We have to talk about Cristiano Ronaldo. About all of Ronaldo. The transcendent and the abhorrent.
How can we not?
How can we not talk about the man who, practically by himself, dug Juventus out of an 0-2 hole from the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 against a fearsome Atletico Madrid. Whose hat trick on Tuesday sent the Italian side to the quarterfinals by a 3-2 aggregate score?
How can we not on a night like that, a little over a month after Ronaldo turned 34? The Portuguese forward extended his career Champions League goals record to 124. He scored his 61st, 62nd and 63rd knockout round goals – 23 more than second-place Lionel Messi. He bagged his 52nd Champions League goal after turning 30 – more than double anybody else’s tally. And he tied the tournament record for hat tricks with his eighth.
How can we not acknowledge his greatness and concede that when Ronaldo declared after the game that “probably the reason Juventus bought me is for magical nights like this” he was likely right? Because spending 100 million euros on a 33-year-old striker whose physical decline was well-documented looked fairly senseless back in the summer, were it not for his abundant marketing value. Except that Ronaldo has always been able to put a team on his shoulders, and that his production and durability seems to defy time. Consider, after all, how Real Madrid has imploded in the wake of Ronaldo’s departure, without his 40 to 60 goals a season to paper over the cracks.
How can we not reopen the discussion if he’s perhaps the greatest soccer player to ever live, even if the juxtaposition with Messi makes the debate a matter of taste, rather than empirical evidence? The preening, outsized Ronaldo and the quiet, diminutive Messi. Theirs are equally otherworldly stats and trophy cases. You’re drawn to one or to the other. The choice is one of alchemy, not numbers.
But then again, how can we not talk about the part of Ronaldo that stands credibly accused of rape? Without acknowledging this deeply unsettling side to him, per repeated allegations? How do we gloss over the fact that, for the second time in his career, he is being investigated for sexual assault, which the vast majority of his coverage has ignored?
In 2005, Scotland Yard investigated Ronaldo and another man for rape, but the two women who accused them withdrew their allegations and the case was dismissed for a lack of evidence to prosecute. Ronaldo is now being accused of raping another woman, Kathryn Mayorga, in Las Vegas in 2009. The case was initially settled out of court and sealed by a non-disclosure agreement, whereupon police ended their investigation.
Documents pertaining to the case, however, were published by German news outlet Der Spiegel in 2017 after they received them from Football Leaks. Late last year, Mayorga spoke to Der Spiegel to reiterate her claims while announcing that she was seeking to invalidate her NDA and was suing for damages. The Las Vegas Police Department has since reopened its investigation into Ronaldo and sought a DNA sample.
Ronaldo’s lawyers vehemently deny the accusations, call the leaked documents fake and contest the authenticity of an apparent confession from Ronaldo that was part of the file. Ronaldo himself dismissed the accusation as “fake news” in an Instagram video and accused Mayorga of wanting to become famous and wealthy at his expense.
Nothing has really happened since. Reporting by ESPN suggests strongly that Ronaldo’s lawyers are stalling, a well-worn tactic when one party in a case has significantly more means than the other. Or, alternatively, you could argue that his defense team is just being meticulous. Either way, it has been five months since Mayorga spoke out and the LVPD reopened its case.
And, well … that’s it.
It’s there, but also kind of not. There is an accusation and an investigation and a civil suit, but none of them seem to be going anywhere. While Ronaldo is in a kind of legal limbo – although ESPN found that he’d not been served yet because it’s hard to serve famous people – he plays on.
He remains one of the most famous people in the world. He remains one of its most recognizable and adored and dominant athletes. One of its richest, too, even after paying a $21 million fine to settle a tax fraud case with the Spanish government.
So how do we reconcile these two Ronaldos?
How do we talk about this? Because it isn’t being talked about. Almost none of Ronaldo’s voluminous media coverage even mentions the Mayorga case.
How do we do right both by both Ronaldo and his accuser? All the while keeping in mind that he is innocent until proven guilty? And also keeping in mind that credible accusers have a right to be believed until proper investigation has taken place and there’s objective reason not to believe them?
Where’s the middle ground between this thing bleeding into all of the attention he gets and barely registering a blip, as it does now? What’s the right amount of coverage of something that is both a very big story and one that’s been completely stagnant for almost half a year?
How do we talk about Ronaldo?
We need to talk about talking about Ronaldo.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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