Ben Roethlisberger Guilty of Letting Down the Pittsburgh Steelers and His Fans

Todd FlemingAnalyst IMarch 19, 2010

MIAMI - JANUARY 03:  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace #17 in the second quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Land Shark Stadium on January 3, 2010 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

Since I find it to be a painful subject to consider, I planned on writing only one article on the Ben Roethlisberger situation. But, since my first article has spawned at least one counter-article specifically addressed as a response to me, I would like to make a few points and clarify my position.

And I take exception to those who think I’m somehow out to get Roethlisberger. He was my favorite player on the team I love. He’s a fantastic quarterback, far better than most people outside of Pittsburgh even realize.

I truly hope he recovers from this situation and gets the help I think he needs, assuming he is innocent of the worst of the charges.

The most common point that people make in his defense is that Roethlisberger should be considered innocent until proven guilty. When it comes to criminal activity, there is no argument there.

Of course he should be considered innocent in a legal sense until convicted by a jury of his peers. But, that doesn’t mean we have to ignore his behavior and refuse to condemn it.

Should the standards of a team be so low that all activity is acceptable so long as it doesn’t rise to the threshold of a felony? That is a mighty low standard to maintain.

If that’s how the likes of some of these writers feel, then all their previous posts exemplifying the Steelers for targeting high character players while trashing other teams for not following suit ring hollow.

And even if you take “innocent until proven guilty” to an extreme well beyond what I believe is intended, that still does not mean the team, or the fan base, should ignore known destructive and immoral behavior.

In what world is it not seriously immoral to take a drunk young lady into a public restroom for the purposes of some form of sexual behavior?

In what world is posting bodyguards outside a public lady’s restroom to keep people out not cause for suspicion?

I believe in “innocent until proven guilty” when it comes to a criminal charge as much as the next guy, but to hide behind that and refuse to acknowledge immoral behavior is just being morally obtuse. And to selectively, and wrongly, quote Christian scripture to justify that support is misguided, although I don't think this is the place for a theological debate.

Sure, nobody is perfect, but can’t we at least agree that the Steelers top brass, and the fan base that expects the team to holds its players to high standards, should be very concerned about this type of behavior?

Can’t we at least agree that seeing pictures of our team’s leader obviously drunk with a “Drink Like a Champion” shirt, like something out of a B-grade college fraternity movie, is a bit unseemly?

Can’t we at least agree that Roethlisberger has embarrassed the team and its ownership, and at least a healthy portion of the team's fan base, by his known behavior? 

Can’t we at least agree that the ownership should be drawing a line in the sand and conveying to Roethlisberger that if he crosses it, he is out?

I was somewhat amazed that people were surprised, and even offended, that I’ve heard enough to discard my Roethlisberger jersey. I’m sure I’m not alone in making that decision.

Wearing a jersey is identifying with that player, both for their excellence on the field and, to a lesser degree, to their character off of it.  So, I'll be switching up to a Troy Polamalu jersey for the forseeable future, a guy that is a true role model both on and off the field. 

Even if you aren’t inclined to call his behavior immoral, as I know some aren’t, it is hard to argue with anyone who doesn’t think that taking part in this type of behavior while still under a cloud of scrutiny is not ridiculously reckless and stupid behavior.

Frankly, I’m completely mystified that anyone in his position would put himself into the spot he is in now.  I have a hard time even processing that piece of data.  Being stupid isn't against the law.  But, reckless stupidity certainly raises some warning flags. 

And, thinking back to the motorcycle accident, this isn’t the first time he has been hurt by a supreme lack of judgment manifested in reckless behavior. The same recklessness that we admire in him so much on the field is destroying him off the field.

Again, there are some patterns developing here that are hard to ignore.

I don’t see anything wrong with watching the facts in a case unfold and starting to form a judgment as to where you stand on a person’s innocence or guilt. We are not on a legal jury but we do have the capacity to form judgments.

For example, there was nothing unhealthy or particularly sinister with watching the OJ Simpson murder trial unfold and concluding that the jury got it wrong based upon the facts that came out. 

He did not suddenly become innocent of committing crimes just because a jury did not convict him, although he was rightfully viewed that way in the eyes of the law.

And the facts coming out in this second case aren’t pretty. When asked how the girl who went into the restroom with him came out with cuts and bruises, Roethlisberger answered that she fell. Hearing that hit me like a punch in the gut and I can’t pretend I didn’t hear him say what he said.

Sure, I can come up with a few scenarios for how that may have happened as others have done. But, there is a big difference between likely and unlikely scenarios.

And his unwillingness to cooperate with the police or to provide a DNA sample has not helped my faith. Nor has the recklessness that he has shown.  Does that mean he is guilty of criminal activity? Of course not.

But, I am also no longer convinced of his innocence. Considering I was inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, that is a sad place to be on the eve of the season. And it is a real change from where I was at following the first accusation, when I did still believe in his innocence, even if I did have a seed of doubt.

To address a couple other points that have come up a number of times, I don’t find the fact that he got a high-powered lawyer to be suspicious. I am a general believer that a person should get the best lawyer he or she can afford.

Nor do I think settling out of court should even remotely be read as an admission of guilt. There are plenty of reasons why a person who is not guilty might choose to go that route.

Others on here have called it a double standard to question Roethlisberger’s behavior while not openly criticizing the girl in this case. Did she act wrongly in this situation as well? Of course.  Did she show a lack of good judgement?  Absolutely.

But, she is not the quarterback of our football team, which is what makes Roethlisberger's behavior very relevant to me. I’ve seen enough now to conclude that the incredibly gifted Roethlisberger has serious psychological issues and has engaged in a pattern of behavior that calls his character into question.  He appears to combine recklessness with a sense of entitlement, which is a dangerous mix.

While I can’t conclude he is guilty of sexual assault, that doesn't mean we can't draw plenty of safe conclusions based on what we already do know.

All that being said, I don’t think he should be dismissed from the team yet based on what we know at this point. I think it is still a little premature. 

But, there is even some inconsistency there.  If a less prominent Steeler, say William Gay or Brett Keisel, was in an identical position, I have no doubt the Steelers would be moving forward without him. 

Particularly great players are going to be given more chances.  I'm okay with that inconsistency. I seriously doubt the Steelers would have won either Super Bowl without Roethlisberger, so the ownership likely feels they owe him every opportunity to correct his behavior, as much out of appreciation for what he has already done for the franchise as for how hard he will be to replace.  

But, I don’t think the only factor that should weigh into the ownership’s thinking in deciding if a player is a "Steelers kind of player" should be whether a player is found guilty of a crime.

If that’s the only standard we are willing to apply, then the Steelers are no different than every other team in the league in terms of their character as an organization. And, despite their recent run of off-field trouble, I don’t believe that.

I suspect the team is at least starting to plan for life after Roethlisberger. I hate that it has come to this every bit as much as everyone who is arguing against me. But, that’s how I see it.


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