With his latest pants-down adventure, Pittsburgh Steeler Ben Roethlisberger has supplanted Michael Vick as the NFL's most clueless quarterback.
According to a Dublin, Ohio, police report, Roethlisberger was golfing on the Muirfield Village Country Club's golf course last Friday when a woman named Nan Fowler called the course's pro shop to complain that she witnessed a man urinating in the woods next to the course. The worker taking Fowler's call at the pro shop told her that her description fit Roethlisberger, and Fowler then called the police to report it. The situation was resolved with Muirfield Village agreeing to remind its patrons to use the course's restrooms.
Though Roethlisberger fit Fowler's description, it's possible that this is a case of mistaken identity and one of the three other men in Roethlisberger's golfing group was the one relieving himself in the woods. Regardless, the incident shows Roethlisberger completely lacks the judgment required to be the face of an NFL franchise. Four months after being accused of rape for the second time in a year, Roethlisberger was accused of putting the offending body part in the view of the public once again. While urinating in the woods is something of which nearly every male on the planet is guilty of doing at least once, Roethlisberger is not like every other male on the planet, which is something he fails to comprehend.
Fair or not, he is under far more scrutiny than the average Joe, and more scrutiny than most other pro quarterbacks, as well. After being sued in Nevada for sexual assault in the summer of 2009, it was time for Roethlisberger to realize his days as "just one of the guys" were over. Only Roethlisberger and Andrea McNulty, the woman who sued him, know for a fact what really went on in that hotel room. Even if Roethlisberger's claims of innocence are true, he has to come to grips with the fact that being alone in a room with a woman he doesn't know and trust is courting disaster in today's society where careers can be destroyed the second TMZ airs out a celebrity's dirty laundry. When you put yourself in a situation like that, it is only a matter of time before you end up regretting your decisions.
While Roethlisberger's decision to let McNulty into his room may have been simply an instance of youthful naiveté, it should have taught him the hard way that someone of his status cannot afford to place himself in a situation that puts him at risk of ruining his reputation.
Instead, he stuck to his hard-partying ways and landed in trouble again this offseason when bringing a party in a curtained-off VIP section of a nightclub resulted in yet another allegation of rape. Each of the two rape accusations stands alone as evidence of Roethlisberger's immaturity and poor judgment, but the fact that he took a large group of college girls into a cordoned-off part of the club suggests that he refuses to learn from his mistakes. Whether or not he was guilty of rape the first time has no bearing here, because the mere accusation makes Roethlisberger an easy target for future rape allegations. The adage "where there's smoke, there's fire" lends credibility to a second accusation of rape, meaning that being accused a second time would guarantee Roethlisberger's guilt in the court of public opinion. Despite this, Roethlisberger still thought a night of bar-hopping with college girls was a good idea for a birthday celebration.
That's the difference between Roethlisberger and Vick. When Vick's dogfighting co-defendant Quanis Phillips got shot at Vick's "all-white"-dress code birthday party in late June, it exposed major flaws in Vick's judgment. However, when Vick was slated to appear at another all-white party for Independence Day, he learned from his mistake and made the decision not to attend, in light of what occurred at his birthday party. It's hard to imagine Roethlisberger making that same decision; he simply is not fazed by the consequences of his decisions.
"His behavior off the field is just like his behavior on the field," a lifelong Steelers fan explained to me right after Roehlisberger was suspended for the first 4-6 games of the season. "He's reckless, and he takes unnecessary chances. He holds onto the ball way too long trying to make a big play, and off the field he doesn't know how to quit either. And it gets him in the end."
Given Roethlisberger's reckless tendencies, it seems as if it would be best for him to spend most of his time with people who keep him out of trouble, but the disturbing connection between the second rape accusation and what took place on the golf course is that Roethlisberger wasn't alone when either of the two incidents occurred.
This tells us a lot about the people Roethlisberger associates with, and in turn, about Roethlisberger himself. Instead of surrounding himself with people who care about him enough to keep him out of those situations, Roethlisberger utilized the services of bodyguards who blocked people from entering the VIP section's back hallway while he followed his accuser into a bathroom. Similarly, none of Roethlisberger's golfing buddies had the sense and/or the guts to tell him "don't do that, you're a multimillionaire and you're out in public." Even if it was one of his partners who Fowler saw in the woods, it still shows that the entire golfing group was oblivious to the way they should act in the public eye. Either way, this instance goes to show that associating with this group of people is not in hisbest interest.
Simply put, Roethlisberger's biggest problem seems to be his lack of self-awareness: his problems aren't the result of what he does, but who he is. Speeding on a motorcycle without a helmet, partying with college coeds, or relieving himself on the side of a golf course wouldn't be a big deal if he was anybody else. Remember, Fowler didn't call the police until after she found out it was Roethlisberger in the woods at the golf course. Is that fair? Absolutely not. But Roethlisberger has to accept that he's going to be treated differently because he's an NFL quarterback, the face of the most image-conscious team in an increasingly more image-conscious league. In a letter to Roethlisberger explaining the quarterback's suspension despite any criminal charges, Commissioner Roger Goodell said, "you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans."
The consequence of Roethlisberger's offseason mess in Georgia was a suspension that can last from 4 to 6 games at Goodell's discretion, and that suspension may very well increase in length to half a season or more if this latest incident generates enough negative press. Until he starts living up to the higher standard explained in Goodell's letter, Roethlisberger will continue down the road to an early and involuntary exit from the NFL, courtesy of the Commissioner. - Hank Koebler, IV
Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.
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