Crime & Punishment

Lessons From Roethlisberger-gate

Ben Roethlisberger  at a Pittsburgh Steelers Practice

Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers participates in a recent practiceat the Pittsburgh Steelers South Side training facility in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Jared Wickerham/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

As a proud sports junkie, I do have to admit that I used to like Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Prior to a few weeks ago, Big Ben (as he is known in NFL world) brought his multi-syllabic last name and unknown small-time college football pedigree (Miami University of Ohio) to the proud Steeler nation of Pittsburgh and successfully revitalized a sleepy industrial city to the heights of professional football greatness when he led the Steelers to victories in both Super Bowls XL and XLIII in the past few years.

But like other professional sports superstars, like Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant, Mr. Roethlisberger has now succeeded in his own gigantic (and public) fall from grace.

Within the last two years, there were first the allegations of sexual assault asserted in a civil lawsuit by a Reno, Nevada woman; then more recently came the night in Milledgeville, Georgia that has made the latest news cycles. The facts that have come to public light are horrible and ugly (at best) but the district attorney in the case does not have the requisite evidence to prosecute Big Ben since many rape cases revolve around the age-old “he said, she said” legal merry-go-round.

And more surprisingly, it was even reported in Boston that a THIRD alleged incident came to light almost two weeks ago.

Needless to say, none of these incidents bodes well for Mr. Roethlisberger or the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

As reported by Sports Illustrated football guru Peter King, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette initially reported that Steelers’ President Art Rooney II was visibly furious when he watched the Georgia district attorney detail Roethlisberger's sordid night of boozing with underage girls and the furtive dalliance that created the latest firestorm around the Steelers' franchise quarterback.

“Make no mistake — he's done plenty wrong,” continued SI’s Peter King. “Even if it's just as the prosecutor detailed: drinking way too much, then plying underage girls with alcohol until one of them was overly intoxicated and he followed her down a dark hall, and bodyguards got in the way, and no one but the two participants is certain what happened next. Whatever it is, it's beyond bad judgment…”

Amen to that, Peter.

Instead of showing sincere contrition during his press conference shortly after the incident, Big Ben confidently stated that he was "more determined than ever to have a great season'' — on a day when he should have lowered his head in embarrassment and asked the city of Pittsburgh’s forgiveness for something that can be called a terrible lapse in judgment; at best!

This is probably why Roethlisberger will be serving a maximum six-game suspension to start out the 2010 NFL football season (as rightfully handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell).

Even though criminal charges have not been brought up against Big Ben, the specter of another “civil lawsuit” has been brought up in lieu of criminal charges against him.

As made famous by the civil lawsuit against O.J. Simpson, a criminal case differs in that it is a “crime” against the state resulting in criminal sanctions such as probation, fines or more importantly, jail time. A civil case does not result in jail time and only results in monetary damages against the person accused of doing a wrong that is against state law.

In a criminal case, to be found “guilty” a 12-person jury usually has to decide that the accused was guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." Generally, in a civil case, the person bringing the action needs to only legally prove to the jury that "more likely than not" each element of the case happened.

Regardless of whether there is a civil lawsuit or not, the message to overspoiled professional football players and other athletes is to keep their “Big Ben” inside their pants and keep their sense of entitlement on the football field where a 350-pound linebacker can help knock some sense into you on any given Sunday.

Many sports analysts are convinced that the Pittsburgh Steelers are done with Ben Roethlisberger. Some football commentators are now speculating that either the Oakland Raiders or Buffalo Bills would be interested in trading for Big Ben and make him their starting franchise quarterback.

If that happens all that I can say (as a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan) is that if Ben Roethlisberger is indeed the next Bills quarterback, I will still always continue rooting for my team.

I just will not be rooting for its quarterback.

Arsalan Iftikhar in an international human rights lawyer, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and regular contributor to the Barbershop segment of NPR's Tell Me More.

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