Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Boy in Trouble is a Temporary Thing (at Least in Sports)

On Sunday, Ben Roethlisberger is going to walk onto the field in Dallas and try to win his third Super Bowl. As a quarterback, he will enter elite company: only four other quarterbacks have won three Super Bowls, and coming up on his 29th birthday, he will have a great shot at joining Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only field generals to win four. It definitely puts him in the argument as the greatest quarterback of all time - despite all of the flashy numbers one can put up, wins is the stat many traditional fans of the game follow to make their argument.

Now, normally, this would be a time for celebration. Roethlisberger is certainly a 0ne-of-a-kind athlete, a quarterback whose size makes him nearly impossible to bring down, and this size gives him the ability to escape dangerous situations and turn them into positives. Which is ironic, considering what he's going through off of the football field.

Getting involved in not one, but two sexual assault cases in the last five years has left Roethlisberger with a black mark on his life, one that may never be removed. It is true that both cases were dismissed, but my friends and relatives in Pennsylvania are torn by the fact that their beloved Steelers have an alleged rapist on their team. Many of them wanted him off of the football team. Whether his staying on the team had to do with the Steelers' belief in his innocence or just a matter of simple wins and losses is not clear, but there is a cloud of doubt hanging over the whole process.

In the last season, Roethlisberger has been in full amends in regard to his image. His teammates have mentioned the change, and he won an award from the local press for his willingness to be interviewed, something he has never come close to winning before in his career. He is now engaged to a local girl, as well. Many people say that he might redeem himself if he wins this Sunday.

I don't fully understand that argument. Nothing on the field should change the fact of what he has been accused of off it. Yes, it is true that he has been a model citizen the past season, and it is quite possible that he has grown up and learned some valuable lessons. For that, he should be commended. But having great athletic ability should not redeem you if your character is not worthy of such praise.

I have lived in two places in my life - Western Pennsylvania and Los Angeles. Both cities have had high-profile sexual assault cases of star athletes in recent years. While Pittsburgh has gone through a state of confusion regarding their star, Los Angeles practically dismissed the fact that Kobe Bryant could have been guilty. In fact, he was lionized in a monstrous tribute of denial, being given a standing ovation for showing up late to a playoff game because of his rape trial, with fans denigrating the accuser and assuming complete innocence because - why? As one You Tube comment states on the Bryant press conference (one in which he never apologizes to the fans), "The only thing kobe ever raped is a big group of black guys called the raptors... 81 times!!!!", in regard to his 81-point game against Toronto.

The point is, while Roethlisberger has handled his situation much better than Bryant (he has apologized to teammates, fans, and the city of Pittsburgh, as a whole), and while I certainly do believe in redemption, the redemption should not come from his exploits on the field. He may win his third Super Bowl tomorrow, but that should have no bearing on how we judge Roethlisberger as a person. The game, in many ways, is irrelevant, and as far as his standing as a public figure in Pittsburgh is concerned, it still should be left a work in progress.

No comments: