Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers has twice in the past year been accused of sexual assault. The most recent accusation, which led to charges not being pressed against the quarterback, has led to speculation that the NFL or the team may suspend him, and has prompted Pittsburgh's PLB Sports to terminate its endorsement contract with him. (Thanks to popfiend for the link, dated Tuesday April 13th.)
Reading the response made me angry. Ty Ballou, the owner of PLB Sports, explained that he had never terminated a player's endorsement contract, but that he and his board decided to do so after watching the Georgia district attorney's office detail the latest allegations against Roethlisberger. He then made the (to me) confused comment, "You look at this and say, 'Do we want to do this?' Yes. We don’t want to, but you have to." Notice the contradiction in that quote? Do you want to do this or do you not want to do this?
To me -- and this is purely my read on this -- Ballou sounds a little wounded, as if the barely-hidden subtext of his comments is I have to lose money. His quote: "We’ve made a lot of money together. I’m leaving a lot on the table by terminating this contract. Even though there were no criminal charges, there are just enough issues here that it’s in the best interests of PLB Sports to break ties." He added, "At some point in time, Ben has got to put himself in the right position and understand what it means to be a celebrity, a quarterback, a Steelers player."
No mention, at least not in what the article quotes, that what Roethlisberger has been accused of is bad no matter who did it. That Roethlisberger needs to "understand what it means" to not hurt people the way he's been accused of hurting them. It's a becoming-a-decent-person issue, more than a what-does-this-mean-for-the-team issue. As Ballou said, "The Steelers, there is probably no prouder organization. I feel for them right now. Players are part of the Steelers brand. If it’s not the biggest in the league, it’s well up there. This has diminished the brand." Which is, to me, flat and bloodless and missing part of the point:
The evidence is mounting that Roethlisberger is a damaged person. The evidence is mounting that Roethlisberger has damaged people. A friend of mine who is a rape crisis counselor talks about how those are two different fights: helping people recover from rape and assault, and helping people learn that they shouldn't commit rape or assault in the first place. These are two different, but tied-together, kinds of fights, because these are tied-together kinds of damage. And I don't know what's being done to help the victims. I don't want the team to be considered a victim. I think this statement implied that it is.
The earlier accusation led me to avoid watching the Steelers this past season. I had plenty of other teams and games I could watch and feeling good about watching them -- such as THE SAINTS GEAUX SAINTS GEAUX SAINTS GEAUX SAINTS -- so I avoided a team because of a player who left a bad taste in my mouth. I plan to keep that up, for my own sanity. I want to keep feeling good about a game that gives me pleasure. And I don't want to feel that I'm in any way supporting a potential perpetrator.
At this point, I don't know what the most-right thing to do with Roethlisberger would be, because I don't know if treatment is part of the effort. And I'm not yet convinced that what's being done so far is being done for the right reasons.
If the assaults did happen, the people who were assaulted need to get help and support, and I have no way of knowing if that is happening. If the assaults did happen, the perpetrator -- any perpetrator, because rapes and assaults keep happening -- need to learn how to stop assaulting and be more decent. The lesson needs to be more than "Hurt people and we'll punish you," it needs to be "Don't hurt people in the first place. That's wrong. Be better to people."
Now I'll keep doing my best not to hurt people in the first place.