Two things are for sure regarding the sexual assault allegations placed upon Ben Roethlisberger.
I don’t know what happened in that Reno hotel room. And you don’t know, either.
Pittsburgh Steelers fans are worried their star quarterback will be distracted or miss time in 2009, almost assuredly eliminating the chances of a repeat Super Bowl championship. Some have responded with insults to the accuser, a regrettably predictable response.
Women’s groups have not, as of yet, attempted to demonize Roethlisberger to a great extent. Roethlisberger’s Friday press conference was not met with protesters outside the UPMC Training Facility the way Clarence Thomas’ detractors rallied in support of Anita Hill, for instance.
Good. Perhaps there are some of us left who believe “innocent until proven guilty.”
Still, what is most distressing about Roethlisberger’s public statement regarding the charges he faces is how he said he “would never force himself on a woman.”
If this is the case, then Roethlisberger must explain the photograph accompanying this article, taken from www.deadspin.com from Jan. 31, 2006.
True, pouring whiskey down a supposedly willing woman’s throat at a party does not make Roethlisberger a rapist, and this photographed action does not in itself make him guilty of the current charges he faces.
But it does speak of irresponsibility. It speaks of, if not “forcing” himself, taking advantage of a woman.
It gives Roethlisberger a track record the Rooney family cannot be happy with.
Historically, the Steelers pride themselves on their character. True, Ernie Holmes once fired shots at helicopters and steroid allegations have haunted the franchise, but during the franchise’s 1970s heydays the Steelers seemed to have a signature that stood apart from the Oakland Raiders, who prided themselves on being bad guys, or the Dallas Cowboys, who wrapped themselves in Texas arrogance.
And was Holmes not suffering from a nervous breakdown during his incident? Does anyone believe the Steelers were the only team with players using steroids? Did Pittsburgh not rid themselves of integral stars such as Eric Green and Bam Morris due to drugs, perhaps preventing their mid-‘90s teams of their full potential, while Dallas players rented out the infamous “White House?”
What makes Roethlisberger such an effective quarterback is not so much his physical abilities but his leadership ability.
Tommy Maddox, for instance, may have been a better passer, and Kordell Stewart may have been a better all-around athlete, but neither former Pittsburgh quarterback possessed the personality to arrogantly tell his teammates, “Do this!”
This is the ability that helped turn a team filled with many complacent veterans that finished 6-10 in 2003 to 15-1 in 2004 and a Super Bowl championship in 2005.
This is the carefree, risk-taking demeanor that enabled Roethlisberger to engineer a 78-yard touchdown drive with 2:37 remaining in the Super Bowl on the field that had him openly defy Andrea Kramer’s questioning following Pittsburgh’s 10-6 victory against Cleveland after a game last season, and to nearly die off the field by not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle three years ago.
And this arrogance also threatens to ruin his football career.
If Roethlisberger is found guilty, or even if he settles out of court, and he continues to be employed as the Steelers’ starting quarterback, what message does this send about a franchise that prides itself on sending out positive off-the-field images?