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Mason Greenwood: Where Do the Allegations of Rape Fit into a Wider Timeline of Sexual Assault by Football Stars?

Trigger Warnings: rape, sexual assault, domestic violence.

The 30th of January began as quiet and unhurried as any usual placid Sunday morning scene might be imagined; for many, the final weekend of the month means a post-payday, post-hangover do-nothing day. The morning remained just so, until people began to check their phones.

News had broken that Manchester United and England striker Mason Greenwood had allegedly raped and assaulted his now ex-girlfriend, Harriet Robson. The allegations stemmed from a series of images, videos and voice recordings posted to Robson’s personal Instagram story, depicting her bruised body and bloodied face. They were captioned: “To everyone who wants to know what Mason Greenwood actually does”.

Immediately the internet erupted in collective horror, disgust, despair and disbelief as the images and videos were scattered across social media, quickly reaching national newspapers. Shortly after the stories were posted, they were removed, but not before the contents of them had been saved and shared thousands of times over by the public and the press.

Most horrifying was a segment of audio that appeared to portray a man – presumed to be Greenwood – forcing a woman – presumed to be Robson – to have sex with him. She can be heard pleading “No, I don’t wanna have sex… Mason!”. The recording is brief, only 50 seconds long, but harrowing.

In total, Robson protests or directly says “no” seven times, each time Greenwood aggressively telling her to “shut the f*** up”, or to “put [her] f****** legs up”, or that he doesn’t “give a f***” what she wants. In the silences between her protestations and his violent dismissals, a slow regular squeaking can be heard.

The footage is as damning as it is awful. So damning that in the evening of that Sunday, Greater Manchester Police officers arrested Greenwood at his home on suspicion of rape and assault. On Tuesday 1st of February, Greenwood – still in custody – was arrested further on suspicion of sexual assault and threats to kill. Officers were granted two extensions to hold him in custody and question him between his initial arrest on January 30th and February 2nd, when he was released on bail pending further investigation.

Overall reaction to these revelations from public and professional bodies has been more positive and swift than it usually is in cases of possible sexual assault, no doubt aided by the swathes of public fury and upset. Support for Robson herself poured out from most corners of society on social media, particularly on Instagram and Twitter.

Women’s rights groups, fans of Robson, women, in general, all came out largely in full condemnation of Greenwood’s alleged actions. But more refreshingly perhaps was the general denunciation from football fans themselves, especially Manchester United fans, of Greenwood’s alleged abuse, as well as heartfelt encouragement and respect towards Robson for being brave enough to speak out.

Within hours of the allegations surfacing, Manchester United themselves had announced Greenwood’s suspension from the team “until further notice”. The day after his arrest, Nike suspended their sponsorship deal with him, stating that they are “deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and will continue to closely monitor the situation”. On top of this, FIFA 22 and ProEvolutionSoccer have both removed him as a player in their games.

The speed of action in this case against the alleged perpetrator of sexual violence is almost unheard of but certainly not unwelcome, especially considering that Christiano Ronaldo, another of Manchester United’s star players and perhaps the most famous footballer – if not man – in the world, has an ongoing civil lawsuit against him for alleged rape.

The case was reopened in 2018, after a report by Der Spiegel meant that accuser Kathryn Mayorga was finally allowed a voice after she was initially paid a settlement of £288,000 by Ronaldo in 2010 for the same accusation, in order to stay silent. The news magazine published in detail key evidence supporting Mayorga’s accusations, including the fact that the day after the alleged rape occurred, she went straight to American authorities and underwent a rape kit examination.

These results showed “a circumferential swelling with bruising and a laceration”, injuries for which Mayorga was prescribed antibiotics. The report is a long but extremely revealing read which meticulously cites a collection of physical evidence, personal and professional testimonies as well as psychological assessments which concluded that, since the alleged rape in 2009, Mayorga has suffered from PTSD and depression.

Researching for this article was the first time I’d read the extent of the evidence against Ronaldo. Other than the lack of audio evidence, why has backlash in this instance been so comparatively muted? Or rather, legally silenced without question? Doesn’t this situation become even more difficult to stomach when considering that, just two days after news broke of Greenwood’s alleged violence, convicted rapist David Goodwillie was signed to Scottish Championship team Raith Rovers? Was this not made worse still when Raith Rovers defended their decision, stating that it was based purely on Goodwillie’s record as a “proven goal scorer”?

What about the fact that they only backtracked on this after sponsors pulled out of deals, directors resigned, and the women’s team broke off entirely to form an independent, unaffiliated team called McDermid Ladies? Is it not absolutely ridiculous that just one day after Goodwillie’s signing, Manchester City player Benjamin Mendy had a count of attempted rape added to his long list of accusations, bringing the total number to 9?

It is almost unfathomable that within just three days, three separate rape scandals involving professional footballers in the UK broke in the headlines. On top of this, the most famous man in football today has an ongoing civil rape case against him. At what point does this become a systemic issue?

In light of all this, the question must be asked: how much should we really be applauding the swift condemnation of Greenwood by fans and organisations? Of course, supporting Robson is essential, but is the suspension of a football star who has been heard out loud, by the entire nation, sexually abusing his then-girlfriend not the absolute bare minimum? Isn’t that the only choice?

I wonder what would have happened to Manchester United, FIFA or Nike had they continued, unflinching, with their support of the striker. Perhaps something similar to the repercussions of Raith Rovers’ decision to sign Goodwillie. Perhaps something even worse.

Perhaps a reaction to the Greenwood case can be taken as a positive reflection that times are changing, that the fear surrounding false rape accusations is finally dwindling (and it’s about time too, given that statistics for wrongful rape accusations have been proven many times in studies across the world to be “invariably and consistently low“).

Or rather, is this saga a reminder that women might only be believed off-the-bat, so to speak, when they manage to get a physical recording of their assault and of their abuser? Hard evidence of their trauma is necessary to convince everyone that they could actually be telling the truth. Perhaps…

Words by: Annabel Cossins-Smith

Edited by: Laura Murphy

I'm a postgraduate currently student studying International Journalism with a focus on feminist and environmental journalism. For my undergraduate degree I studied History with special interests in social and political history which translates to my writing! I love to bake, cook, draw, paint, and spend hours and hours watching Netflix.
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