Here’s what we know.
Juventus and Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, soccer’s five-time world player of the year, has been accused of rape in a hotel room in Las Vegas in 2009. His accuser, 34-year-old American Kathryn Mayorga, claims that she settled and signed a non-disclosure agreement worth $375,000 at the time but now wants that document invalidated. She is seeking a further $200,000 in a civil suit, per the Wall Street Journal.
The case was officially reopened by the Las Vegas police department this month, according to Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl. They are currently investigating.
Ronaldo’s lawyers not only deny the allegation but have threatened to sue Der Spiegel, the German outlet that first reported the NDA in 2017 and published a lengthy exposé on the case on Friday, claiming to have corroborating evidence in the form of legal documents and testimony signed by Ronaldo himself. The lawyers claim that the story is a violation of Ronaldo’s “personal rights.”
Mayorga, who was a 25-year-old aspiring model when the rape allegedly occurred, says the incident still haunts her; that she regrets signing the NDA, feeling powerless and intimidated at the time; and that she wants Ronaldo to be held responsible in this new age of reckoning for past sexual assaults.
On Sunday, Ronaldo claimed on Instagram that the story was “fake, fake news.”
That much we know.
Then there’s the context to all this. Mayorga’s lawyer, who has taken over from the lawyer responsible for negotiating the NDA, has filed a civil complaint in Nevada against Ronaldo.
We also know that this story was previously reported by Der Spiegel in 2017, when it first obtained documents on purported assault through Football Leaks. But nothing much came of it then.
In 2005, Ronaldo, then just 20, was also accused of rape in England. The allegation was investigated but charges were dropped for a lack of evidence.
Then there’s this, which is possibly less germane to the case: Ronaldo has four children. The first, Cristiano Jr., was born in 2010. The mother is believed to have been a one-night stand – her identity was never revealed. But upon the boy’s birth, Ronaldo immediately assumed full custody. It’s long been rumored that the mother was either a surrogate or bought off. In 2017, Ronaldo fathered twins and with them, too, the mother is out of the picture – likely a surrogate. Only his fourth child, born late last year, was the product of a relationship that was made public.
Maybe that means nothing at all. Or perhaps it suggests that Ronaldo has a track record of a transactional relationship with women.
For his preening public persona, for all the selfies, and for all the peacocking after goals and in front of any camera pointed at him, little is known about this part of Ronaldo’s life. Or not much that’s reliable anyway. There just aren’t very many dots to connect.
Which makes it that much harder to predict how the Mayorga story will play out. If it goes away quietly again or if it blows up, and becomes an unassailable stain on Ronaldo’s legacy as one of the greatest players of all time. And as a man who, for his many sharp contrasts with introverted rival Lionel Messi, was considered a good guy.
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So far, the story has been remarkably slow to gain traction, given that it has the potential to destroy the good reputation of not only one of the world’s most famous athletes, but one of its most famous people. It’s taken most major outlets several days to cover it with more than a cursory news wire story, if they’ve covered it at all.
It’s likely that the slow drip of coverage is a function of the soccer media’s sufficient self-awareness that it’s hopelessly ill-equipped to judge an old and complicated sexual assault case such as this one – your humble columnist included – and is unsure what to do with the story. The re-emergence of an old accusation, in violation of a non-disclosure agreement, but with no criminal charges or investigation – for now, anyway – and the apparent pursuit of further damages, also muddies up the possible motives of the plaintiff. Which isn’t an indictment of her truthfulness, just a further complication.
It seems that nobody is entirely sure what to make of this thing.
Still, the ramifications of this affair are potentially enormous. Ronaldo would be by far the biggest name in sports – and one of the biggest overall – to have been taken down in the righteous sweep of the #MeToo movement. Perhaps, in the wake of Mayorga, others will come forward, as they often have in such cases once a first daring woman takes the lead. Perhaps not. It’s all conjecture just now.
Maybe one of the biggest stories in soccer of the last few years is about to unfurl before us, changing our understanding of a kind of golden age of individual, on-field excellence in this Era of Ronaldo and Messi.
Or maybe it isn’t, and it will all become a thinly penciled footnote beneath a long and glittering career.
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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