Bill Cosby vs. Ben Roethlisberger

Chris Rock wants us to remember that Bill Cosby isn't the only celebrity accused of rape.


Chris Rock wants us to remember that Bill Cosby isn’t the only celebrity accused of rape.

Rececca Rose, Jezebel (“Chris Rock: Don’t Forget, Ben Roethlisberger Was Accused of Rape, Too“):

Chris Rock called out Ben Roethlisberger on Tuesday night, reminding the media and the public that Bill Cosby isn’t the only celebrity whose history of rape allegations was swept under the rug.

During a media screening for his new film, Top Five, Rock called Roethlisberger “the original Cosby,” alluding to the quarterback’s history of rape allegations. Immediately after the comment, Rock realized his comment would probably catch some heat. “That’s horrible,” he said. “That’s gonna go everywhere.” (You can watch a clip of Rock’s comment at TMZ.)

Roethlisberger has faced two rape allegations in the past several years. In 2010, the NFL star was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in the bathroom of a bar in Georgia. The prosecutor in that case declined to pursue criminal action. In 2008, Roethlisberger was sued by Andrea McNulty, who said the football player raped her when he was in Lake Tahoe for a celebrity golf tournament.


Even though it seems like an off-handed crack from Rock, it’s clear from watching the video this is something that was gnawing at Rock. It’s something he wanted to say. He wants to remind us that we’re overlooking other similar incidents and cases. And it’s definitely a fair point that while the media is zeroed in Cosby’s history of allegations, he’s certainly not the only celebrity whose history of alleged crimes against women we’ve come to limply accept.

Rock is a brilliant social commenter as well as one of the finest comedians working today. He is, however, wrong here.

Roethlisberger’s rape accusations were widely covered in the press for weeks until such point as no charges were filed—by a prosecutor who then held a press conference saying Roethlisberger was a rapist but he couldn’t prove it in court. Most of us think he’s a dirtbag.

Cosby, on the other hand, is a widely beloved grandfather figure and civil rights hero. He broke the color barrier as the first black man to star in a television drama and subsequently became an icon. He went on to earn a doctorate in education from Temple, entertain and teach millions of children (including yours truly) with “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,” and become the model of fatherhood with “The Cosby Show.” His commentary on public morality, especially the behavior of young black men, was received by many as if handed down on stone tablets from the almighty. Presidents vied to be photographed with him, as it increased their public standing.

That he had a decades-long history of violence against women was not known, at least to me, until recently.

While neither man has been proven in a court of law to have committed the crimes of which they’ve been accused, I’m persuaded that they’re serial abusers of women.  Cosby’s fall bothers me a lot more than Roethlisberger’s, not because Cosby’s black and Roethlisberger’s while but because I never thought of Ben as more than a great athlete; I always thought Cosby was a great man. I guess I still do, given five decades of extraordinary accomplishment and contribution to the community. But now his life has a giant asterisk on it. That saddens me.

A much more apt comparison for Cosby than Roethlisberger, who’s a comparatively minor figure, is the late Penn State coach Joe Paterno. In addition to being the winningest coach in the history of major college football, Paterno was beloved and respected for decades as a role model, educator, and  philanthropist. He was the shining symbol of a coach who “did it the right way” in a sport where cheating to get ahead is rampant. The revelation, just before his death, that he covered up the crimes of a serial pedophile changed my perceptions entirely.

The Cosby revelations are getting more sustained coverage than Roethlisberger’s because they matter so much more. Because he mattered so much more.

via Jim Henley’s Facebook feed

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Best of OTB, Crime, Popular Culture, Race and Politics, Sports
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. James Pearce says:

    Chris Rock is a friend of Cosby, so there’s that context to consider too. That said, I think Chris Rock is wrong for another reason entirely. The Cosby situation is blood in the water with sharks circling. And they are hungry, man.

    Bringing up Big Ben’s past is just adding chum.

  2. Neil Hudelson says:

    I’m truly bemused at the media reaction now. Some of these allegations are new, but Cosby has been dogged by these type of accusations for well over a decade. I remember hearing about it in the early 2000s, possibly even in the 90s. I was a kid at the time, so I don’t know–maybe adults wrote it off as tabloid fodder–but the accusations were there and were ignored.

