We Make the A**holes

Roethlisberger, like every other egomaniac sports hero, can continue to do whatever the hell he wants—because he can. Because we let him.

Will a Super Bowl win redeem Ben Roethlisberger?

It’s “an understandably irresistible storyline,” author Buzz Bissinger writes, but ultimately one that’s “silly.”

He’s right. For Roethlisberger—accused of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old college student in March of last year, and a 31-year-old casino host in 2008—to achieve “redemption” through winning the Super Bowl is a bit far-fetched. No, achieving redemption would take actually mean doing something positive or changing who he is as a person. Maybe he could volunteer for RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), like ex-WWF wrestler Mick Foley (who volunteered, I should add, out of concern, not because he committed a crime against them).

But winning the Super Bowl? I don’t follow the logic. It may cloud his past transgressions, or distract fans and the media from them, but it does little to vindicate him. Even if he volunteers for RAINN, God knows if it’s a PR stunt or a true change of heart on his part; I’d assume the former.

♦◊♦

We love fitting people and issues into cookie-cutter clichés, right or wrong, good and bad. It requires little to no thinking. For our athletes, we have the path to redemption down pat: player X cheats on spouse/does steroids/kills dogs/drives drunk. This is an outrage, and he must do something to pay for this.

Merlyn Mantle, the Mick’s much-maligned wife, became well aware of his increasingly blatant acts of infidelity—yet she stuck by his side until the bitter end, because, as Jane Leavy writes, “the only thing she ever wanted to be was Mrs. Mickey Mantle.” 

 

Rest assured, his PR people have been hard at work. He’ll do some community service, maybe donate to charity, and issue a “formal apology.” He might even simply win the big game. He has achieved redemption, the pundits announce, and now we can continue worshiping him with a clean conscience.

This is why the PR people for Michael Vick and Tiger Woods are geniuses. When you can’t handle yourself, you just hire someone else to do it for you.

Imagine this scenario: after winning his third Super Bowl ring, Big Ben sits in the back room of some restaurant, celebrating with his buddies. He’s been showered with praise for days now; everyone wants to interview him. He’s the man. Everyone’s forgotten those little sexual-assault incidents.

He guffaws and slaps the table. “Who knew?” he says. “All I had to do was win.” And, unfortunately, he’s right. Roethlisberger, like every other egomaniac sports hero, can continue to do whatever the hell he wants—because he can. Because we let him.

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The Last Boy is author Jane Leavy’s new book about Mickey Mantle. It’s an excellent read because Leavy shows us a full person—not the “Myth of the Mick”—but an amazing athlete with a generous heart, who is also, in many ways, deeply insecure, fearful, and flawed. Like all of us.

Leavy grew up in the Bronx worshiping the Yanks and their star center fielder. She became a sportswriter, and in 1983, she finally had the opportunity to interview Mantle, who was working as a greeter in an Atlantic City casino. After a night of eating and drinking, she finally had the Hall of Famer alone.

As she writes in The Last Boy, things didn’t go as planned.

Just as I was about to ask about his son Billy, I felt his hand on my knee, then on the inside of my thigh. A knee is open to interpretation; a thigh means business.

His hand was thick, sure, and entitled, casually asserting its prerogative the way it would over a coffee mug. And that hand was moving inexorably upward when Mickey listed to his left and passed out dead drunk in my lap.

With the help from a cocktail waitress (“Oh, fuck, not again”), Leavy drags Mantle to the elevator bank, where he props himself against a mirror, struggling to maintain balance.

“You comin’ upstairs with me tonight, Jane?”

“Not tonight, Mick.”

He seemed neither surprised nor disappointed, as if the rebuff was as expected as the offer. “Oh, well,” he said, cheerfully, “y’know what they call me, dontcha?”

“No, Mick, I don’t.”

“Well,” he drawled, “they call me Mighty Mouse. ’Cause I’m hung like him.”

He was still vertical when the door slid shut on his grin.

I went up to my room and cried.

For Leavy, and many other Americans, Mantle was her hero. To see him in this state was devastating—almost unbearable.

