February 3, 2011

Why I Don’t Want My Favorite Team to Win the Super Bowl.

Some of you may remember back to last spring when Ben Roethlisberger was not charged for committing a rape that he most certainly did commit, and his fate in the NFL was up in the air, that I wanted to see him suspended for the whole season without pay.

No criminal charges were filed, as in each of the three cases when he has been accused of rape (one is in civil court). The NFL suspended him for 4-6 games, which ended up being 4 games because he was “doing everything expected” of him (i.e., not getting accused of a 4th rape).

I’m torn – the Pittsburgh Steelers have been my favorite football team since I was about 7 years old. I rejoiced in the glory years of Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, and Mean Joe Green – and I suffered through the dark years of the 1980s. But this is the toughest time since they played the Seattle Seahawks (my other favorite team) in the Super Bowl a few years back.

I’m not the only one troubled by Big Ben. When Deadspin listed their 10 Worst Men in Sports, Roethlisberger was the only NFL player to make the list – and this is league with a lot of thugs and criminals. Men’s site The Rugged has named Super Bowl XLV The Morality Bowl – because millions of casual views (the Super Bowl is the most widely seen sporting event in America) will be cheering for the Green Bay Packers and squeaky clean quarterback Aaron Rogers on purely moral grounds.

That includes me. If Ben were in jail, where he belongs, the Steelers, as good as they are, would not be in the Super Bowl. It’s that simple.

Charges were not filed against  Roethlisberger in this case (in all three, actually) because everyone involved had consumed large amounts of alcohol – this makes a rape conviction nearly impossible. Most juries will blame the victim for getting drunk and going into the bathroom with Roethlisberger. It would not matter that his bodyguards blocked the door so that she could not leave and so that her friends could not come to her rescue.

So how would one respond to this as a football fan?

Men’s studies author Jackson Katz has written some discussion questions (and his answers) for families across the nation to use in talking, especially to their sons, about Roethlisberger, rape, and sports – they are posted at Huffington Post.  I’m tentatively recommending them even though I often disagree with Katz’s almost anti-male stance – and in this case, he is wrong about false rape charges (the numbers are closer to 40-50% false claims). He is also negligent in not mentioning that women commit verbal and physical abuse as often as men (men do not report due to shame issues), though certainly men can do more damage.

I’m only going to mention in passing that if Ben were not white, he would have been prosecuted and/or suspended for the season. Make of that what you will.

I guess that leaves me cheering for Aaron Rogers, the new young star.

In reality, most people don’t really care who wins the game – as long as it’s fun to watch. Personally, I just wish that Roethlisberger were watching the game from a jail cell, not starring in it.

As long as high profile men and athletes get away with rape with little more than a slap on the wrist, nothing will change. And if, as many sports writers suggest, Roehtlisberger can “redeem” himself by winning a 3rd Super Bowl, what the hell kind of message is that to send to our young men?

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