Siborspace: the Trial of Ben Rothlisberger
Sometimes, when a well-known figure breaks the law, it slides through the cracks and we never really hear about it. Sometimes, we as a society blow things out of proportion and, in our frenzy, label a small misstep as a horrific offense. And, in the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, sometimes we are outraged enough at the 'star treatment' a player receives that it directly impacts his on-field career.
For those who haven't been keeping up, here's the micro-version of Roethlisberger's alleged misdeeds. On June 12, 2006, Roethlisberger crashed his motorcycle in the late evening hours. He was not wearing a helmet, nor did he have a valid motorcycle license. Then, on July 17 of last year, a woman filed a civil suit against Roethlisberger alleging that he sexually assaulted her in his Lake Tahoe hotel room in June 2008. That case is still pending. In early March, Georgia police announced they were investigating Roethlisberger for an unrelated sexual assault allegation, this one stemming from an incident inside a nightclub. About two weeks ago, they announced that they did not have enough evidence to charge him.
There has been a lot of posturing by all sides of these different lawsuits as people try to suggest that Roethlisberger is obviously guilty, obviously not guilty, or that we'll never really know the truth. The simple fact of the matter is that in a world where we love to give people second, third and fourth chances, Roethlisberger has been a big beneficiary of this generosity. He has, however, chosen to mock everyone's forgiveness by continuing to act despicably and illegally. He issued his first apology statement sporting a slicked back mullet that made him look like an extra from the Dukes of Hazzard. He needs to realize that he is out of chances.
Here is where the NFL and the Steelers organization did an excellent job managing this situation. As soon as the Georgia police reports of the incident became public and it became clear that (at the very least) Roethlisberger acted very inappropriately in the nightclub, the Steelers publicly condemned his actions and the NFL moved in and issued a six game suspension. At least the league understands that this type of behavior can't be allowed to go on without consequences.
Taking the field every Sunday is a privilege, and people like Roethlisberger tend to lose sight of that. They allow their success on the field to breed a sense of entitlement off of it, and we are complicit in allowing them to think this way. Simply doling out free drinks at clubs, free meals, free everything, causes these people to think that they truly are above the common person in some way. To reverse this pattern of athletes behaving badly, we need to hold them equally as accountable as we do anyone else. How many people do you know who could be accused of sexual assault twice, break an organizational rule by riding a motorcycle, be photographed drinking heavily, and at the end of all of that still have a job? Moreover, still be one of the three highest- paid people at his position?
Fortunately, with Roger Goodell as commissioner, the NFL has begun to fight back against these trends. There have been indefinite suspensions, lengthy suspensions and fines where there used to be none. There are certain defined changes that Roethlisberger must make. Even though it wasn't done through the legal system, Roethlisberger has been on trial. In the NFL, and the court of public opinion, it sure looks like he has been found guilty of both sexual assault and being a world-class idiot. And that will have to be good enough for now.