Yes, the hard-hitting, take-no-prisoners NFL style of football has been proven to affect the brain, but that’s certainly no excuse for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s current situation. A 2-time Super Bowl champion at just 28 years old, Roethlisberger was already under investigation for a sexual assault in Lake Tahoe that allegedly took place a few years ago when a 20-year old Georgia College & State University student accused him of sexually assaulting her at a cowboy bar in Milledgeville, GA last week.
Apparently, Roethlisberger (who owns a home in Milledgeville) was bar-hopping with his entourage, drinking energy-and-rum concoctions and taking photos with locals while his handlers kept the riff-raff away and helped court young women. At some point Roethlisberger had sexual relations with a 20-year old woman in the bathroom – reportedly while others were present and security cameras were rolling; a few hours later the woman contacted the police, who rushed her to the hospital, and accused Roethlisberger of sexual assault. We’ll find out by early next week whether “Big Ben” will be charged with a crime, in which case his nickname might change to “Pig Ben.”
Although it did make Roethlisberger look like a jerk who orders women to his hotel room like pizza, in the aforementioned Tahoe incident that is still under investigation the accuser seemed unstable and out for money. She reportedly bragged to her friends about sleeping with Roethlisberger months after their one-night stand took place, said she’d like to see him again, and then later decided to file a civil suit aimed at getting about $400,000 from the quarterback.
Conversely, police in the Georgia case are interviewing Roethlisberger and collecting a DNA sample from him because he’s under criminal investigation that could put him in jail for anywhere from 3 to 10 years.
Whether or not Roethlisberger – who in 2006 became the youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl – raped this young woman is a very serious question that could mean the end of his professional football career when it’s answered. But as someone who grew up in Pittsburgh and has roots there from well before the six-time Super Bowl champion Steelers were founded in 1933, what I wanted to know after initial concern for the young woman in Georgia’s well-being was “Ben, what are you thinking?”
Stan Savran, who has been a notable sports radio personality in Pittsburgh for 35 years, wondered on-air a few days ago whether Roethlisberger’s performance next season will be affected by running thoughts about his embarrassing off-the-field issues, and I had to marvel at what a non-issue that is. First of all, thinking apparently isn’t something Roethlisberger does much of. Second, even if he’s not charged with a crime, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is very likely to suspend Roethlisberger for at least a few games next season to make a statement similar to “we will not tolerate players in our league, especially star players, putting themselves in these types of situations.”
[image courtesy of The Sporting News]
Right now Pittsburgh is obviously a tale of two superstars. 22-year old Penguins center Sidney Crosby – already an NHL MVP, scoring champion, Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist – is at the moment one of the most successful, high-profile athletes in the world, yet Crosby is so uninterested in fame that he’s repeatedly turned down offers to appear on The Late Show With David Letterman and The Today Show. Roethlisberger went on Letterman after each of his Super Bowl victories and has even moonlighted as a guest on WWE Raw. Additionally, friends back home have texted me when Roethlisberger showed up at bars where they were drinking, but I’ve never heard of Crosby partying on the South Side with the “yinzers,” or anywhere else, for that matter. Nor has Crosby appeared drunk in dreadful online photos, as Roethlisberger did in recent years, once wearing a t-shirt that read “Drink Like a Champion Today.”
For a man whose current contract is worth over $100 million, Roethlisberger could sure stand to find some new friends and new interests, or at least hang out in classier establishments and pursue real relationships. Maybe “Big Ben” has a serious substance abuse problem that needs to be addressed, but in both of his ongoing sexual assault cases everyone involved has asserted so far that the quarterback had consumed two or three alcoholic beverages at the most, and the man is 6’4”, 240 lbs. Maybe Roethlisberger needs to hire new security guards – he could use a couple of big guys who don’t just make sure he’s not being threatened but can also interject with something along the lines of “uh, Ben? You could afford to buy this bar, even this town. Everyone here knows who you are, so getting busy in the bathroom might not be a great idea. Besides, this girl isn’t even old enough to be in here.” But alas, it seems Roethlisberger is only interested in surrounding himself with “yes men.”
For many decades now, the Steelers – and the city of Pittsburgh – have prided themselves on being the good, blue-collar people’s answer to teams like the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens, teams that knowingly sign players who’ve been in serious trouble and probably will keep getting in serious trouble. The Steelers famously did not draft Hall of Fame quarterback, and Pittsburgh native, Dan Marino because of his reported issues with cocaine use at the University of Pittsburgh. And while the Bengals stuck with receiver Chris Henry despite recurring incidents centered around driving while intoxicated, marijuana use, and domestic assault until his untimely death last year, the Steelers released receiver Cedrick Wilson two years ago after a standoff with his girlfriend outside his Pittsburgh home. The team also released emerging running back Bam Morris just a few weeks after he appeared in the 1996 Super Bowl, when he was caught with marijuana in his car. Thus, the Steelers certainly must terminate Roethlisberger’s contract and release him – no matter his importance to the team’s on-field success – if it is determined that he raped either of these women. Otherwise, the proud, storied history of the Steelers – and the hard-working people of Pittsburgh the team is named after – will be dishonored.
A small company in Pittsburgh has already begun selling shirts online that say “Free Ben,” but a more apropos shirt would read “WTF, Ben?” Just a few months after the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIV last year, I was in Maine when the news hit that Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting the hotel worker in Tahoe, and the timing was conspicuous, as my girlfriend and I were also happily preparing for the birth of our first child, who I’ll ostensibly watch Steelers games with someday. Would I be able to cheer, along with our daughter, for my hometown team if their most important player was a convicted sex offender? Hell, no. I’ve already decided that I won’t wear Roethlisberger’s jersey anymore even if he’s not convicted, because the man has a lot of work to do just to prove he isn’t a jackass, let alone a criminal.