Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Ben Roethlisberger can’t hide forever from his ugly past.
Ben Roethlisberger can’t hide forever from his ugly past.
Photo: Getty

At a time when evangelical Christians have no problem standing behind a president who violates every tenet the church supposedly stands for, holding up a rapist like Ben Roethlisberger as a symbol of redemption wouldn’t take much more effort than a sneeze. Throw in as part of your “recovery story” the customary blaming of porn that serves as red meat to any bible-thumper (when they aren’t in their own porn-rooms, of course), and you’ve got a stew of horeshit. Which is what I assume Roethlisberger smells like at all times, and he very well may be composed entirely of said horseshit.

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Before we get to Roethlisberger whinging in front of a computer this past weekend at a virtual conference called ManUp — so you know where this is going already — an annual event put on by the Christian men’s organization Urban Impact (so again, you know where this is going). For a refresher: here you go. Or here. Or here. Those are just the documented ones, and we know there are plenty of other stories out there.

The goal of the conference? It “encourages and teaches men to be godly leaders for their families, and raises awareness of the devastating impact of fatherlessness among youth today.”

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We’ll let you deal with that juxtaposition on your own.

You almost certainly know what Roethlisberger is going to say, because we’ve seen it all before. But here’s a sample for you.

“It’s not always easy,” Roethlisberger said, talking to Tunch Ilkin, a former Steelers player and one of the event’s hosts. “People don’t realize all the time that us athletes, we’re human. We sin like everybody else. I am no different. We make mistakes. We get addicted to things. We sin. We’re human. I think sometimes we get put on this pedestal where we can’t make mistakes. I’ve fallen as short as anybody. I’ve been addicted to alcohol. I’ve been addicted to pornography, which makes me then not the best husband, not the best father, not the best Christian I can be.”

At no point does Roethlisberger mention what his “sins” were, and his only goal seems to be congratulating himself for overcoming whatever obstacles he had perceived to be in his way. This, incidentally, is exactly how he perceived all the women he has assaulted and otherwise hurt in his life. Sins are easy to atone for when you’ve never actually had to suffer from them, or barely acknowledge they happened, which is how Roethlisberger gets to simply toss them in a box marked “stuff that happened.”

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It’s also how the media that covers Roethlisberger is all too eager to treat him as well. But there were certainly others who suffered at his hands, and they’re never mentioned.

Here’s the real kicker: “You have to dedicate yourself and understand that you can get out of it because of the grace of God and him saying, ‘Listen, you’re good enough for me the way you are. You don’t have to be perfect.’”

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It would be hilarious if it weren’t so terrifying that it’s Roethlisberger who thinks he had to “get out” of something, instead of the women he allegedly imprisoned at times and assaulted. Roethlisberger never had to escape anything except a small suspension from the league (barely remembered by anyone in football circles now) and signing a check or two. While Ben’s cover story is that he had to escape his addictions and could only do that through Jesus, it’s being a predator he had to address. Which you can’t really do if you never acknowledge being one.

But it must be all OK now because he’s listening to God and is a father and husband. And he says he’s a good one, so he must be, especially now that he says he doesn’t watch porn anymore. Somehow being a father just erases the evil you once did. It’s the partner of the “Father/Brother/Husband argument so often trotted out by politicians when talking about sexual assault. We went through this with Kobe Bryant, and even Kobe at least championed women’s sports and causes later in life.

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Porn addiction is a favorite oasis for the religious, or those who want to appear religious, even though there is skepticism amongst the psychiatric community that it affects the brain in the same ways as addictions to drugs or gambling. But as porn is already hated by the religious community, it will always get a head nod and confirmation from that community when blamed for actions taken by someone they want to hold up as a role model and will forward their beliefs. While porn can alter relationships and sexual desires and appetite, rape is not about sex. It’s about power and control, and the many stories out there about Rothelisberger clearly demonstrate that.

None of this has anything to do with Roethlisberger taking any responsibility for his disgusting and damaging behavior. It’s just about him and what he’s overcome, things which he won’t name but will tell you due to things he had no control over, at least in his mind. The only allusion Roethlisberger makes to the crimes he committed is describing his off-the-field behaviour as “selfish.” That’s correct, in the same way as saying the Manson Family was “over-exuberant.” It’s not even a first step to fully describing what those actions were. It’s a brushing off as a character flaw, not criminal behavior.

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Of course, it’s not just the Christian church that loves a bullshit redemption story. It’s football media, too. Both entities need to cling to their healing power, when they’ve been anything but recently, if not always, and more people come to realize it. Roethlisberger will go into the Hall of Fame one day, because he was an above-average quarterback for a period of time that won Super Bowls and played for a foundational team in the NFL. When he does, there will be hardly any mention of the monster he was, possibly still is, and whatever mentions there are will simply be put in the same category as “obstacles,” like his various injuries. They have neither the capacity nor the motivation to discuss Roethlisberger for what he truly is and represents.

In the ESPN article, the accusations of sexual assault and his suspension are given one sentence. But we know how in bed ESPN is with the NFL. Watch any coverage of the Steelers and count how many times it’s brought up. You won’t need more than one hand, or one finger. If it’s mentioned at all, it’s his “troubled past” that he had to “overcome,” not crimes for which he had to pay. The CBS article linked above also only gives it one sentence. As you probably guessed, the article from NFL.com doesn’t mention these things at all, but gives his return from elbow surgery more ink.

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The NFL can’t even reconcile the damage it does to the people within it, much less the ones outside the industry (sounds a lot like evangelical Christians, actually). It needs to hold up these empty examples like Roethlisberger to try and maintain any semblance of positivity it brings. It’s an extension of all those ads you see for youth and high school football—teamwork, togetherness, toughness—to hide the actual damage it does. FOOTBALL MEN are only too happy to forward this for them. Here’s yet another shining example.

Have you ever looked at a dollar bill, man?

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