How Public Opinion Defrocks Stars Where Others Fail
Ben Roethlisberger, who quarterbacked the Pittsburgh Steelers to two Super Bowl victories, is the latest high-profile sports star in trouble for his off-the-field sexual dalliances.
Unlike Tiger Woods, at least two women in separate incidents accused Roethlisberger of sexual assault. In both cases prosecutors declined to file formal charges. The Milledgeville, Georgia, police sergeant who arrested Big Ben in the March 5 incident resigned Wednesday.
Fans in Pittsburgh, who are unreasonably protective of their super star heroes as long as they win, are demanding a trade or major suspension by National Football Commissioner Roger Goodell for violating league conduct policy.
The Woods and Roethlisberger cases are the latest in a rash of slap downs of sports stars being held accountable by fans, sponsors and in Big Ben’s case, the probability of the team owner and the league which has yet to render a disciplinary decision.
Roethlisberger is an intriguing case study of falling behind the learning curve. The first sexual assault case stemming from a Las Vegas incident in 2008 is still pending. Many believe he violated a standard league clause in his contract two years ago when he drove his motorcycle into a curb and injured his throwing hand right wrist. Now rumors are flying that Roethlisberger is boorish, failing as a team leader in the locker room and an all-out jerk in the minds of some players, fans and media paid to cover him.
Usually, a star falls from grace for not living up to expectations of his multi-million dollar contract. One wonders if the Pittsburgh fans disgusted with a woman beater will cling to that view if Roethlisberger is traded or suspended an expected one to four games or more — and the team loses all in that lineup sitdown.
The bottom line in professional sports is winning is everything although that may not be the case in Pittsburgh. The Rooney family which owns the franchise is not only known for its great organization but also as a family values entity. The team earlier this week traded trouble-prone all-pro wide receiver Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft pick, considered an insult to Holmes ability.
Roethlisberger has let his attorney speak for him in the assault cases. In hundreds of pages released by Milledgeville police, a college town city of 18,500 population in the 2000 census, the 20-year-old college student admitted she was intoxicated at the time but Big Ben assaulted her despite her pleas of resistance in the bathroom of a bar March 5. They had met earlier in the night as they bar-hopped, she with her sorority sisters and he with an entourage of body guards.
Milledgeville Police Chief Woodrow Blue confirmed that Sgt. Jerry Blash, the officer who took the first report from Roethlisberger’s accuser, resigned from the force Wednesday, a day before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation released the case documents.
The documents show Blash acknowledged to investigators that he made derogatory statements about Roethlisberger’s accuser to other officers. He he had posed for pictures earlier in the night with the football star.
In a statement to police on March 5, the coed said Roethlisberger encouraged her and her friends to drinks. Then one of his bodyguards escorted her into a hallway at the Capital City nightclub, sat her on a stool and left. She said Roethlisberger walked down the hallway and exposed himself.
“I told him it wasn’t OK, no, we don’t need to do this and I proceeded to get up and try to leave,” she said, according to the police documents. “I went to the first door I saw, which happened to be a bathroom.”
According to her statement, Roethlisberger then followed her into the bathroom and shut the door.
“I still said no, this is not OK, and he then had sex with me,” she wrote. “He said it was OK. He then left without saying anything.”
Roethlisberger also is being sued in civil court by a former Nevada hotel employee for an alleged sexual assault in 2008. No criminal charges were filed in that case.
Prompted partly by the Roethlisberger incident, Goodell sent a memo last week to NFL owners, executives and head coaches emphasizing the importance of the league’s personal conduct policy. According to the memo, first reported by the New York Times, the absence of criminal charges is not enough to excuse poor behavior.
“The policy makes clear that NFL and club personnel must do more than simply avoid criminal behavior,” the memo said. “We must conduct ourselves in a way that is responsible, that promotes the values upon which the league is based, and is lawful.”
The Roethlisberger case has infuriated the Steelers.
“I have made it clear to Ben that his conduct in this incident did not live up to our standards,” Art Rooney said. “We have made it very clear to Ben that there will be consequence for his actions, and Ben has indicated to us he is willing to accept those consequences.”
We are living in a time where our professional sports leagues — especially the NFL, NBA and even the foot-dragging Major League Baseball commissioners — are forcing players to be accountable and live a higher standard than the masses who adore them. This is the most positive step I have seen as a lifetime observer of professional sports. These players have been pampered and enabled by their parents, coaches and owners far too long and those days, mercifully, are coming to an end. The public now shuns those who remain in denial — the Pete Roses, Roger Clemens’s and Mark MacGwires. Even the most penalized are showing honest remorse and redemption as is the case of Michael Vick. Now, if only the Congressional ethics committees could dispense justice on offending politicians the nation would be rid of crooks, perverts and philanderers at the highest political levels quicker than waiting for the culprit’s reelection every two, four or six years.
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