    Here’s a good article from nearly a decade ago:

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Neil Hudelson: I vaguely remember stories from then, although I gathered they were more about extramarital affairs than rape. But, as the linked story points out, part of that may simply be a function of his halo making the coverup easier.

  4. Pinky says:

    I don’t like the implication of “versus”. Was anyone saying that only comedians, or only black people, are guilty of this kind of stuff? Did anyone think that athletes are squeaky clean? It’s a tough balancing act – you want to look up to certain people, but you don’t know much about them. Even people you know well can have creepy secrets, so how much more likely is it that people you’ve never met can have a side you’re unaware of? As a practicing Catholic, I have both a theoretical and practical understanding of seeing seemingly-respectable people turn out to have awful secrets. It’s about not judging people based on their worst moments, keeping in mind that each of us has had moments we regret. It’s healthy that we admire people who do good things, and feel disappointment when we find out about their bad actions.

  5. Franklin says:

    Like I said in the other Chris Rock thread, he’s sensationally perceptive in general. But this is just a silly comment. Ben is the “original Cosby”??? Surely we can come up with some rapist celebrities before 2008 when Ben was first accused? Oh, wait … even Cosby’s first accusations came before that. So wasn’t Cosby the original Cosby? My mind is blowing as we speak.

  6. Pinky says:

    @Franklin: I did some digging, and it turns out that Ben Roethlisberger is in fact the first celebrity ever accused of sexual misconduct. (It surprised me, too.) Also, Roethlisberger’s reign of terror began before Cosby’s. In 2032, Ben did/will create a time machine, allowing him to go back and commit sexual crimes back to the 1870’s (there’s some limit in how far back a person can travel, which has something to do with decay rates). I have fairly good reason to believe that he was also Jack the Ripper. It turns out that every sexual assault committed by a celebrity could possibly have been Roethlisberger. And ok, I haven’t done this research yet, but thanks to time travel I’m confident I will.

  7. Franklin says:

    Pinky, you’ve got a rapist’s wit!

  8. Neil Hudelson says:



  9. Gustopher says:

    I think Woody Allen is a better analogy. Instantly recognizable to the entire culture, obviously ethnic but accepted anyway, appears to be harmless and a bit bumbling, and then suddenly creepy as can be.

    Allen made himself as creepy as could be before the allegations came to light (marrying your first wife’s daughter, who you helped raise, is all kinds of screwed up) to the point where just about any allegation, so long as it was creepy, would stick, even if it cannot be proven.

    I’m more inclined to believe the specific allegations* against Cosby (there are more of them, from independant sources, none of them are from kids who may have been coached, and they all match up, plus –you know– he’s black), and selling Jell-O and pudding is oddly considered more wholesome than Annie Hall, but it is the same sudden transformation from accepted to unacceptable.

    The “otherness” that each had (very, very Jewish vs. African-American) that the primarily white Christian culture had overlooked while embracing them, pops back up to distance them the primarily white Christian culture once the allegations appear.

    * Woody Allen’s and Mia Farrow’s kids are screwed up to the point where they were obviously emotionally abused — whether they were physically abused, or coached into believing the emotional abuse was physical abuse is something that I would leave to experts. It’s pretty clear that Woody Allen is never going to win either a Father or Brother-In-Law of the year award.

  10. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher: As a Jewish American, I never found the allegations against him quite as shocking as the ones against Cosby. While I’ve always admired his work, and his fall from grace was certainly disappointing, I can’t say he ever possessed anything close to Cosby’s saintly image. Like a lot of comedians there was always a certain level of cynicism in his persona. In itself there’s nothing wrong with that, but Cosby always had a more positive approach; whenever you listened to him on stage or in interviews, you got the impression of a thoroughly decent human being, a mentsch. I simply find it very difficult to reconcile my lifelong image of Cosby with the current allegations, and it has led me to wonder if my present understanding of rapists and abusers–whom I usually have thought of as sociopathic–is flawed and needs revising.

