ROOM SERVICE? Ben Roethlisberger may have committed an offensive foul in Lake Tahoe.
Hard to know what to think about the Ben Roethlisberger story. In the annals of sex-harassment accusations, it is not among the most convincing; not only did the plaintiff never go to authorities, she waited a full year to make her case public. However — and this is a big however — it's not like this woman, Andrea McNulty, an employee of the Harrah's Lake Tahoe hotel, didn't tell anybody about the case. In fact, there is considerable evidence that something happened to her on or around July 11, 2008, when Roethlisberger was a guest at the hotel.
The timeline goes something like this: in July of last year, Super Bowl–winning Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Roethlisberger checked in to the hotel to play in the American Century celebrity golf tournament. On July 10, he met McNulty and had a conversation with her, apparently about fishing. The next night, Roethlisberger asked her up to his room to fix his television. According to the complaint, he was dressed in T-shirt and shorts when she came up to the room; she alleges that, at that point, he forced himself on her.
So far it reads a little like the Kobe Bryant story, but where it diverges it what happens next. McNulty says she told the Harrah's hotel security chief, Guy Hyder, about the assault on July 12. He allegedly ignored her. Later, she was told that she would be fired by Harrah's president John Koster if she went public with the accusations. McNulty ultimately had to be hospitalized for depression and PTSD. When she returned to work, she had an emotional scene in public with a pit boss, which led to her being placed on leave. Later, after another stint in a hospital, McNulty was approved to go back to work — but a delay in the start date caused her health insurance to be canceled.
McNulty finally decided to file suit after what she describes as continued harassment from Harrah's. The kicker may have been Roethlisberger agreeing to come to the same golf tournament again this year.
Roethlisberger has loudly and publicly denied the allegations, insisting in a breathless news conference (in which he would not take questions) that nothing happened, that he will not discuss his private life in public, and that the accusations are an "attack" on him and his family. He is clearly going to fight this thing to the last second.
McNulty's decision not to go to the authorities is not necessarily illogical, given what allegedly happened with Harrah's afterward. There is a very plausible scenario whereby McNulty clearly could not go public without losing her job, which makes this a workplace-harassment case, as well. In fact, the guess here is that this is going to end very badly for Harrah's almost regardless of what kind of evidence surfaces — if indeed the company pressured her to stay quiet, or threatened her job, that almost makes them complicit in any attack that may or may not have occurred.
Adding to the controversy is ESPN's curious decision not to cover the story. "The Worldwide Leader in Sports" ' excuse was that there was no criminal complaint, but that doesn't really hold water, since they've covered solely civil suits before, with recent cases involving Shannon Brown and Adam Jones (who are both black) being the best examples. If this thing breaks wrong, ESPN could be dealing with accusations of both sexism and racism. At the very least, it sounds like someone should be talking about what happens to women who make allegations like this against famous people — not that most football fans want to hear it. More on this later, obviously — no points until it goes the distance.
The gloves come off
Here's a story we'll be following up on later, for sure. Former hockey goon Chris "Knuckles" Nilan was busted last week after he bloodied two loss-prevention agents from Lord & Taylor who had caught him trying to smuggle a Tommy Bahama swimsuit out under his shorts.
This story is close to my heart personally because it occurred in the South Shore Plaza, the mall I used to visit regularly as a kid. Give 21 points to the Boston-born ex-Bruin Nilan, whose post-arrest quote — "I just wanted to save a few bucks" — is destined for the sports-crime pantheon.
Matt Taibbi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.