The word cloud was way too much.
Ben Roethlisberger’s career is likely over, and of course NFL broadcasters were going to give him a figurative standing ovation on his way out. The Monday Night Football crew gushed over him all throughout what is believed to be his final game at home for the Pittsburgh Steelers, earlier this month. The football lifers, specifically Brian Griese, glossed over past allegations of sexual assault as “mistakes,” and he was given a send off fit for a star, because he is an NFL star who will likely give a Hall of Fame speech one day.
Then NBC went way too far last night during the Steelers Wild-Card loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The game was over following the Chiefs’ opening drive of the third quarter when they took a 28-7 lead, on their way to a 42-21 victory. With the game out of reach so early, there was a lot of time to be filled with conversation in the broadcast. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth could have had a discussion about how the Chiefs energize their fans by having someone bang a mock Native American drum, that leads the crowd in that chant that Atlanta Braves fans were criticized for using during their World Series run.
Having that conversation, and possibly throwing it down to Michele Tafoya, was obviously not a good idea, so Michaels and Collinsworth decided to gush over Roethlisberger for a bit. It was annoying, but they’re football people so it was expected. Then NBC decided to go further than everyone else did in their praise of Roethlisberger’s career. They went with a word cloud of Roethlisberger superlatives.
For real though, this was thought to be a good idea? I’m sure there are people in the NFL who feel this way, or at least were willing to say these wonderful things when asked about Roethlisberger and had no desire to bring up those sexual assault allegations, or any of his other past indiscretions. That doesn’t mean an attention-grabbing graphic needs to be made about it. By putting that graphic up during a national broadcast it’s commending him for being a great person as much as a great football player, and there is too much public knowledge about him to commend Roethlisberger for being a great person.
He’s done with football. Let’s all just say there goes a great Steeler, keep it moving and get him out of our lives — the way that many people would prefer. The way that the NFL broadcasts have fallen all over themselves to compliment him, it’s almost as if there’s an opening for him to be a broadcaster, and that is something that America certainly doesn’t need.
Before we get to his legal issues, let’s start with Roethlisberger as a teammate. Maybe his teammates like him — Antonio Brown certainly had his issues with Roethlisberger in the past, but clearly he’s not the best judge of character — but in public he certainly hasn’t shown the “loyalty,” or been “consistent,” words that appeared in the word cloud. Remember some years back, when Colin Kaepernick first protested during the national anthem? Then, as the season progressed more players decided to decline to follow suit in the wake of the 2016 police killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.
The Steelers had a situation in the locker room where they didn’t want some players standing and some players not. So they decided to not take the field for the national anthem one Sunday as a team. However, their left tackle, Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, decided to stand just outside of the tunnel. He was photographed.
Villanueva regretted his decision, but Roethlisberger broke rank with his team in his explanation. He told the media that he was “unable to sleep,” the night after that game and regretted their decision. Way to stand with your teammates in a leadership position as a quarterback. A story develops in the media and you start moonwalking from the team’s decision in the ultimate team game.
There was also the time that he defended publicly criticizing his teammates. On this Nov. 2018 occurrence, it didn’t happen at the post-game press conference. He individually called out some of his wide receivers, including Brown, on his weekly radio appearance on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh. His defense for this when later talking to the media was “you have to motivate different guys in different ways.” Roethlisberger’s motivational techniques clearly didn’t have the desired effect, because they didn’t make the playoffs that season.
Also, not everyone in Pittsburgh was cheering for Roethlisberger when he was in street clothes. Jack McCollum wrote a story for Sports Illustrated 2010 about how Roethlisberger was not universally beloved in the football-crazy city in which he was the starting quarterback for a Super Bowl championship team in 2005 and 2008. A team that hadn’t won a Super Bowl in more than 30 years.
He was seen by many who interacted with him in Pittsburgh as a jerk. One bar owner informed Steelers security that the entire team could enter his bar without paying cover except for Roethlisberger. This was in a story that also went into detail about Roethlisberger’s sexual assault allegations from 2008 in Nevada and 2010 in Georgia. He settled out of court in the Nevada case and the accuser in Georgia dropped her criminal charges.
There’s a lot about Roethlisberger the public will never get the entire truth about, but that doesn’t mean that in the absence of truth we should resort to praising his entire existence. A search through Twitter will even show that much of the public, which on social media can never be trusted to be on the right side of history, is not on board with the flowery Roethlisberger farewell commentary.
These broadcasts can give Roethlisberger credit for a job well done on the field, without rushing to give him the same credit for the way that he lives his life. Just applaud his play and let him walk into retirement. We’ll deal with him again for a weekend when his jersey is retired and another weekend during his Hall of Fame induction.
And please, networks, do not put him in a booth. We don’t want to hear from him on a regular basis. If the NFL is still worried about “the integrity of the shield,” then he is certainly not worthy of being an ambassador for the game.