It’s something we can all relate to: that crushing moment when we realize someone isn’t who we expected him to be. For as long as we can, we’ll try to block out any negative press or whispers of bad behavior. We want to believe, deep down, that this was a wonderful human being.

♦◊♦

When you’re the star high-school athlete, the town worships you. In college, everyone on campus recognizes you—you can get into any party, you can have your choice of women. As your draft stock rises, agents pester you with text messages. ESPN wants to interview you. Maybe you sign your first big contract. Maybe your absent father all of a sudden reappears in your life. Soon you’re surrounded by sycophants—publicists, agents, family members, friends. You can do no wrong. You can say no wrong.

Everyone wants a piece.

So does it surprise anyone, then, that Roethlisberger naturally assumed a Georgia co-ed wanted a piece as well? (And that if she didn’t, well, she should have?)

Or that Mickey Mantle would figure, What the hell, I’m drunk, I’ll try to hook up with this broad who’s interviewing me?

Plenty of shitfaced women—and men—in bars all over the country have cherished the opportunity to hang out with professional athletes. We mortals will snap pictures and take videos and send them all over the Internet. Screaming fanboys and -girls are so dime-a-dozen that to those we’ve lionized into the stratosphere, everything about us is disposable, insignificant. And Ben Roethlisberger can expose himself to and force himself on a 20-year-old woman because she’s not entitled to the dignity and respect reserved for men like Ben Roethlisberger.

The Steelers QB is no different from thousands and thousands of professional athletes who have womanized over the years. But he is different in that a) he’s arrogant, boorish, and maybe just dumb enough to disregard the consequences of sexual assault; and b) he’s successful enough for people to give a shit about his status as an NFL star.

And damn well they should—not because the game itself matters, but because of the precedent set by this six-game slap on the wrist.

♦◊♦

It’s a leftover from childhood, from the time when those guys on TV, who were so strong they could hit the ball out of Fenway Park, were superheroes. When all adults could do no wrong—our parents were gods—and only when we matured did we recognize their flaws.

We crave our golden boys, but (aside from a Tim Tebow here and there) most are far from it. They may be human, but unlike most humans, many star athletes never grow up. Someone is always picking up the tab, dealing with the finances, telling them where to go and what to say, and driving them home when they’re blacked out.

Then Brett Favre sends dong shots to Jets Gameday host Jenn Sterger. Rick Pitino has sex under the table of a Louisville restaurant with the equipment manager’s wife. Both Pitino and Favre are married.

How could they?

Oh, right—because Rick Pitino is still the head coach of Louisville. Brett Favre was still the starting quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings. Both of their wives have stayed with them, and both Favre and Pitino will make millions well after they retire.

Merlyn Mantle, the Mick’s much-maligned wife, became well aware of his increasingly blatant acts of infidelity—yet she stuck by his side until the bitter end, because, as Jane Leavy writes, “the only thing she ever wanted to be was Mrs. Mickey Mantle.”

♦◊♦

Buzz Bissinger writes of Roethlisberger, “May the Packers break your legs on the first series of downs. Which will prove there is indeed a God who cares about football.”

The sad truth is, Bissinger helped to create monsters like Big Ben.

We all did. We are all enablers, we are all guilty. We are all cogs in a great machine of idolatry and absolution, power and abuse.

Bissinger, after all, who wrote a book about Tony La Russa, further elevating the manager’s fame after having already won multiple World Series titles. And it was you and I who bought it, read it, and revered the guy. Is it any surprise, then, that when La Russa was arrested for a DUI, he asked the police, “Do you know who I am?”

I have no problem following, rooting, and analyzing the performance of these athletes. It’s entertainment, it’s fun, and it’s competition.

But think of the year in sports, the biggest stories of 2010—and Rex Ryan’s feet and Tiger Woods’ sex addiction are right up there with the Giants winning the World Series and the Lakers winning the NBA Championship. Without these “scandals,” Deadspin and the Smoking Gun wouldn’t exist in the way they do, while TV ratings on ESPN’s endlessly banal, opinion-fueled programming would plummet.

