NFL chewing on one bad ‘Berger’

first_imgLess than a week after the 24-hour Tiger Watch subsided — for the most part — with the conclusion of the Masters, another big name sports figure has given us another off-the-field incident to discuss ad nauseam.Surprise, surprise.Sure, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been in the news for more than a month regarding sexual assault allegations — the second levied against him in less than a year. Yet, this week the case culminated as Georgia District Attorney Fred Bright announced that Roethlisberger would not face any charges.However, the threat of a civil suit from the victim still looms large, and Roethlisberger still may face punishment from the NFL or the Steelers. Just like that, the two-time Super Bowl champion has followed Tiger Woods’ footsteps, giving the sports world and national media another lingering, prolonged story completely devoid of any on the field relevance.So why should we care? Or better yet, should we care?After all, athletes’ transgressions away from the field have found their way into the public eye ever since sports became an entertainment industry beyond the simple pitch and catch and shoot and score of most ballgames. Dating back at least as far as the days of Babe Ruth — and probably even further back — sports figures have lived the good life, schmoozing with celebrities and enjoying big-city nightlife.It doesn’t take a genius, much less a sports writer as esteemed as myself, to understand this. So we can just leave it at that, right? Tiger and Big Ben are just poor, poor victims of the all-knowing, ever-present eye of the national media, right?Not quite.Just as most sensibly minded people understand, these athletes live their lives in the public eye, for better or worse, whether they like it or not. Knowing that, celebrity-status athletes need to live their lives appropriately or sacrifice their superstar lifestyle.It seems that simple, but of course it’s not.Anyway, back to the questions at hand. What Roethlisberger has done, regardless of what actually transpired the night of April 4/morning of April 5 in Milledgeville, Ga., is provide a much-needed distinction between the types of off-the-field incidents the public should care about.Take a look at what appears to be the general consensus regarding Woods’ situation.Yeah, he’s a cheat, a liar and most likely a jerk, but enough already. He paid his dues in therapy, put his family life at risk, temporarily (or maybe not) derailed his stellar golf career and forever tarnished his previously spotless reputation.But his situation was a tabloid-driven piece of never ending gossip that saturated just about every media outlet in existence. Seriously, The New York Post (previously my tabloid of choice) started up a “Tiger Blog” at the first whiff of any sort of infidelity.“Tiger Blog” is still up as I write, informing readers that one of his supposed mistresses was arrested in L.A. for driving with a suspended license.Clearly a vital piece of news.For Big Ben, his situation needs to be viewed differently.Obviously, Roethlisberger is accused of committing an actual crime. Beyond that, however, lies deeper concern. For one, the Steelers quarterback is a repeat offender — yet not in the sense that Woods is.Before the start of his third NFL season, Roethlisberger crashed his motorcycle in downtown Pittsburgh, minus a helmet and valid license. Despite apparently being previously warned by numerous sources, reportedly including Steelers great Terry Bradshaw, to give up the bike, Roethlisberger continued his foolishness — again, without a helmet or license.Last June, a civil suit was filed against Roethlisberger alleging sexual assault. After a lack of evidence and questions regarding the accuser’s story and motive, the suit was dropped. Again, Roethlisberger avoided any criminal trouble. However, the second of these off-the-field troubles should have at least prompted some sort of change — perhaps more quiet nights at home?Then of course, there’s the most recent allegation of sexual assault.The reason we should care is that Roethlisberger is the face of one of sports’ most prized franchises, the Pittsburgh Steelers. By extension, that makes him one of the faces of the National Football League as well.In light of troubles with its athletes’ personal conduct, the NFL has taken a hard stance in commissioner Roger Goodell’s short tenure. Goodell likes to talk about protecting “the shield” — the NFL logo and everything football people hold sacred in the sport.There, again, lies not only why Roethlisberger should (and likely will) face suspension, but also why sports fans should care about his situation.Yeah, Tiger sufficiently knocked himself off the throne of the golf world, simultaneously damaging the sport with both his stained image and sabbatical from the game.Yet, aside from John Daly, what other image problems does golf have? The 2010 Masters was one of the most memorable in history, and not even because of Woods’ return. Golf will be just fine.This is not just a case of a private life being played out in public, as Woods’ affair was. Rather, Roethlisberger has put his lifestyle and interest in taking stupid, foolish chances ahead of his career, which the NFL obviously gave him.Forget about the whole being a role model thing — Tiger gave us enough of that. Instead, take note of the fact that the sport that is becoming the 21st century national pastime also has an image problem.Big Ben isn’t the first to sabotage that image — Ricky Williams, Michael Vick and Pacman weren’t either — and he won’t be the last. But he very possibly could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.Mike is a sophomore planning to major in journalism. Also concerned about Big Ben? Don’t care? Let him know at [email protected]last_img read more