Football Mythbusters: ESPN Dropped the Ball on Roethlisberger

Hank K.Contributor IJuly 23, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a pass against the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Steelers won 27-23. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

FACTS: First of all, this article is not in any way meant to disparage Ben Roethlisberger.  There aren’t enough facts available to prove without a doubt whether he did what he was accused of or not.  There is his side of the story, and then there is the female’s side.  Therefore, speculating as to whether he’s guilty or not is pointless.

Though it doesn’t merit speculation, this story is certainly news that deserves attention.  If he’s guilty, then it merits attention because such a high-profile player did this.  If he’s innocent, then it deserves attention because then Roethlisberger is being targeted by a scam artist because of who he is.

Either way, ESPN was dead wrong for not reporting this.  Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, and affiliate of MSNBC Sports, reported that ESPN put out a memo to its employees telling them specifically not to report on Roethlisberger.

I first read this story on the morning of Tuesday, July 21, though it could have broken late Monday night.  All day Tuesday, there was not one mention of this on  This story was not put on their Web site until some point during Wednesday.  

With today’s rapid communications, ESPN or any mainstream media outlet is capable of putting a story on their Web site minutes after it breaks.

This severe delay in putting up any mention of the story lends credence to Florio’s report.  To completely ignore a story like this, especially during the days of the offseason when there is almost nothing interesting to report, strongly reeks of a lack of journalistic integrity.

I’m not saying ESPN should have listed all the sordid details in the accusation—that would be crossing the line between factual reporting and reveling in shock value.  However, a lawsuit was filed against the quarterback of the reigning Super Bowl champions, and it’s difficult to see how a “news” site could fail to mention news such as that.

Maybe they wanted to wait and see until more facts came out to avoid embarrassing an innocent Roethlisberger.  But once again, a lawsuit was filed.  That, in itself, is a fact, and it was not reported.

This story appeared on the Web sites of AOL, Yahoo! Sports, CBS Sports and MSNBC, all within hours of the story breaking.  One has to wonder if ESPN’s silence has to do with avoiding embarrassing themselves more than Roethlisberger.

Ben Roethlisberger is considered the next superstar in the league.  His team won two Super Bowls in the past four years, and ESPN has been gushing since February about how great Roethlisberger and the Steelers are.

They’ve debated on the site whether the Steelers should start being called “America’s Team,” and whether the Steelers should be considered the Team of the Decade instead of the Patriots (who appeared in four Super Bowls this decade, winning three). 

This hype about the Steelers has been over-the-top to say the least, and a lot of sportswriters would have egg on their faces if Big Ben’s career imploded, thus jeopardizing the Steelers at quarterback.

Ask yourself “If Pacman Jones, who is not even signed by an NFL team, were accused of this, would ESPN hesitate for even a second to report it?”  The answer to that is definitely no.

ESPN cannot even afford to report on this and portray Roethlisberger in a positive light – if he ends up being guilty, it would further embarrass ESPN.

Right now, silence is the best option for the media outlet that has hyped Roethlisberger 24/7.  All they can do is just hope he’s innocent, otherwise this will be a huge embarrassment for a lot more people than just Roethlisberger.