This morning, I came across what must be a fake lawsuit against Johnny Manziel. There’s a lot to take in here, and SBNation thinks that it’s probably completely bogus. In fact, according to this most recent update, HLN has confirmed that their Samantha Schracher did not file this suit. And I know a few people have had some laughs with the lawsuit, because it talks about Johnny Brownball’s dick size, and how he cheated on his exams, and a bunch of random things thrown in that make it look like it was written by Attorney Elle Woods in the second act of Legally Blonde (before, you know, she accidentally becomes an awesome lawyer at the end). And sure, overall it is a little funny, if only because it’s so hard to believe.
But there is a dark undercurrent to this developing story. This lawsuit, even if it is immediately thrown out and labeled as a joke, will harm people. Even if it doesn’t hurt Manziel’s reputation at all (and if it isn’t true, it shouldn’t), it hurts women across the world who have been harassed and assaulted. The over-the-top wording in the lawsuit makes America laugh, when lawsuits of this nature should make America contemplate, reflect, and stand up against sexual harassment. In addition, the ridiculous claims in this lawsuit will lead many people to victim-blaming, which is a dangerous road to travel.
Sexual harassment isn’t funny. Sending someone unwanted penis pictures is a violation, and if you feel violated, it isn’t funny. And that’s why this lawsuit is harmful. Because even though sexual harassment isn’t funny, the bogus claims of what Manziel did are intended to be funny. The constant shaming of Manziel’s alleged penis size, the name dropping of other celebrities, the hot dog bun/ho-ho-ho moment…these are all designed to attack Manziel in a way that will cause people to laugh. And judging from responses in comments, it’s working. The focus shifts to the amusing things that Manziel did, rather than the act of sending unsolicited penis pictures to a woman.
And that’s a problem. Because if Manziel actually did these things, even the Christmas Eve one, it’s unwanted and offensive, regardless of how funny people may find it. I wouldn’t want anyone sending me dick picks with a hot dog bun wrapped around it. If it happened to me, I’d tell my friends and they’d laugh. But they didn’t have to see the penis. And you can call me sensitive, but there are plenty of women and men who would not laugh if they were barraged by dick pics.
The logical conclusion that most people will make when reading the lawsuit is that it is borderline defamatory because of all of the comments about dick length. I made the same conclusion when I read it. The lawsuit did not read like a woman who was actually disgusted or psychologically damaged. It read like a woman who wanted to hurt someone. And naturally, when we see that, we tend to side with the defendant. But even if these allegations are 100% false, and we are correct for blaming her in this situation, it creates an environment where it is okay to blame the victim. It becomes one more example where we question the veracity of a sexual harassment claim. “Remember when that person pretended to be a famous person and erroneously sued another famous person? Clearly that means this allegation is false as well.” That thought process will certainly happen at some point over the next year, as obviously shortsighted as it is. Cases like these should be treated individually, but every time a hoax like this becomes public, it leads people to believe that women are crying wolf.
I’m sure within the next few days, even the next few hours, we will find out that this entire thing was an elaborate hoax. And people will go about their day. Johnny Manziel will go to football practice. The plaintiff will come up with another way to get attention. And America will shrug its shoulders and say, “I told you it wasn’t true.”
But damage will have been done. And the next time someone alleges sexual harassment against a celebrity, this will be in people’s minds. And sexual harassment charges might not be taken seriously, even if the charge is real. If this is a hoax, we need to recognize it as a one-time thing, and not a tendency of women filing harassment claims.