  11. @Gustopher:

    One interesting thing that was pointed out by Bruce Castor (the prosecutor who investigated Cosby by concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to go to trial) during a radio interview:

    None of the allegations that have come out are related to events that occured after 2005, when the DA first investigated Cosby. If, as Cosby claims, the allegations were all false, you would have expected them to increase after it became a public issue, not stop entirely. The sudden stop is much more indicative of the allegations being true and Cosby getting scared into stopping by the investigation.

  12. Dave Schuler says:

    I think we should keep in mind that a person should be considered innocent until they are found guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law. There is no “where there’s smoke there’s fire” exception for that.

    I’m not condoning sexual violence. Just giving a reminder.

  13. Pinky says:

    @Kylopod: Allen did material with sexual content. Cosby never did (that I recall). I think that makes it easier to make the leap with Allen. It’s kind of like Jay Leno commenting that he couldn’t survive a sex scandal but Letterman could.

    As for the reference to sociopaths, two thoughts occur to me. First, maybe sociopath is too strong or precise a word for the average sex offender. But second, I’d expect an actual sociopath to be polished enough to succeed in the entertainment field. They’re very good at appearing to be normal.

  14. Kylopod says:

    @Pinky: I don’t see the connection between doing sexual material and committing rape. Sure, there are certain bits in Allen’s earlier movies that look kind of creepy in retrospect (such as his affair with a 17-year-old girl in Manhattan), but there are tons of comedians and filmmakers who use significant sexual content, and the vast majority of them have not been accused of rape.

  15. Pinky says:

    @Kylopod: What I don’t mean: actors who have a sexual element in their material are more likely to commit sexual impropriety. What I mean: actors who have a sexual element in their material are easier to associate with sexual impropriety. I’m agreeing with your earlier statement that Allen never had Cosby’s saintly image; part of that is cynicism, and part of that is risqué material.

  16. Kari Q says:


    it has led me to wonder if my present understanding of rapists and abusers–whom I usually have thought of as sociopathic–is flawed and needs revising.

    Yes, it does.

    This is something that cannot possibly be overstated; rapists often do not look like rapists. They do not act like rapists. They act like normal, ordinary people, until they manage to get their victim alone. After all, most women are raped by someone they felt they had reason to trust: a boyfriend, a friend, a neighbor, a coworker. Someone they had spent time with and were comfortable around. About three-quarters of rapes are committed by people the victim knew. If rapists were all sociopaths, it would be far harder to get their victims to trust them long enough to become victims.

  17. Kylopod says:

    @Kari Q: I’m aware of all that. It doesn’t contradict anything I said. Now, I agree that it’s simplistic to call all rapists sociopaths. But the fact that rapists look normal and can be one’s relative, friend, etc. has no bearing on the question. As Pinky pointed out earlier, sociopaths often look and act very normal. They aren’t even necessarily criminals. The notion that sociopaths are all clones of Hannibal Lecter is as big a misconception as the idea that most rapists are strangers lurking on a street corner.

  18. Pinky says:

    Kari and Kylo – We’re all probably in agreement. There are different kinds of rapists, different motives, different situations. It’s wrong to think that there’s only one type, and that if that type is avoided then you’ll be safe. If a person drugs and rapes random women on a frequent basis over decades, “sociopath” seems like a reasonable label. That’s not spontaneous, not an inebriated misunderstanding, not a possessive boyfriend or a different cultural norm. A good-looking, famous, wealthy guy could have no-commitment dalliances if he wanted to. If he chose drugging and raping instead, we can make suppositions about his empathy and sense of honor.

  19. Kari Q says:


    Actually, i make no assumptions about what sociopaths are or are not, those are your words.

    Then let me put it more bluntly: Odds are, you know a rapist and don’t realize it. Someone who you regard as normal, moral, and safe, who has absolutely no anti-social behaviors that you are aware of, who helps friends out when they need it, who would lend you the shirt off his back, could still be a rapist. And if you do know someone like that – and again, the odds are very good that you do – chances are that if you heard a woman accuse him of rape, you would think “no way. I know him. He wouldn’t do that.”

    The idea that only a sociopath could rape is peculiar. Their motivations and attitudes may have nothing whatsoever to do with whatever you think a “sociopath” is.