Two years ago I wrote a few thoughts on Super Bowl Sunday before the Steelers - Cardinals game. The main focus on the post was Ben Roethlisberger. That wasn't much of a surprise since Roethlisberger has been a once in a lifetime athlete. Not only was he the best, most accomplished athlete to ever attend Miami University, but he also happened to play all three years at Miami while I was a student there. I had seen him around the campus and I had seen him quarterback the Redhawks more than a few times. In terms of a favorite athlete he was in a different category. Nobody else could compare with his resume of great play combined with the Miami University connection.
Then it all started happening. While I thought the motorcycle accident in 2006 was dumb, I didn't think much of it besides that. Then the sexual assault allegation in 2008 shook me up a little bit, but after reading more about the situation I didn't really believe the accusations. It seemed like the alleged assault victim was trying to make some money off someone famous, and it didn't work. However, the accusations in Georgia last year were a little different. Based on what I've read it didn't sound like a dumb mistake or a money grab. I will never know what really happened, but the situation left me with a negative impression of Roethlisberger.
Now, I have an internal debate going on about Roethlisberger. First and foremost is it right to condemn someone who has never been charged with a crime? Aren't we supposed to presume innocence? I know Roger Goodell and public opinion have convicted him, but that doesn't mean I should just follow the crowd.
That is the first piece of debate. Did Roethlisberger commit crime? That leads to the second piece of debate about whether or not he can be forgiven if he did commit a crime? If we assume that he did commit sexual assault then can I really wear my #7 Roethlisberger jersey with pride? Is there anything he can do to redeem himself? A lot has been made of Michael Vick, but Vick is different. He was convicted and served his debt to society. If you are a dog lover and don't want to cheer for Vick then that is your right, but there aren't many open questions about him. For Roethlisberger there are nothing but open questions.
Let's say that Roethlisberger did commit the crime in Georgia. At one point is it ok to forgive him or does that point even exist? I don't think there are really any excuses that could be made, but the article I read from David Epstein on Roethlisberger's head injuries was enlightening. I read that article back in May and it opened up even more questions. As a football fan am I enabling a sport that causes head injuries? And what do the head injuries do to someone's personality?
In Epstein's article he points out how head injuries might affect someone's understanding of social rules, and that a lot of what Roethlisberger did seems to reflect a guy who didn't have a clue. He also points that it is hard to know if Roethlisberger didn't follow social rules because he he was rich, famous athlete. Did becoming a professional quarterback make him arrogant and mean or was the cause of all of this the many head injuries? In the article Epstein quotes a neurologist who asks "is this from a motorcycle accident, or is this his true personality? I don't think anyone's going to know that for sure." It is hard not to watch the Steelers play and notice the amount and severity of the hits Roethlisberger takes every game. As football fans, we praise him for the style and results of that type of play, but should we reconsider the long term effects?
I don't have many answers to the questions I am asking, but I do know that when I met Roethlisberger as a freshmen in college, I didn't meet the guy described by many people. He was a relatively quiet individual, who shook my hand and introduced himself as Ben. He didn't seem like the life of the party sitting in the dorm room watching an offensive lineman and me play a game of Madden. Now, I know this is a small sample size and freshmen year of college was way before being a 1st round pick or winning Super Bowls, but still it is the one data point I can contribute to the Roethlisberger story.
So, I have asked a lot of questions that presents a muddy picture of a great quarterback. If it was as simple as looking at stats and judging wins then it would be a much easier thing for me to analyze. That is one of the great things about sports, since normally things are so much easier to judge. For example it is a lot easier to try and figure out who is a better basketball player than it is to see which friend is nicer. However, Roethlisberger isn't an easy person to figure out and this whole situation just leaves a sour taste in my mouth. All I wish is that Roethlisberger would have been an average human being, who was never accused of anything. As it currently stands though he was accused and I can't be 100% certain that he did anything wrong. I wish I could end this post with some type of uplifting comment that would wrap up everything in a one sentence summary. However, like the rest of the post all I am coming back to is the fact that there is a lot of things I don't know.