Recently I saw a copy of a magazine with Ben Roethlisberger's face on the front. "The Hangover," the lead story was titled. Inside we got:
"An NFL Superstar's Repulsive Behavior, The Ultimate Expression of Athletic Entitlement Run Amok, Has Forced Even The Most Diehard Fans to Question Their Team and Their Football Faith ..."
Big Ben and his jerk-like behavior — a hard sports exposé. The backward ball cap and his arrogance in restaurants and, my, what a pig with ladies. A million reasons not to shake hands with the Steelers' quarterback.
Evidently the writers of the piece went out and polled the city. Well, portions of it. They asked Pittsburghers in tattoo parlors and bars and tchotchke shops, as well as a few unnamed Ben acquaintances, what they thought about public enemy No. 1, and the heavy majority threw Roethy the thumbs-down. "Our football team is our life," one man pronounced.
And the article turned into a giant billboard aimed at convincing you that Big Ben was a dirtbag and all those football-is-life Steelers fans would really prefer to see him run the hell outta town.
It's a funny angle the magazine chose, the one-sided high ground. I say that because within the very same issue, on Page 27, you'll find an advertisement for one of these cool-guy body washes, pheromone-infused, the kind that gets the women swarming, at least that's what the collage of pictures in this ad infers. It sends quite a different message than what we got about Roethlisberger.
The first series of photos shows a 20-something party guy collapsed on a couch, unshaven, in his street clothes. A long nightclub shift comes to an end. The caption reads, "Wake up and stay alert ..."
Next string of pics — a pair of good looking, young women are shooting seductive looks in a club, one of them dancing around in her black bra. Hey, this stuff works! "Get caliente ...," our Party Boy is instructed.
Third series — Party Boy is now crashing his dirt bike into a swimming pool, and the pool furniture gets dunked as well, and suddenly he's passed out drunk again. This time his classy friends are drawing all over his arms and chest with pens and magic markers. "Get the *%#@! back in there ...," whatever that means.
Last group of photos. Our hero evidently picks up a woman with a snake tattoo on her belly. Time to close the deal. Back to her place they go, and suddenly it's 6:04 a.m. and Party Boy is lurching out of bed wearing the "feets don't fail me now" face. Excuse time ... gotta bolt, sweetie ... church starts in an hour.
"Scrub away the skank ..." the ad says.
Question to magazine editor: Remind me again how we're supposed to feel about Ben Roethlisberger?
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Jimmy Johnson, who won a pair of titles coaching the Dallas Cowboys, will admit he kept two sets of books for his club. One was for his star players, his money guys, the core of talent he rode to his championships. This was the Book of Leniency. Perform for me on the field, it said, win the big ballgames, and I can look the other way on a lot of things.
The other set of pages applied to the enlisted men, the infantry, the replaceables. Things were understandably tighter for them ... shoes glossed, buttons spiffed, bed corners tucked down tight, yes-sir/no-sir. Fall out of line and we'll shoot you out of here in a cannon — got it, son? "You can't treat everyone the same, because they're not all the same." That was the Johnson credo.
And it was this type of thinking the Steelers' brass used in its evaluation of Roethlisberger's situation. I think that trade stuff was a bluff, a shake-up maneuver. "Actively shopping" was the term used in the press. Wanna end up a Raider, Benjamin? How about some time in St. Louis? We can arrange that, you know. The threat of being sent to the Eastern Front.
He hadn't been charged with anything. There was no firm evidence to prove criminal wrongdoing, so the Georgia authorities quickly backed off, but now the team has pinned Roethlisberger by the throat and told him how things are going to be. They're also going to give the finest quarterback in their history every chance to straighten himself out. They must think he will, or else he'd already be humping some jumping jacks out in Oakland. That's called good business sense.
Two things bothered me about that magazine's hack piece. First, the sample pool. Very selective. A heavy dose of service workers. The owner of Peppi's Old Tyme Sandwich shop chimes in. But I didn't see any quotes from Pittsburgh-area bankers or businessmen or other professionals in there. I didn't read what season-ticket-holding accountants or professors or engineers were saying, but we did get, "They should make him go to church every Sunday," from a 57-year-old guy killing time in a Milledgeville, Ga., pool hall.
I also didn't like how the story brushed off the possibility that Roethlisberger could ever fix his ways, to become a better man to society. Rehabilitation? Ha! "Cynics" are cited as the only ones who think he can turn himself around and win the city back, we are told.
Like it or not, Roethlisberger is getting another break with his team because he can fire the ball and escape the enemy hounds and drive the team over the goal line. He's allowed more bullets in his jerk gun than most others. He's a superstar. Third-string long-snappers, as Jimmy Johnson will tell you, are not afforded the same luxury.
Fair? C'mon. It's not a question of fair. No laws have been broken. They'll try to patch their guy up. The Steelers have a business to run.
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