Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the greatest footballers in the history of the game. As part of a certain generation of Manchester United fans, there is a part of me that looks at this transcendent figure and still sees the scrawny, pimply-faced kid we signed and handed David Beckham’s shirt. Ronaldo may not have stayed at Old Trafford long enough to be considered United’s greatest ever player, but he is certainly the best player to have ever worn a United kit. Even when he acted like an ass to force his move to Real Madrid, and took some of the shine off that glorious 2008 season, most of us still felt a sense of pride at the player he went on to become. In footballing terms, we watched him grow up.
Ronaldo’s current employers official response to the resurfaced allegations was cringeworthy, and callous. But selfishly, and cynically, I found myself wondering if my own club, under similar circumstances, would have done any better. Ronaldo was (just barely) a Real Madrid player when the alleged assault took place, but it was not the first time that he had been accused. It was a different climate then to be sure, and he was nowhere near the superstar he is today. Still, as far as I can remember, United did not even acknowledge his 2005 arrest, and there was no reckoning amongst fans about cheering for a man accused of rape.
Compared to all the fanfare that accompanied Ronaldo the last time he returned to Old Trafford to face his former club, United have been conspicuously quiet this time around. United’s PR machine has never been shy about celebrating past glories, yet it appears someone has had the good sense to realize that now might not be the best time to even appear to support a man credibly accused of sexual assault.
Football has never particularly cared about crimes against women. Clubs, media, and fans alike have historically been content with turning the blindest of eyes until legally obligated to do otherwise. But in Ronaldo’s case, a moment of reckoning may finally have arrived. This is arguably the biggest star the sport has ever produced, and an accusation that cannot be dismissed.
Ronaldo, for his part, has done what all powerful men accused of heinous crimes tend to do in these situations. He has maintained his innocence, and denied that that the re-opened investigation is a distraction.
I’ll admit that I was hesitant to address this subject. Ronaldo is, after all, not “our” problem anymore. Other outlets have covered this subject with more depth and quality, and as one of our own writers noted, “nobody ever had a constructive conversation about sexual assault allegations in an internet comments section.” But I won’t be cheering for United’s returning hero today, or ever again, and I thought it was worthwhile to outline why.
Some fans, either desperate to avoid having to take a stance on a difficult issue or simply not interested in believing the worst about someone they admire, adopt a queer stance on these accusations. Innocent until proven guilty! Well, quite. In a court of law, at least. But I am not a judge, or a prosecutor, or a member of any jury. I am a football fan whose team Ronaldo once represented. And I choose to believe Kathryn Mayorga.