There have been many articles written to date on the Ben Roethlisberger alleged rape situation. I'm not here to debate Ben or Andrea McNulty's claims, or the situation itself.
Instead, I wish to shed light (for those of you who may not have families) on how these situations affect families. The repercussions are far different than on sports fans who are single.
I have two sons. One just turned 10, the other will turn 7 in September. They will be in fourth and first grades respectively. They, like me, are already both avid Steelers fans. My oldest son has already been to multiple Steelers games, one in Philadelphia (that is an entirely different story).
Both own Roethlisberger jerseys and idolize him as young kids have a habit of doing. And both have seen him and the Steelers up close and personal. I took them to the Steelers Super Bowl XLIII victory parade in Pittsburgh in February. All of the players passed within mere feet of us, including Roethlisberger who we have on video. Troy Polamalu did his infamous crowd dive 10 feet from where we stood near the grandstand. They were, needless to say, in awe.
When the Roethlisberger story broke earlier this week, my first thought was, "The boys are going to find out...but I am going to try to keep it from them as long as possible." The best laid plans...as they say.
They overheard me listening to Sirius NFL Radio, and the alleged rape story came up in the radio discussion. The oldest immediately chimed in, "What's going on with Ben daddy?"
The cat was out of the bag (yes, I should have been more judicious about where and when I was listening to "The Afternoon Drive").
It's one thing to explain to children that someone broke the law. To explain to them that a player was caught speeding and killed a person (aka Donte Stallworth) is one thing. To explain to them that someone allegedly raped a woman is altogether different.
At their ages, they are aware of death, murder, and even drug usage. However, only my oldest is aware of sex education, understanding the basics only at this point. My youngest still believes in The Stork.
The youngest is now confused. "What is rape daddy?"
My stomach turned. "Now is not the time for you to learn about all of this," I thought.
I was left with a precarious situation to tread. I asked the oldest, "Do you remember how we discussed where babies come from and how they are made?"
"Yes Daddy," he replied.
The youngest just looked bewildered.
I replied, "Well, a woman claims, and it's not proven, that Ben may have forced her to do that with him. She says she didn't want to. If a man forces a woman to do 'this' and she does not want to, it is very, very bad. That is called rape. And a person who does this to a woman can and will go to jail if they find out he did this."
There was complete silence from him, trying to grasp what I'd just explained. The youngest still had the completely bewildered look.
A minute later the oldest asked the question I expected. "Do you think he did this daddy?"
"I don't know yet," I replied. "It looks suspicious and I don't think he did. It will take time to figure out and we may never know the real answer. But if he did, he did a very bad thing and I will have lost all respect for him."
Silence again for a minute.
"Me too daddy. I won't like him anymore. I just can't believe he did it though."
"Neither can I. We just have to wait to find out," I replied.
When I was single, I used to hear the stories about how athletes are role models and how they affect children. I never considered it that much because I always felt I judged them fairly, or was lucky in idolizing players that were clean.
This situation however shed a whole new light on the effect athletes can have on families for me. Whether the allegations are true or not, the story forced a discussion on a subject with my children that was too mature for them to handle, let alone understand. It accelerated their maturation curve, something I've always hoped to hold in check. And I'm sure it's tainted their view of a man they idolized, rightfully or wrongly.
I grew up in a world where media coverage was but a small percentage of what it is today. In many ways, my parents could have shielded me from news like this. The pervasive media coverage that exists today wouldn't have allowed me to keep this from my children for long.
Welcome to life today kids.