cristiano Ronaldo as they did to less popular suspects, and charges of hypocrisy if they don’t “believe” his accuser just because he is a sports icon.
Allegations concerning the Portuguese footballer are a magnitude more grave and specific than many that have already derailed lives and careers since the #MeToo campaign began a year ago. Woody Allen is being shunned due to 25-year-old charges of which he has been legally cleared, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh faces public disgrace on the basis of a claim that lacks a place, date or any corroboration. Comedian Aziz Ansari lost his reputation for a single encounter that appeared to break no laws, while New York Review of Books editor Ian Buruma lost his job for merely publishing an article by a man accused of sexual abuse (who himself was pronounced not guilty in court).
‘Don’t do it’
Whereas many #MeToo incidents were lapses of social etiquette, Ronaldo is accused of an outright crime – assaulting and anally raping a woman in a hotel room. While new details will probably yet emerge and narratives will be contested, what German magazine Der Spiegel revealed last week is substantial and backed by what they say is “hundreds of documents.”
According to the report, which has been backed by the alleged victim’s legal team, there is a name – Kathryn Mayorga, a now 34-year-old part-time model, a date, June 13, 2009 and a location, a suite at the Palms Hotel and Casino, where the footballer reportedly took her, after the two were seen on tape, dancing together at a club.
Reporters have leaked a copy of the police report, filed at the time, mentioning a “public figure” who is “an athlete,”medical reports of rectal injuries, and a rape kit test performed at the time, which will now be examined during a fresh official investigation. While this is not an admission of guilt, Ronaldo did reportedly pay Mayorga compensation for her silence. Perhaps most alarming for the 33-year-old Juventus player is the interview allegedly sent by Ronaldo to his lawyer in which he says there was no anal rape, but confesses this about their coitus: “she said that she didn’t want to, but she made herself available… But she kept saying ‘No.’ ‘Don’t do it.’ ‘I’m not like the others.’ I apologized afterwards.” Within a “No means no” model of consent, this does not leave much wiggle room.
Courage meets cowardice
Going by the history of #MeToo, this should be a vindication of the movement, which Mayorga said “gave her courage” to come forward with her story – showing that no man’s reputation is above his conduct. From here on, we know the drill: within a few days Ronaldo loses his corporate sponsorships, is put on gardening leave by his team, pages with his records are skipped over, as he retires from limelight to fight his legal battle that lasts for months or years. Regardless of its outcome, his career is over, and he re-emerges as something between a pariah and a man with a tainted halo.
Yet while this process took only hours for several celebrities disgraced by the movement, after a week of publication, no tipping point has been reached with Cristiano Ronaldo, unless a mutually agreed exclusion from two meaningless international matches can be considered punishment.
Just as notably, there doesn’t seem to be the same appetite to attack the footballer. Alyssa Milano hasn’t tweeted about him, Ronan Farrow hasn’t written an expose, Ronaldo is not making the front pages of the press on either side of the Atlantic. Where they are typically strident and sure of the truth, here the advocates seem to be oddly cautious. Perhaps, whatever they say about anyone being a possible rapist, maybe being young, handsome and self-made Ronaldo also doesn’t elicit the same instinctive suspicion and revulsion among the activists. But it isn’t just about that.
How hard should you push?
Cristiano Ronaldo could be not just the person at whom #MeToo stops, but the downfall of the whole movement. For all the banter about his vanity and diva antics that sometimes cast him as the pantomime villain, Ronaldo is truly loved. He is the most popular person on the entirety of Facebook, the second most followed on Instagram, and the eighth on Twitter. More followers than Lionel Messi, or LeBron James, or Beyonce or Donald Trump. More people want to know his every thought, see his every holiday picture, watch his every promotional shot. It is not just about numbers – the combination of talent, superhuman work ethic and ostentatious success make him perhaps the ultimate role model for many. Not just a footballer, but a perfect human being from body to outfit to lifestyle to children.
And unlike Justin Bieber, whose back catalog can be enjoyed at any time, his fans also depend on seeing the five-time official best player in the world on the pitch every week. The footballer’s career is short, and his is far closer to its end. Fans of Ronaldo and fans of football would acutely feel his disappearance from the most popular form of human entertainment for six months, not to mention forever. Legends of this size are not fungible.
And there will be cause. While Mayorga’s case is stronger than many in the past, from the outside it hardly appears watertight. The world has seen her flirt and grind on Ronaldo in that footage, it knows that she decided to take money rather than press charges, and perhaps for reasons of winnability decided to file a civil lawsuit demanding yet more money from the multi-millionaire.
Even dismissing those who are actively casting doubts on the credibility of Der Spiegel, or calling his accuser a “gold digger” there are enough people who will want to see Ronaldo handled with due process, rather than destroyed on someone’s word.
And if #MeToo pushes too hard on this one, rightly or wrongly many will choose Cristiano Ronaldo, and unleash that long-brewing backlash against its methods.
Fairness for all
So, perhaps #MeToo is right to sit back for the moment, and wait for the process to play out, or see if his power base begins to fall away like dominoes from the existing pressure.
But such double standards in treating accusations are not a good look for the campaign. Does #MeToo really want to say: We believe all women, unless they accuse a popular athlete with washboard abs, in which case we sort of pretend it’s a non-story? Or: if you are a judge with different political opinions we will drag up the vaguest accusations, but if you are not and face concrete ones, we won’t bother making a badge? This is a movement that is already considered arbitrary in its justice, and politicized, and it needs to maintain some integrity in how it treats every new case, particularly one as unignorable as this.
Whatever #MeToo, in its collective and diverse voices decides to do eventually, it is not a simple choice. One could almost sympathize, if #MeToo hadn’t brought upon itself. Had it simply relied on established concepts of justice, all this could have been avoided.
One of the reasons for the establishment of universal justice is the idea that all people, men and women, accusers and accused, should be equal before the law. By taking extra-judicial steps and ignoring settled norms such as police investigations, weight of evidence, and presumption of innocence in its quest for quick retribution #MeToo has bitten off more than it can chew, and risks looking weak and hypocritical by doing the right thing. In actual fact it was always simple enough: Cristiano Ronaldo and Kathryn Mayorga deserve due process, as do Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, as do Harvey Weinstein and Asia Argento. It is still not too late for #MeToo to return to sanity, and find new allies in the process.