For the past 2 Years, I watched a pro-football player make headlines on television for something completely unrelated to football. When I found out that a rape allegation was the cause of this attention, my reminiscence of his superstardom had snuck into a place in my mind where my recognition of his victims were expected to lie. I couldn’t help but be confused.
It was the silence which had made room for chaos after being so astonished I could not think of anything else. Having 2 years to sit with the story, I now know that this chaos was the product of a much more stable debate: how someone with everything could have nothing.
This was a former safety for the National Football League. Even better, this was a Packer, and I’m a Wisconsin native who watches her sports faithfully from Milwaukee, Madison, and Green Bay. A package deal in all of this happened after his 14-year career when he became a commentator on the NFL network, which not only capitalized on his football expertise, but presented him as a professional beyond the field. This was not a star who had gone missing from the spotlight. His name was Darren Sharper, and we knew this only by the light of an American sports figure, and therefore, trusted it.
What held him there is that we still knew this about him at the time of his arrest. He’d introduced himself to those he victimized under this light. In a nightclub and wanting to bring strangers to an afterparty via invitation only is the perfect set up. The fact that this happened on approximately 16 occasions in 4 different cities never appeared strange, and so the party went from the club to the hotel.
On these nights in question, where we now know every detail of how he used his spotlight to take advantage of a stranger’s body. One must look straight into his spotlight and dim it with one’s own eyes. Two women did this in a courtroom just weeks ago to put the former star in jail for 20 years. That was a process, and I shutter to think what could happen if we do not continue this process.
The influence of Darren Sharper is to be taken seriously. We have seen him clothed in an orange jumpsuit with a lack of emotion displayed on his face and have seen him plugged for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the same instance. If he makes it in, it should be after his 20-year sentence, so we can decide how jail makes a man shine brightly after a crime he could have bypassed with the same pro-bowl grin that helped him commit it. Waiting will mean much more than conveniently choosing him for an honor that gives him the possibility of forgetting about his crime. After 20 years, we will have forgotten for him and only he can tell us how long it takes for a convicted rapist to begin receiving honors again for playing football.
When these women spoke in a moment when they could have remained silent – under the shadow of celebrity and in fear of knowing this celebrity – he was forgotten and forgiven. These women not only provided a testimony of what happened to them one night, but what happened to them after the fateful night. How hurt they were and yet healed enough to share this pain with a public that cares just as much about celebrities as rape. These women merged his identity of football star and human being, and blew the candle on the correct one while lighting the other.
The reality of a football star turned serial rapist is simple: the aftermath never is. We do not know who to root for between a football legacy and a human legacy. The courtroom is not the same thing as a football field. We cannot take away the past and we cannot predict the future. We can only be present in a moment when a football star turned into a serial rapist. Much to our delight, we will see the latter win over the former.