Rumors and scandals often follow professional football players like paparazzi follow celebrities. This year, the story of the Tennessee Titans’ linebacker, Brian Orakpo, and his alleged affair with his teammate’s wife, Emily Westendorf, has been especially shocking and captivating. The speculation, innuendo, and conjecture that have surrounded this story are unprecedented in scale. So, how should the Titans and their fans respond to these rumors?
Let’s be clear: we don’t know if Brian Orakpo is or is not guilty of any crimes. We don’t know if he had or had not committed any indiscretions. What we do know is that several women have Come forward with allegations of infidelity against him. Furthermore, the details of At least one of these allegations, which claimed that Orakpo had raped her, had recently been made public, and had reignited a national conversation on sexual assault and rape culture. In light of this, the Titans wisely decided to remain silent and let the legal process play out. This is their choice, and they are quite possibly right in exercising their right to remain silent. However, they could also, and quite probably should, be commenting on the allegations against their star linebacker.
The Legal Process
The legal process is the appropriate venue for sorting out these conflicting claims made by the various women who have accused Orakpo of infidelity. Although we don’t know the details of the case, we do know that it’s extremely unlikely that all of the women who have come forward will be lying. This being said, only time will reveal the truth of the matter. One could argue that the best strategy for the Titans would be to observe the results of the legal proceedings in total secrecy, especially considering that, at least in Tennessee, the criminal defense attorney’s fees for an individual accused of rape can be quite high (up to $20,000 in some cases). Thus, it’s quite possible that the team will remain quiet, as they have so far, in order to save money, even if this means they could end up losing a highly regarded defender. The legal process will undoubtedly provide some clarity, as much as it’s possible to have clarity in a situation like this. But, as with all things related to Orakpo’s legal proceedings, we will have to wait and see.
The media is, generally speaking, not at all appropriate in commenting on the criminal proceedings of a current or former athlete, as their job is to serve the public and provide news stories. However, in this particular case, I feel that the media has played a crucial role in providing the public with an idea of what’s going on. In an era of Twitter and other social media, everyone has the ability to comment, share, and debate news stories, regardless of whether or not they’re based on fact. This being said, if the media is going to report on something as sensational and controversial as an NFL player’s sexual infidelity, then they should certainly be prepared to field some serious questions from readers. Furthermore, it would not be unreasonable to expect that the sports media, at the very least, would attempt to contact the players’ spouses or lovers for comment. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen time and time again, the mainstream media tends to shy away from controversial stories, especially when they involve, as in this case, celebrities or athletes from prestigious sports franchises.
The fans of the Titans are quite possibly the most supportive and forgiving group of people you’ll ever encounter. This year, the fans have taken a shine to Orakpo, and have been cheering him on as he’s made several key plays, especially in the team’s recent victories. Although it’s quite possible that Orakpo is guilty of some indiscretion and crime, the truth will ultimately come out, and the fans will be there to support him. Of course, this doesn’t mean that all of the fans will like what they find out about their beloved linebacker. Many people, including female fans, will be upset to learn that their idol may be a cheating snake. But that’s what makes this story so interesting, and so difficult to deal with. The fans will love you one minute, and hate you the next. It’s a roller coaster, and it will be quite an adventure to ride on this one.
As any good partner or spouse would, and as any good parent would, Orakpo’s wife, Shannen, has stood by her man, vouching for his character and insisting that he is guilty of nothing. This has undoubtedly made a difference, as, so far, the team hasn’t received any backlash from the community. The fans still love him, and he continues to make important plays for the team. Although it’s quite possible that Orakpo is guilty of some crime or indiscretion, at least for now, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, and support him as he tries to prove his innocence.