On March 12, 2022, Valorant content creator and former professional player Jay ‘sinatraa’ Won announced he would be returning to pro play after a six-month ban from the game.
Sinatraa’s ban came after he was accused of sexual assault and emotional abuse by former partner Cleo ‘cle0h’ Hernandez, and failed to “fully cooperate” with the investigation launched by Riot Games.
The document outlining the extent of the allegations contained, among various screenshots of messages between Sinatraa and Hernandez, an audio clip that appeared to show evidence of Sinatraa forcing himself on her during intercourse.
He apologized for his behavior during the relationship in a Twitlonger post, in which he did not confirm or deny any of the allegations of sexual assault made against him. His response was merely that he had been unable to provide the corresponding video for the audio clip, and that he was sorry for how he had treated Hernandez during their relationship.
After serving the full length of his ban, he announced his intention to return to competitive play. Community reactions were instantly divided between those saying he would no longer be welcome in the scene, and those who believed he had done nothing wrong and that the ban was entirely undeserved.
The court of public opinion
Sexual assault is a deeply, deeply nuanced issue. As with anything that involves relationships between people, nothing about accusations of sexual assault is ever going to be clear-cut, or easily definable, or generate level-headed conversation.
Sinatraa’s return has proven that the esports community is not ready to handle that nuance, no matter how many people on your Twitter timeline claim to have memorized every legal precedent when it comes to abuse.
The problem with a case as high-profile and divisive as this is that everyone feels the need to have an opinion. Any actual discussion of what is a very serious and traumatizing event in a person’s life is lost under the dogpile of voices, all clamoring to be the next ‘hot take’. Whether for or against Sinatraa’s return, everybody suddenly has something to say.
It’s been a year since I was forced to step back from competitive play. In that time, I have learned a lot about myself and grown as a person. I am now ready for a return to competitive play and will be starting tryouts this week.
— Jay Won (@sinatraa) April 12, 2022
Anyone who has suffered any form of abuse within a relationship, sexual or otherwise, knows just how fundamentally it changes you.
It destroys your ability to trust. It can completely eliminate your sense of self-worth, your ability to let yourself be cared for and loved. Many victims of abuse will convince themselves that they somehow ‘deserved’ to be treated this way. If only they had been better, quieter, more loving, they would have been fine.
It completely re-wires your self-worth and how you view relationships, and the damage of abuse can take years of therapy to undo. And now, the rampant social dissection of this issue is making so many people relive this damage, because the esports community has suddenly decided it has something to say.
Innocent until proven guilty
It’s the one legal precedent everyone seems to know. The cornerstone of universal justice, the one phrase that separates the justice system from the aforementioned court of public opinion. It’s also heavily misused in cases such as these.
Innocent does not mean that somebody didn’t do terrible things. It can simply mean they may not have done anything illegal. Sinatraa himself has admitted that his behavior towards Hernandez during their relationship was unacceptable, even though he actively denied having committed sexual assault.
It’s also worth mentioning that the presumption of innocence until conviction is a legal standard, not a societal one. It applies in a court of law, not the court of public opinion, in order to facilitate a fair and unprejudiced trial – nothing more. Yet, it is often wheeled out at times like this, as if those accused of any act are immediately washed of all sin because they have not faced a judge yet.
Something does not need to be illegal to be morally wrong.
It seems that Sinatraa’s defenders have used the ‘he wasn’t found guilty’ defense to suddenly decide he did nothing wrong at all, which simply is not true. He was clearly manipulative and abusive to Hernandez, as evidenced in the text message screenshots she provided. He himself accepted how much he had “hurt Cleo emotionally” in a Twitlonger.
He has never publicly claimed that any of the evidence she provided is fabricated in any way, and yet Twitter has been full of accusations that the audio and text evidence Hernandez has provided is somehow doctored.
There is audio evidence of him continuing intercourse after a clear ‘no’ from Hernandez. He may not have been found guilty in a court of law, and may not have committed a crime, but it does not take a genius to understand that that behavior is unacceptable.
He also “misrepresented certain facts” and “made false statements” during Riot’s official investigation, yet another unacceptable mark against his character regardless of the legality of his actions. He’s shown very little public remorse, referring to his absence due to the investigation as simply being “forced to step back” rather than taking any accountability for exactly why.
He’s continued to be a content creator for Sentinels throughout the majority of his ban, and has retained a devoted fanbase that is more than happy to see him return to pro play.
Hernandez has also admitted that she acted in ways she was not proud of during their relationship, and her descriptions of her behavior towards Sinatraa, including threatening suicide if he left her, are unacceptable. But the community has either chosen to ignore that completely or use it to justify every single one of Sinatraa’s supposed actions. As is the way with any discussion that takes place on Twitter, all nuance has been lost in the space of a 280 character limit.
A large portion of the esports community seems to have the outcome of character investigations by Sentinels and Riot to mean that he is innocent of all wrongdoing, when no official legal verdict on guilt or innocence has ever been established.
Sinatraa himself has said on a livestream how dangerous it can be for people to comment on a situation which they know nothing about. And yet both his defenders and detractors continue to do so.
What happens now
The worst part of this entire ordeal is that, ultimately, nothing will change. A tweet confirmed that he is looking to return to Sentinels (his former team), and is actively pursuing the continuation of his career as a professional. The social media outrage will continue for a month, maybe two, and then Sinatraa will click heads on the competitive stage and everything will go back to normal.
first choice would be to return to Sentinels
— Jay Won (@sinatraa) April 12, 2022
The fans who defended him so vehemently against accusations of sexual assault will turn on him and call him washed up and overrated the second he has a bad game, and an equal number of those who cried for his permanent removal from the scene will forget it every time he clutches out a round.
Ultimately, it feels like what could easily be a lifetime-defining moment for these two people will be nothing more than a blip on the esports drama radar. ‘Esports Twitter’ has never been equipped to handle a nuanced, in-depth analysis of the relationship between two people, and yet the discussion rages on.
We will probably never know the full scope of the facts behind the allegations of abuse and sexual assault, but here are some facts that we do know. According to statistics from sexual violence charity Rainn, taken from the United States Department of Justice, only 25 perpetrators will be convicted in every 1,000 reported sexual assaults. For every 1,000 sexual assaults that take place, only 310 are reported to the police. On average, there are 463,634 victims (over the age of 12) of sexual assault every year in the United States.
Anyone, of any age, and of any gender, can be sexually assaulted. Next time you go to social media to decry claims of sexual assault as ‘they have an OnlyFans, they deserved it’ or ‘I don’t believe they could have done something like this’ (without having looked at a shred of evidence from either side of the allegation), consider the people you know who could be victims of sexual assault that you may not even know about.
Consider the people your words are hurting before you jump into Twitter replies. Because Sinatraa won’t see you blindly defending him, but the people in your life who have been sexually assaulted and had their trauma pushed aside, questioned, and not believed, will.
It is not your moral prerogative to defend a stranger on the internet, and it is especially not your moral prerogative to hurl all the abuse under the sun at their accuser just because you don’t happen to believe them. You are not a defender of truth because of who you choose to believe – this case is not your business, and the person you are supposedly going to bat for likely does not know you exist. You cannot defend the truth when, ultimately, you do not know it.
The lack of empathy, whether guilty or innocent, that the esports community has shown in response to these allegations has been, quite frankly, disgusting. This case is not a platform for fans on Twitter to blindly defend their favorite player, or to hurl vitriol at a woman who has suffered at the hands of the internet for far too long. But that is what it has become.