Every time we pine for a quote, beg for an autograph, write a story, stick by them when they’re unfaithful, snap a photograph, it further fuels this behavior, reinforcing the notion that our athletes are different, special, desired, exempt

Yet we love it. We inhale the post-scandal analysis, scour the web for the clips, watch them over and over again, gossip about it with friends—and we’re still talking about Ben Roethlisberger raping this woman, almost one year later.

So let’s not righteously stand on our pulpit and hope for Ben to fail next Sunday—as if his losing a game might suggest cosmic justice has occurred.

And when our athletes continue to cheat on their wives, take steroids, get drunk, and do drugs, let’s not act surprised or expect any better.

♦◊♦

More from Good Sports:

In collaboration with Deadspin, we present the Top 10 Good Guys in Sports.

Boston Herald columnist and sports radio personality Steve Buckley recently came out. We have a candid conversation.

This guy made $7000 profit reselling his BCS Championship tickets, then got in the game for $300. Scalping the Scalpers

Bethlehem Shoals isn’t a sports fan, he’s a sports critic. There’s a difference. Somewhere Between Winning and Losing

What happens when a New England sports fan moves in with a New York fan? A Masshole in Manhattan


—Photo brunkfordbraun/Flickr

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About Nick Lehr

Boston native Nick Lehr is a recent graduate of Stanford University, where he earned a degree in American Studies, with a minor Creative Writing. While his fellow students concerned themselves with theses and campus activities, Nick concentrated on his one true passion: Guitar Hero. The hard work paid off; in February 2007, he was crowned campus-wide champion, winning a $100 Amazon.com gift certificate.

Comments

  1. “Asshole” is a fairly temperate term for this guy.

  2. I don’t think we’re all enablers of this sort of behavior, but we are in the minority. A lot of people (not just men) don’t think it is our business or don’t care or blame the women that suffer from this sort of thing. We’re a violent culture and we’re still a very misogynistic culture. The law might not hold Roethlisberger accountable, but a lot of other people do.

  3. I think it’s disingenuous to compare the coverage of Rex Ryan’s feet thing to the rest of this.

    He and his wife have consensual, if kinky, sex. The media circus somehow made that into a story. It’s really not.

  4. Nick, I enjoyed and agreed with about 95% of your article. I agree that we enable, I agree that we issue slaps on the wrist and forgo longterm consequence for championship potential. The only issue I take is lumping Ben Roethlisberger in with the other “womanizers” of professional sports. Cheating on your wife is frankly none of my business (or yours, or anyone’s). Rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, these are crimes. Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger do not belong in the same sentence, because by my count, none of Tiger’s paramours have accused him of anything nonconsensual. Shitty husband, poor role model, maybe, but he doesn’t belong in prison.

  5. Tanya Melendez says:

    In reference to Ben Roethlisberger: I find it extremely odd for the site to have this article and yet, in another, praise the Rooney family as one of the Top Good Guys in Sports. The only reason Ben has a shot at his false “redemption” is the family that employes him.

    • I would agree with you, Tanya, but the Rooneys tried very hard to free themselves of Roethlisberger last summer with no takers. He carries a huge price tag along with his over-inflated ego.

  6. maybe the media has more of a vocal distaste for cheating husbands than rapists? just testing a theory…cheating is usually owned up to, the question/media focus is whether or not its our right to care. whereas rape is always caste under cloud of suspicion, the question is whether or not it happened and whether or not we care comes second (chock it up to whatever you want – culture of misogyny, also old shielding adage of innocent until proven guilty for us to hide our apathy, laze behind).

    (disclaimer: i dont know anything about sports or sports scandals)

  7. Always thrilling to see the same side posted about this when it most certainly isn’t just one or two athletes that are more than a little shady.

    http://deadspin.com/5556336/police-investigate-possible-sexual-assault-at-green-bay-packers-party

    More recent than the Roethlisberger incident, but doesn’t seem to get reported on at all.

  8. This was a great and well thoughout read. Another piece is the superstars get fame and fortune so quick and they are so young, they are not prepared to handle it. It’s not an excuse as people are responsibile for their actions, just a fact when your young, powerful and rich, most people will indulge. NFL should have training to prepare them but in reality – these althletes will always act this way. You just hope they don’t marry to later in life and they learn to respect women. As for a sexist comment, I’m still amazed how women just throw themselves at athletes jsut because they are rich or on TV, even if they are trolls like big ben!

