DALLAS — And so it begins. Your intrepid Pro Football Weekly reporters, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers all arrived here within a few hours of each other for Super Bowl XLV on Monday. Now, just two brief press conferences and a media day in, I'm already reminded of how uncanny it is that just being at a Super Bowl can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
In this case I'm referring to the truly stunning-to-me fashion in which coaches, teammates, fans and most of the media are happy to treat Steelers QB and accused rapist Ben Roethlisberger as if he has somehow earned the mantle of rehabilitated bon vivant, team leader and all-around good guy. It was just 11 months ago that he was accused of raping a 20-year-old college student. His accuser was quite drunk at the time of the incident, and charges were never filed, in part because, according to the coed's father, her parents were unwilling to let the alleged victim be further victimized by the process.
I have marveled through the playoffs leading up to this Super Bowl how there has been almost no reference to Roethlisberger's indiscretions of last spring, and where there have been, how it has only been to describe the Steelers' QB as some former sinner who seems to have truly found the light.
Speaking about his quarterback at the Steelers' hotel after arriving in Dallas, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had this to say, "Ben is a highly respected member of our football team, not only because of what he's done this year, but his line of work in previous years. We all fall short of perfection. We all make mistakes. His are well-documented, and he's doing as best he can in terms of moving forward with it."
Really, is Roethlisberger doing the best he can? Are all of our mistakes in the same category as Big Ben's? Has anyone ever heard him speak a word about his alleged victims?
Notice the plural on "victims" there, did you? It is as important to be as fair to Roethlisberger here as it is to his alleged victims. Roethlisberger not only has never been found guilty of sexual assault, he's never been formally charged or tried in a court of law. And where I come from, you are always innocent until proven guilty.
The problem for Roethlisberger is: What are the odds that two women, one a hotel worker in her late 20s in Reno, Nev., and the other a college student in Milledgeville, Ga., would make similar charges against him nearly two years apart, if in fact he's the innocent victim in both situations? Is this a classic case of there having to be at least a little bit of fire around all this smoke?
Roethlisberger has insisted on his innocence in both cases from the moment they came to light, so it would be difficult for him to find the proper light with which to paint his accusers. But isn't that heavy lifting an absolute requirement before he can be painted as having truly turned his life around? He and everyone around him have acknowledged his boorish behavior ever since the second allegation came to light, and the absolute need for him to make changes. But what does "I was a bad guy but I'm not anymore and I'll never mistreat women again" do for the young ladies in Nevada and Georgia? Unless you really believe Roethlisberger was the completely innocent victim in both of those cases — do any of you believe that? — doesn't something have to be done?
There is a belief throughout the NFL that Michael Vick is, in fact, a changed and rehabilitated man, and that is good for everyone. Perhaps it is. I'm not sure I'm there yet, but I'm getting there. Yet it seems to me that too many of you are using Vick's reinvention as a reason to give Roethlisberger the same breaks, and to me that is ridiculous.
Michael Vick was disgraced, and he then admitted and accepted full responsibility for his crimes and did 19 months of serious time in a federal penitentiary. He came out broke, on probation and without a job. He has started over from near the bottom and, while resurrecting his football career, has also done significant work in the community on behalf of his former victims and all who could be victims in the future of crimes like his. Most importantly, 51 of his 52 victims have been saved, nursed back to health, rehabilitated and placed in good homes. An excellent book has been written about them that assures us they will never be forgotten, and while you won't find a bigger dog lover than me, his victims weren't people.
What has Roethlisberger done to be forgiven and to prove he's a better man? We keep hearing he's been a better teammate to "his guys," but other than that, as near as I can tell, he hasn't done a thing. Doesn't he owe us all a lot more than that?