(This was originally posted Wednesday at sbcIMPACT. Thought it might be a good Super Bowl Week discussion starter)
I’ve been a Steeler’s fan since my high school years, when Terry Bradshaw had hair and was rifling passes to Lynn Swann and John Stallworth; since Jack Hamm, Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene erected a Steel Curtain that brought even the most powerful offenses to their knees. Four times I cheered passionately as they crushed their Super Bowl foes in the 70’s.
My passion for the Steelers waned a bit in recent years. I still cheered for them, but as I got to know the life and testimony of Tony Dungy, my support shifted to the Colts. In fact, the last time the Steelers were in the Super Bowl I cheered for their opponents, Kurt Warner and whatever team it was that Kurt was playing for at the time. Kurt, like me, is a Cedar Rapids boy and I have to admit to having just a little bit of a man-crush on him. But if anyone was going to beat my man Kurt, I’m glad it was the Steelers.
Now, the Steelers are back in the big game and I want to cheer for them. I’m pretty sure I can’t get behind the refugees from the Frozen Tundra. And the Steelers earned all of our respect, admiration and gratitude by delivering an Avada Kedavra to Voldemort Ryan and the Jersey Jets. That was a tremendous and heroic service to us all. So, I want to cheer for the Steelers.
But I’m having trouble with that. The trouble has a name. Ben Roethlisberger. I read the police reports of the incident that took place on March 5, 2010 at a bar in Milledgeville, GA. There seems to be every reason to believe that Ben sexually assaulted a 20-year-old girl in a bathroom there. It was not his first such imbroglio. He was accused of rape in a lawsuit by a hotel employee in Lake Tahoe in 2008. I wrote on this previously.
There has been a lot written in the local Pittsburgh press about the wild ways of their star quarterback. He frequented many of the bars and night spots and had quite a reputation for boorish and offensive behavior.
The strange thing about all of this is that he came into the NFL with a vocal Christian testimony, but his early success seemed to have been more temptation than his faith could withstand. He wandered the dark paths of sin for several years, alienating fans and some teammates in the process.
I am used to being disappointed by sports figures and I’m under no illusions that they are all choir boys. I would hope that I would be able to stand against the temptations that they face, but how can I be sure? Athletes are notoriously promiscuous, self-absorbed and often ethically-challenged. Some of my favorite athletes have been caught in drug scandals and have embarrassed themselves publicly with moral failures. I have been a big Tiger Woods fan since he was an amateur. Alex Rodriguez is one of my favorite Yankees. I remember watching with amazement as Danny Almonte blew away hitter after hitter in the Little League World Series. Facing the fact that our heroes have feet of clay has become a common reality in these days.
There are some great Christian athletes in this moral morass and I have tremendous respect for them. It cannot be easy to live out your testimony in the spiritual obstacle course they navigate daily. When they do it right, it inspires me. Kurt Warner was (unfairly in my mind) benched for young quarterbacks in both New York and Arizona. Both times he refused to pout, but did all he could to make the men who replaced him successful. Teammates raved about the attitude he demonstrated in difficult times. Tony Dungy, Zach Johnson, David Robinson – they have spoken their faith and lived the message they spoke.
But I do not demand that every athlete I cheer for be a Christian. I cheered for David Wells, and he is nobody’s saint – a hard-drinking, hard-living rogue. Mickey Mantle? Billy Martin? Well, enough said. I’ll cheer for men who play sports way better than they live their lives. Fine.
But we are talking about sexual assault here folks. I can’t get over the sense that justice would demand that Ben Roethlisberger be in jail, not in the Super Bowl. He did not just drink, or cheat on his wife, or take some illegal steroids. He cornered a young lady in a bathroom while someone stood guard at the door and forced himself on her. She was drunk and unwilling to testify, so no charges were filed. But the facts of the case are pretty much uncontested.
I am aware that Ben Roethlisberger seems to have changed since last summer. I have read report after report that he is a new man. Teammates who used to tolerate him rave about him. The Pittsburgh public which had grown weary of his loutish behavior is beginning to embrace him. I challenge you to watch an ESPN story about him that doesn’t use the word “redemption” at some point. It seems that he may have renewed his walk with Christ and gotten his life back in order.
And I’m thrilled for all of that. I really am. I hope he continues to change and to grow in Christ. In fact, the only reason I’m even considering rooting for the Steelers (besides the fact that they are playing the Packers) is because of all the reports I have read about Ben Roethlisberger’s spiritual and personal renewal.
But less than 11 months ago, it seems likely that he raped a 20-year-old girl. The Super Bowl will be played 11 months and one day after that shameful act. Not years. Months. Should we just forget that? Americans love to style themselves as “forgiving” people; people who give politicians, athletes and entertainers a second chance if they own up to their faults and try to do better. That is a noble impulse, I guess.
But could it be that we have taken that too far? Could it be that our lack of moral standards makes it a little too easy for us to overlook faults and failings of our heroes? We are not talking about a minor foible here, folks. Should someone speak up for the young lady? She was drunk and foolish? Of course she was. But even if she was an idiot Roethlisberger’s actions are still unjustified, unthinkable and inexcusable. Is it right that we just act as if it never happened? Has he repented to her? Has he asked her forgiveness for what he did to her?
Should we give Ben Roethlisberger a chance to rebuild his life. No question. That is not just decent humanity but the demand of Christ who forgave us our sins. It is a moral obligation for us to give him a chance to demonstrate that he has changed. But does that mean that 11 months after this unspeakable act we should cheer for him as if nothing happened in that bar bathroom?
I’m really interested in your perspective on this. I’m a Steelers fan and I want to root for the Black and Gold a week from Sunday. But I have this nagging feeling that rooting for Ben Roethlisberger 11 months after such heinous behavior is crass. I just don’t know.
Tell me what you think.