Ewan MacKenna: Cristiano Ronaldo case should be a loud warning and a sharp turning point - but will it be?
It's early Friday morning and the man at the bar is that rarity of a customer not staring down, transfixed, by the gambling machines on the counter top. Instead, he's glancing up at one of the few screens not dedicated to the endless loops of sports highlights or the grim deals on offer in the casino on West Flamingo Road, a short hop from the main drag of Las Vegas.
He's not happy so repeats himself in case anyone missed his first effort. "Damn woman."
Christine Blasey Ford has just started her testimony to the United States' Senate hearing into the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to their Supreme Court. She's said she is terrified and, as she continues and recounts the alleged sexual assault that took place back in high school, this guy has long made up his mind based on his politics rather than her testimony. He hammers down his glass with an attention-grabbing clank. Soon though his mood hits an upswing as Kavanaugh is before the mic and the nation.
The judge answers a query with, "I like beer, do you like beer Senator, what do you like to drink?" He responds to another question with, "You're asking about, yeah, blackouts. I don't know, have you..? Yeah, I'm curious if you have". He has crocodile tears when recalling that "I worked out with other guys at Tobin's house". He suggests that a reference to a devil's triangle was a drinking game when it's widely known as a threesome with two men and one woman. He says, in a supposed position where being apolitical is a cornerstone, that it's a left-wing conspiracy against him.
"You tell 'em," the man at the bar grunts. This is more to his red-blooded liking.
The opinion of a single soul probably long traded for some casino chips may not seem exactly representative of society, or at least it shouldn't be. The problem is, it's fast becoming that way, pushed hard by hatred and entrenchment rather than decency and facts. Those on that committee may have been better dressed and better paid and better educated and better regarded, but the vibe was the same from them as him.
Senator Oran Hatch - who when asked about Blasey Ford's testimony said, "I think she's an attractive, good witness" and when asked to clarify added without shame, "Oh, in other words she is pleasing" - proceeded to call even questioning this man "a national disgrace" based on the idea the alleged rape took place a long time ago. Senator Lindsey Graham went further and called it "the most unethical sham since I've been in politics". And then there was Donald Trump mocking someone he there and then made into a victim regardless of what really took place, all around a lack of complete clarity, to cheers from his base.
Law makers. Moral leaders. Standard bearers. Societal influencers. No wonder we find ourselves here in this pit, as the saying goes that entitlement and privilege corrupt equally. Right now they are as rampant as repugnant with so much down to power, fame and fortune. And if we get those in politics and the entertainment industry, we get them in sport too.
There was an inevitability in a post-Weinstein world that some of the bigger names in that latter arena would finally be dragged into the mire and questions and accusations would take off. Now we wait to see how they fly. But that we shouldn't be surprised doesn't mean we shouldn't be outraged. So step forward Cristiano Ronaldo, in front of the looking glass.
An icon with an army of young men wanting to follow in his golden footsteps. All anyone asks is that we stare fairly at his case, although that's the last thing that army will and are doing.
* * *
The bar where the man sat on Friday morning is next door to where Kathryn Mayorga was allegedly raped nine years ago at the Palms Casino Resort.
It's also only a 15-minute journey to the understated offices of Stovall & Associates, plonked like a funeral home on the side of a road in the shadow of Trump Tower. On Thursday there was a relatively small press conference there and it sure didn't feel like the biggest sports story there is right now. Instead it seemed like no one wanted to face up to what was and is happening.
Mayorga herself wasn't present as while this is Sin City for some, it's a living hell for others including her after everything that happened given the rape kit results, even if it remains to be seen if Ronaldo was the perpetrator. So instead her legal team spoke of how the summons against the footballer is in the system although it may take two months to get to the Juventus player. After that there was much legalise and honing in on the important minutiae, however we shouldn't bypass her remarks to Der Spiegel about what she says happened on that night in 2009.
They're worth considering.
And then reconsidering.
