As has become somewhat of an annual tradition, Ben Roethlisberger was among the “20 most hated players in the NFL” list by Sporting News, which you can read here.
Roethlisberger’s status on this unfavorable list is warranted. So, in the spirit of Bryan counting down the most hated players who are NOT members the Pittsburgh Steelers, allow me to explain why:
People who are not fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers—and, in fact, many people who are fans—are going to hate Ben Roethlisberger for the remainder of NFL career. This is due in large part to the fact that—and excuse my bluntness—many people think Ben Roethlisberger is a rapist.
To provide a brief rundown, Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual assault on two separate occasions—once in 2009, and again in 2010.
In 2009, an employee at a hotel/casino in Nevada accused Roethlisberger of assaulting her in a hotel room. The victim claimed that at least eight employees of the hotel assisted in covering up the case, and went on to state that she became depressed to the point that she checked herself into a mental health institution. Despite this damning accusation, it was ultimately just that, and she and Roethlisberger settled out of court.
Later, in 2010, a woman in Georgia accused Roethlisberger of assaulting her in the bathroom at a nightclub while his security guard stood watch outside. However, the victim’s attorney later released a written statement indicating that the victim did not want to pursue criminal charges. In April of 2010, the Baldwin County district attorney announced that there was not enough evidence to pursue criminal charges against Roethlisberger.
As a result of these accusations, Roethlisberger lost several endorsements and was suspended for six games, though this penalty was later reduced to four games. Since serving the final game of that suspension, Roethlisberger has elevated himself to the upper echelon of all-time quarterbacks and signed two separate contracts totaling nearly $200 million.
Ben Roethlisberger, debatably, is the most polarizing athlete in the history of Pittsburgh sports. On the love/hate spectrum, he resides along the median, tucked somewhere between Barry Bonds and Marc-Andre Fluery.
And it is admittedly impossible to determine how Roethlisberger should be perceived by the Steelers and fans of the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger, as far as the American justice system is concerned, not guilty (note the legalese; not guilty does not equal “innocent”) of any crimes, sexual or otherwise. In the court of public opinion, however, he is viewed, by many people, as just another athlete who not only managed to successfully circumvent what could have been a career-ending off-field situation, but emerged even stronger from said incident. Roethlisberger has not won a Super Bowl since the 2010 incident, but he advanced to the dance in 2011 and is expected to contend for his third ring this season, with a strong stable of offensive firepower and a better-than-decent defense. He has had numerous Wills Reed-type moments that have established him as the toughest modern quarterback. He is among the richest athletes in the world. He will undoubtedly be enshrined in the Hall of Fame someday. He married a local woman, started a family, and maintains an extremely low-profile life, particularly compared to many of his teammates.
In spite of this, Roethlisberger makes his annual appearance on the list of the most hated players in the NFL, right alongside Vontaze Burfict (whose off-field resume is spotless), Josh Norman (likewise), Christian Hackenburg (likewise, again) and Rob Gronkowski (who, from what I can gather, is hated simply because he enjoys life too much).
Roethlisberger is not a native son of Pittsburgh, but he is, after piloting the team’s most important franchise to its fifth and sixth championships, part of Pittsburgh. In this way, he is very similar to former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, whose legacy beyond the confines of his own city is complicated by off-field crime that he, as far as courts are concerned, did not commit. Of course, legal proceedings generally do little to placate fans. Such was the case for former Steeler Mike Vick, who spent almost two years in federal prison following his conviction of dog fighting charges. Protestors have awaited Vick at every venue he’s visited since his release in 2009.
So, to provide a short answer, no, Roethlisberger will never not be among the most hated players in the NFL. And none of this is to say how Roethlisberger should or shouldn’t be viewed by the general public, particularly among Steelers fans. Those feelings are entirely subjective.
With all of that said, I am eager to see where many of you stand on Roethlisberger.