Will the NFL Create a Morality
Clause for the Hall of Fame?
Roethlisberger, Former Quarter Back for the Pittsburgh Stealers
Photo from ESPN, 2022
TW: This article mentions details of sexual assault and harassment that some readers may find disturbing. Resources can be found at the bottom of the story.
Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback for the Pittsburg Stealers, announced his retirement on January 16 of this year. This is the first season Roethlisberger isn’t playing with the Stealers after 18 seasons.
Roethlisberger was considered by many in the NFL to be the most consistent quarterback of his time. He had two Superbowl wins and remained in the starting line up his whole career. Five years from now Roethlisberger will be eligible to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. When viewing his stats alone compared to members already inducted, he is comparable, if not better.
There is no doubt that in 2027 Roethlisberger will be nominated for the NFL Hall of Fame. However, past accusations against him of sexual assault have raised many to question if the Hall of Fame will vote to induct Roethlisberger in 2027.
Sexual Assault Claims Against Roethlisberger
The first sexual assault allegation against Roethlisberger was in 2009. Andrea McNulty claimed Roethlisberger had raped her at a hotel in Lake Tahoe five months after his second Super Bowl win in 2009.
McNulty has gone public with her entire story. She claims that Roethlisberger had called her claiming his TV was broken and asked for help. When McNulty arrived to his room the TV wasn’t broken and he pushed her down onto the hotel bed and raped her.
After the assault McNulty said she reported it to the security chief Guy Hyder. However, he did not give her the assistance she needed or deserved. Instead, he allegedly told her that the president of the casino was friends with Roethlisberger and “that most girls would feel lucky to get to have sex with someone like Ben Roethlisberger.”
The second claim came just a year after in 2010. An unidentified woman accused Roethlisbergerof raping her in a Milledgeville, Georgia nightclub. She alleges that Roethlisberger invited her and her friends into the VIP section and proceeded to rape her in the nightclub bathroom.
The victim was 20 years old at the time and a student at Georgia College & State University. Roethlisberger was 28 years old at the time.
Onlookers at the scene claimed the police were supporting Roethlisberger when they arrived at the nightclub. Someone allegedly heard an officer on the scene say the woman was a “drunken b****.”
There was never a criminal charge filed against Roethlisberger for either accusation. He settled a claim from McNulty in court in January 2012. The second claim was thrown out due to a lack of evidence. Since the first allegations he has stood by his innocence. Roethlisberger did admit to knowing both women, but nothing more.
According to a 2022 article about Roethlisberger anonymous sources came forward throughout the years with many disturbing claims about him. Sources alleged he referred to women as ‘toys’, mentioning on several occasions something about how he thought it was ‘okay to have un-consensual sex from time to time.’
The Steelers & NFL’s Response to Accusations
When the news broke about the allegations against Roethlisberger the Steelers chose to ignore it. Having won the Superbowl in 2006 and 2009 the team was at the top of the NFL. Roethlisberger was an asset to the Stealers.
Later, the NFL suspended him from six games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. This penalty was soon reduced to four games.
In 2009 a cultural commentary website, Jezebel, wrote an article titled Roethlisberger Accused of Rape, ESPN says Nothing: “that’s rape culture”. The article went on to say that ESPN specifically told their reporters to not cover the suit. ESPN feared that covering Roethlisberger in this bad light would jeopardize their access to him.
An article written in the Orlando Sentinel in 2022 speculated what the accusations and repercussions would have been had come out during the rise of the ‘Me Too’ Movement in 2006. Author Chris Hays argues Roethlisberger “would have been vilified.” Due to the NFL’s reactions sexual assault claims and cases prior to and after the reality is that not much might have been different if this had taken place in the peak of the movement. Especially when considering the popularity of both Roethlisberger and the Stealers. Companies as big as ESPN were shying away from this story due to Roethlisberger’s wide fan base.
ESPN has continued unrealistic coverage of Roethlisberger. During an ESPN segment on Roethlisberger’s retirement Brian Greese, the quarterback coach for the San Francisco 49ers said “he made mistakes. And his fan base loves him and will always support him.”
Diminishing sexually assaulting someone to “making a mistake” can and will have critical implications. This type of coverage makes these alleged assaults seem excusable and is teaching society that they can get away with this.
Hall of Fame Requirements
Players and coaches can be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. The only requirement to nominate a player is for them to have been retired from the game for five years or more.
The committee that votes is made up of 49 people. They are media representatives from each pro-football city, having two from New York and LA for their two teams. There are many qualities looked for in a player to be inducted. In a 2012 article, Bleacher Report wrote that there were four qualities looked for in a player, “peak, longevity, impact by position and total value.”
All qualities refer to game play. The Hall of Fame doesn’t have a morality clause. Therefore, the choice to induct someone with accusations such as Roethlisberger is up to the individual voter's discretion. Roethlisberger will be eligible to be inducted in 2027.
With players still being accused of sexual assault and the recent case of Deshaun Watson it will be interesting to see if the NFL alters their requirements, not only for the Hall of Fame, but all their players.
If you or someone you love has been affected by sexual assault there are resources available.
For the National Sexual Assault Hotline call (1-800-656-4673) and visit rainn.org for 24/7 online chatting and alternate resources.