This photo is of Big Ben at a restaurant, posing for a picture with a fan. Maybe he had a drink or two with dinner. If ESPN's previous mini-circus was any judge, expect them to go with wall-to-wall coverage on this one.
Wednesday morning we received an email:
I took a video of big Ben partying last night in downtown fort worth. Would you be interested in it?
We weren't. AJ offered the guy $5.47, or some weird number, because he's an asshole and that's what he does when he wants to get rid of people. About 12 hours later, the video showed up on TMZ. We don't know what they paid.
The headline is salacious: "Ben Roethlisberger — BOOZING at Texas Piano Bar." The video is not. Roethlisberger took his offensive linemen out for barbecue Tuesday night, a tradition of his. Then they went to a piano bar, where Roethlisberger serenaded them with "Piano Man." He also had a couple of drinks.
ESPN's got a weird way of doing things. Back when the Brett Favre harassment story broke, we took them to task for not even mentioning it for a couple of days. This time, they've gone too far in the other direction. Thursday afternoon, less than 12 hours after TMZ posted the video, there was a link to the story on the front page of ESPN.com. And their football analysts, with very little to do in what's been an uncommonly quiet Super Bowl week, took it on.
Reader Jonathan sends the rundown from this morning's SportsCenter segment:
1. Commentary by Steve Levy
2. The TMZ Video
3. Response from Ben Roethlisberger
4. Response from Mike Tomlin
5. Response from Heath Miller
6. Report from Suzy Kolber outside of the Steelers hotel
7. Analysis from Jon Gruden
8. Analysis from Mark Schlereth
9. Analysis from Tedy Bruschi
10. Analysis from Sean Payton
11. Analysis from Keyshawn Johnson
12. Analysis from Steve Young
Then, there were these:
That's an awful lot of talking heads for a story that's being framed as "this isn't really a big deal." It's the oldest trick in the book: here's something that's not news, and we're going to spend 5 minutes talking about how it's not news, and by doing so, we're making it news.
It's also illustrative of the importance of timing. If this video was released two months ago — before the Steelers' playoff success, before the engagement, before we all decided that winter would be Roethlisberger's redemption — it would have been a huge red flag, an "oh look, Ben's boozing again" talking point. But just as easily as it would have fit into that narrative, it slides seamlessly into this one: Ben Roethlisberger's a normal, happy guy with lots of friends on his team and he's finally able to enjoy life and work after overcoming adversity. Neither narrative is more correct than the other, as they're both pure constructions of a media desperate for every piece of news to fit into an overarching storyline. And maybe Roethlisberger's earned this extra scrutiny by doing some very bad things. But sometimes, a quarterback singing Billy Joel is just a quarterback singing Billy Joel.