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In Defense of Ben Roethlisberger: An Open Letter to Ann Killion of Sports Illustrated

 

Dear Ann,

 

Why did you write this article? Really. I assume it is well-intentioned, but it is also uninformed. The title of your opinion piece is Wins shouldn't make us forget about Roethlisberger's past actions. I don't know where you live, but wins and success aside, nobody in Pittsburgh, or anywhere else for that matter, has forgotten about Roethlisberger's past actions. And rest assured, the 1% of the population that has just become literate in the time between March's events and the Super Bowl in Dallas on February 6 will get every opportunity to read all about what occurred in Milledgeville, Georgia in the coming week.

 

You write, "We're hearing about the obstacles he has overcome, his resilience, his redemption. And it's making some of us more than a tad nauseous." What is it about this discussion that makes you sick?

 

Are people defending Ben Roethlisberger's past behavior? Holding him up as an exemplar of the NFL man? That would strike me as off the mark too, but I've read most everything I can find on the topic and haven't seen one instance of anyone defending Roethlisberger's actions. If you can point me to one article that lauds or even defends Roethlisberger's behavior or makes him out to be a "good guy" in regard to the events that happened in Milledgeville, I'd begin to understand your nausea. Just one please.

 

You write "And nationally, superstar athletes--superstar white athletes in particular--have been given the legal and societal benefit of the doubt forever." That's an aggressive argument to use in the Roethlisberger case. A case that was national news. A case where the district attorney held his press conference on national television, publicly attacked Roethlisberger and then announced that he would not bring any charges. Are you suggesting he got the benefit of the doubt here? Are you suggesting that the D.A. attacked him on national television but didn't bring charges because he was a superstar white quarterback? That's a tough stance to defend given the D.A. came out firing, fans routinely expressed revulsion at the alleged actions, and Roethlisberger's employers, the Rooneys, strongly condemned even the appearance he presented--without hard evidence or anything approaching a trial. I don't think the average man or woman would be so quickly tried in the press. Your broad generalization doesn't seem to hold in this case.

 

You also dismiss any discussion of the young woman's behavior and role that may have played in the situation. Discussion of her role and behavior is "the same deafening, reactive noise that always surrounds these types of accusations in the sports world: that it is simply he said, she said. The young woman is painted in terms of being a gold-digger or a drunken slut." In this case nobody from the Steelers' organization or the NFL had a bad word to say about the woman. If anything they ignored the fact that she had been following Roethlisberger's group from bar to bar, which along with some obscene writing on their outfits, could have been brought to the public's attention. So who in this case is attacking the woman? You, the media? Other women? Certainly not the accused. Since it "always surrounds these types of accusations" in your words, I would think the "who" in this case would be easy to identify, so maybe you could share that piece of information.

 

And if you want to be honest, you have to acknowledge that ignoring the woman's actions and behavior would be just as bad as the "benefit of the doubt" culture that you suggest permeates our treatment of stars. The justice system is supposed to work equally and fairly for all involved, men and women alike. An analysis of the young woman's behavior on that evening is part of the police report and deserves to be included in any serious discussion about the case. The fact that there is only eyewitness testimony does make it he said, she said, as many cases are. Your dismissiveness of that type of testimony does not change the reality of the situation or how the case was resolved.

 

You go on to say, "The justice system of the NFL worked more quickly (than the criminal system)." This is incorrect. In fact, the NFL waited to see what criminal charges were filed and if the case would be brought to trial before meting out its own punishment--a six game suspension. A suspension which, by the way, was the first suspension ever handed down under the NFL's personal-conduct policy to a player that was not arrested, charged with or convicted of a crime. In reality, the NFL took a much tougher stand than the D.A. was able to or believed he should. Again, not exactly the "legal or societal benefit of the doubt" that you allege.

 

You continue:

The outrage surrounding Michael Vick continues to be expressed at a higher volume than any talk about the Roethlisberger case. Yet Vick served almost two years in prison for his crimes, paid his dues to society.

"Yet Vick...paid his dues to society," Really? What "dues" would you like Roethlisberger to pay. He has been publicly humiliated and been fined millions in salary though not charged with any crime, but, in your mind, he hasn't paid his dues to society? There is a reason Mike Vick served two years in prison. As judge and jury, Ann, after not being charged with any crime, what should Mr. Roethlisberger do to satisfy you?

 

What annoys me most about your one-sided slant is that you did no research. The piece is no better reported than a typical adulatory puff piece. You didn't interview any of the Pittsburgh media, a group that has trashed Ben on and off the record through the years for his loutish behavior off the field. If you had, you might have gotten some sense as to why they recently awarded him "The Chief Award" given annually to someone in the Steelers organization that exemplified "the spirit of cooperation" with the media. Local writers who were among the first and most vocal critics of Roethlisberger's behavior. But more recently they have suggested he has changed and is a different person this season. Presumably they didn't suddenly develop a white superstar bias.

 

You also didn't talk to the Rooneys, who publicly expressed shock and disappointment at Roethlisberger's behavior, or to any of the players in the locker room, most notably Hines Ward who has criticized Ben on the record many times over the years, or anyone else who has had contact with Ben over the last ten months. You didn't mention that he got engaged nor touch on any of the charitable work he has committed to locally. That would have required doing some investigating and seeing what has actually happened over the past year. None of this has anything to do with his performance on the football field, but it does influence how people see Roethlisberger now, in the same way Mike Vick's charitable work and time served influence his perception. Instead, you chose to draw one link--because he is winning football games, people are ignoring his past. Maybe you just decided you didn't like the tone of the narrative you have been reading?

 

Again, not one person, I've read or seen quoted, has condoned Ben Roethlisberger's behavior in Milledgeville that night in March. Not the Rooneys, not the Commissioner and not the fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers. And none of those same people are going to suggest that Ben is the greatest person on the planet any time soon, no matter what happens on Sunday in Dallas. But, many of these people can recognize that in the past 11 months Roethlisberger has worked hard to change his life and become a better person. And for that they can congratulate him and encourage him and hope that he continues on that path. Is it a guarantee? Of course not. Is it a good start? By all accounts, yes, very much so.

 

I'm sorry this all somehow nauseates you, Ann. This acknowledgement that a young man who has made big mistakes in the past is working hard to be a better person. This acknowledgement that he is trying to change the course of his life, reshape his image and be a better son, brother, teammate, employee, sports symbol and now engaged-to-be-married man. I'm sorry you have taken up your pen to say a good word shouldn't be written about this young man who wins games on the football field because has yet to sufficiently pay some debt owed apparently to you. Certainly, and thankfully, most of what is written this week will be about what is going to take place on the football field. If others find time to write that Roethlisberger has worked hard, in the short period of time since March, to become a better person I hope you will be able to stomach it. I wouldn't want you to miss the game.

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