"I turned away. He tried to take my underwear off. I turned away from him and curled up into a ball. And I was holding my vagina. And that's when he jumped on me... I said no, no, no, no. After he assaulted me, he wouldn't let me leave again. He wouldn't let me leave. And he was calling me 'baby, baby.' He gave me this look, this guilty look. Almost like he felt bad. I don't remember but I'm pretty sure he said 'sorry' or 'are you hurt?' And by this time, he's (...) on his knees. He says the 99 percent thing. He insisted he was 'a good guy' except for the 'one percent'".
If a court shows this to be true, it can join the queue. For as long as we can remember sport has been rancid although so often given a pass. Whatever about young male athletes handed too much money, they've been given too much respect, always being told their behaviour is acceptable, always being told that behaviour can be bought into oblivion. Earlier in the year, this column recounted an epidemic across the board.
The player who lined out in this summer's World Cup who once, when playing in England and attending a teammate's party, spat in the face of a woman as she wouldn't give him oral sex in front of a full room; the Australian rugby league cases; the Gaelic football gangbangs that are boasted about behind the scenes as if some heroism worth whispering. It goes on.
It doesn't get bigger than Ronaldo though and regardless of the outcome it should be a loud warning and a sharp turning point.
But will it be?
The problem is that while the German magazine did incredible work on Ronaldo, although his team is trying to sue them as he denies it all, they did get an element in their story definitively wrong. When they broke the news in the spring of last year they said it got huge worldwide attention. That is incorrect for truthfully how many of you can even say you heard so much as a whisper? It got brushed away by the player scoring a hat-trick against Bayern Munich and then another against Atletico Madrid. Precedence. Priorities. Popularity.
That part is on us, as is so much else, for consider what happened to Mayorga when her name came out as the one who was accusing him. Journalists approached her in front of her home, this after she'd been followed by private investigators paid for by Ronaldo's American legal team to dig up dirt on her and all for daring to stand up and speak out. His people accept this happened.
Contrast that with Ronaldo as there's been so little said, rather a robotic nodding at any public relations from his camp as if he's too big to fail before due process can take place. His lawyers in Germany firstly tried to put a halt when it came to printing a word of what was true - namely that a non-disclosure agreement had been signed due to the fact that the woman had made the claims and that he paid her a total of $375,000. Guilt is a different matter on which Der Spiegel never speculated or offered an opinion.
Ronaldo's agency Gestifute then released a statement saying, "the article is nothing but a piece of journalistic fiction" and that "the newspaper has based their entire narrative on documents which are unsigned and where the parties are not identified... This has subsequently shown to be false.” However her legal team are now busy trying to verify these documents such are their importance. They then went after the woman with the typical shaming tactic of adding that she "refuses to come forward and confirm the veracity of the accusation". All the while there's been no action by his new employers Juventus, when in many cases of this nature from the North American leagues to Irish rugby, some action is taken upon credible accusation.
In essence she gets intimidated while he gets a pass. The obvious query is what are we going to do about that for starters, although the reaction to Wednesday's events suggests very little.
As all this has come out, one of the most striking elements was the depth of the hole Ronaldo should and still might find himself in. Often, despite obvious and justified emotion around such cases, calm is usually needed along with a reluctance to point fingers before due process. But this time one document that Der Spiegel has seen threatens to be quite stunning. So many matters like this are reduced to he-said-she-said, yet potentially not here. That's because it is alleged he said what she said, according to their leaked files, which he denies are authentic.
Mayorga's legal team are trying to show she was not mentally fit to sign a non-disclosure agreement. But even putting that aside, morally that would mean there should be no out.
Had Ronaldo stayed quiet for now that in itself would have been understandable as so much ought to be on the line given the above. However his choice of words were hugely troubling in response to this case and also hugely telling around a prevailing attitude in society that of course has seeped deeply into sport. "Fake news," he retorted, quoting the words popularised by a president that rants and raves about a dangerous time for young males when talking about the rape of young females.
The man at the bar says "damn women" to that but is it any wonder? The message from on high is still that boys will and can be boys.