Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to his former club Manchester United became a much-celebrated affair amongst the football fans across the world. However, the fanfare and the celebration also once again brought to the forefront a much less talked about part about the footballer’s life. One that is often conveniently forgotten.
Ronaldo has been accused of raping American model Kathryn Mayorga in the past. Ronaldo himself had signed a witness statement that said he had persisted and had sex with Mayorga despite her saying ‘no’ repeatedly. The incident dates back to 2009. The initial charges against Ronaldo were dropped following an out-of-court settlement – one that depended on Mayorga’s silence, which was paid for by the footballer.
In the past few weeks, social media has been abuzz with those that have now taken up the role of self-proclaimed defendants of Cristiano Ronaldo, lashing out at anyone that tries to talk about the issue and bring it to public knowledge. Cries of “we separate the art from the artist”, “he is an inspiration”, “he does so much charity work” have been floating around, as rape apologists have been constantly trying to justify sexual assault because the perpetrator is a popular, privileged individual like Ronaldo.
Many of those trying to actually counter the victim-blaming narrative against Kathryn Mayorga and call out the normalising of such sexual violence have had to witness the harshest side of social media trolling by Ronaldo apologists. And some of the arguments that were given, were absolutely bizarre. We decided to make a reference sheet for all Ronaldo rape apologist arguments, so that this important conversation does not stop here.
“But Ronaldo is a brilliant footballer. That’s what he is famous for. Let’s focus on that”
The age-old debate of “separating art from the artist” will come swiftly as one of the very first responses from apologists. But, the reason that Ronaldo walks free is because of the social capital and privilege he has amassed and position that he enjoys. Men in positions of power for long have been able to silence all sorts of criticism against them. The case of Cristiano Ronaldo is no different. His social and financial capital allowed him to go on and move on with his life. It allowed him to keep playing, get contracts. Nothing stopped. It also allowed him to pay and silence the survivor. Just because he is a great player doesn’t mean he can get away with rape, right? Think about it.
“You can’t ignore Ronaldo’s side of the story. She was a gold-digger. If it was true, why did she not do anything about it? She must have liked it.”
This is a classic ‘victim blaming’ narrative. The survivor’s trauma gets trivialised just by virtue of the fact that she accused ‘Ronaldo’. And the entire cis-het male fandom shifts the entire focus from Ronaldo’s act of sexual violence to how the #MeToo movement is responsible for this. Cristiano Ronaldo, with his access to social and economic capital, escaped the law because his money silences the claims and could pay off people to keep shut. That’s the real story and it’s not a secret. This fact has been in public knowledge. Ronaldo himself has agreed to it. Nobody benefits from invalidating the survivor’s experience.
“The incident happened years back. Ronaldo is a changed man now. He does a lot of charity work.”
Talking about Ronaldo’s present charity work to invisibilize the sexual assault committed by him, is not just bizarre but also incorrect and problematic. Many use his charity work to “defend” and also “reclaim” his image. But one must not forget that Cristiano Ronaldo’s charity work, the donations, all of it is an outcome of the class privilege that he enjoys. In this case, not only do we need to hold Ronaldo accountable but also question the system that allows him to do so. Ronaldo’s public acts of generosity cannot and will not delegitimize sexual assault committed by him.
“Why would Ronaldo rape someone? He can get anyone he wants.”
Rape or any kind of sexual assault is about dominance and power. It exists not just at the intersection of gender but also has many driving factors which include class, privilege, social image, financial position, cultural identity, among others. People like Ronaldo enjoy the admiration of millions of people and are those who are not used to people saying ‘no’ to them, because they feel entitled to their ‘yes’. And when someone does refuse, they are probably less likely to listen to it.
“Both things are true. He is an inspiring footballer and also a criminal. It is a grey area and cannot be looked at as two binary points.”
So, there isn’t any binary point at all. It is pretty much clear and not grey area either. The hero-worshipping of an individual, especially sportspersons like Cristiano Ronaldo, often tends to overlook any negativity around them. Football might be his profession, but as an individual, he is a sexual offender, a rapist, someone who violated consent. Ronaldo’s popularity washes off any accountability for his actions. And that is wrong. Cristiano Ronaldo is a criminal who happens to be a footballer.
The amount of questioning, cross-questioning, and scrutiny that a woman must go through after coming out in public and talking about sexual assault, shows how society already assumes a certain narrative that will protect the perpetrator, especially when they are someone with the social capital of Cristiano Ronaldo. By supporting and defending Ronaldo, every fan out there is being a rape apologist and being part of this toxic system that will go to any length to silence the survivor’s narrative.