  9. “The sad truth is, Bissinger helped to create monsters like Big Ben.”

    What makes him a monster? Accusations? At the very least you should save the monster label for people who were convicted of something. I think the only guy mentioned who has been convicted of anything is Vick. The rest of them either engaged in bad behavior or some non-criminal sort or may be completely innocent. Vick served his time and now he’s out and back to work. This article, like most of the articles on this site, is disgusting. You say it’s just an accusation up top but then go on and discuss it like there was a conviction. It’s irresponsible to assume guilt and talk about him like he’s guilty when he wasn’t convicted. I don’t think he was even charged. If athletes are so bad why can’t you write about some that were convicted of something? If anything this article is evidence that there’s not really all that much to complain about.

  10. DTF … do you know what this means? It means Down To F*ck. That was what the golddigger was wearing when she accused Ben of sexual assault. Should Ben have put himself in this situation? Could she have actually been sexually assaulted? Sure, but neither you, nor I, nor does any person on the planet know what really happened that night.

    So lay off the assumptions. I hate the Steelers, but people like you scare the crap out of me. All you self-righteous bastards would have probably had me stoned for something I’ve stupid at some point in my life, just because you can’t walk past a dog-pile with out jumping on the pile.

    I mean seriously think about this, everyone who is reading this – momentarily suspend your disbelief of Ben the a-hole and realize that just maybe – just maybe, she tried to trap him. I mean go read the police report, the whole thing and you’ll realize that she asked to have the case dropped. Why? Because it was becoming pretty apparent to the people who were investigating the case that they two idiots both conducted themselves in a super stupid manner and probably deserved each other.

    I think super stars like Ben are more of a reflection of our society and the people who cast judgment on them looking directly in the mirror. You only see Ben as you want to see him.

    You know what really get my goat? That Mike Vick kills dogs and gets 2 years, Ben acts like pig and gets caught accused of sexually assaulting a woman wearing a Down To F*ck shirt and EVERYONE freaks out. Meanwhile, Donte’ Stallworth runs over and kills a Hispanic crane operator walking to the bus stop after work at 7 am – while he is drunk and you give him a free friggin’ pass. He played in the NFL this year and you ignored that… what does that say about our society.

    Never-mind, you’re a recent grad. You’ll figure it out one day.

    • Cooper Fleishman says:

      The fact that you’d suggest that this woman deserved to be sexually assaulted because of the shirt she was wearing is astounding.

      There are quite a few people on the planet who know what happened that night. The bodyguards who restricted BR’s victim’s access to help; the medical examiner who found clear signs of forced entry; BR’s powerful legal team who convinced both his accusers to drop their cases; BR himself, who has a history of assault without consequence; and the victim who was willing to subject herself to a rape kit and months of public humiliation so she could see some actual justice, for herself and for the woman BR likely assaulted in 2008. . . . And you think she’s motivated by money?

      What really gets my goat is that the NFL is more concerned with the assault of dogs than the assault of women. But no, they’re not concerned with either—just the pristine image of their moneymakers. (I do agree with one thing: where was the Stallworth coverage?)

      Nah, Nick’s not the one who has shit to figure out.

      • Cooper, I couldn’t agree with you more. The argument that what a woman is wearing condones rape, assault, harassment of any sort is so old, so outdated, and yet still used every day. Walking down the street naked is no excuse (though a crime in and of itself….). Being drunk is not “asking for it,” flirting is not “asking for it.

        Thanks for responding with sanity and reason.

  11. David Wise says:

    Jocks like Bad Ben are used to having their way.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] off-the-field issues. For evidence, look no further than Pittsburgh, where Ben Roethlisberger has endured multiple sexual assault accusations, but is still welcomed with open arms by Steeler Nation (and [...]

  2. [...] was a comment back-and-forth on The Good Men Project‘s article about Ben Roethlisberger that I think is relevant here. Commenter “Bob” brought up the t-shirt of one of [...]

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