Listeners Disagree Over Frank Deford's Commentary

Listeners have written emails regarding Frank Deford's commentary on Pittsburgh Steeler's quarterback Ben Roethlisberger which aired Wednesday. Some thought Deford casually brushed off the seriousness of sexual assault allegations. Others, heard irony in Deford's approach.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, in this country, many of you reacted this week to our sports commentary by Frank Deford. He wrote an essay referring to Ben Roethlisberger, the pro football quarterback who was accused of sexual assault by a 20-year-old woman. No charges were filed in that case, but Roethlisberger apologized for his actions.

Deford called Roethlisberger dreadful but he suggested, quote, "Let the thugs play."

FRANK DEFORD: Why, pray, of all people, are athletes pretty much alone in our society, expected to be sweeter than the average angel? It is politicians and clergy and those maestros of finance on Wall Street who ought to be held to a higher standard. Why aren't they ever called role models?

INSKEEP: That was Frank Deford earlier this week. This sparked a pile of emails and a vigorous debate at npr.org.

Lisa Leepline(ph) of North Highlands, California, wrote: As a survivor of sexual assault and rape, I am sickened. I do not want to say let the thugs play.

And Jessica Perlick(ph) wrote: Articles that so casually brush off the seriousness of a sexual assault charge only help to keep rape as one of the most underreported violent crimes.

And then there was Courtney Yarborough(ph) of Athens, Georgia, who was shocked to hear Deford say, quote, "Let's give Roethlisberger credit. At least he wasn't packing a firearm, like so many of his athletic brethren," unquote.

She writes: How does anyone give him credit for anything?

Other listeners heard irony in Frank Deford's approach. Dena Silver(ph) writes that if people listened to the commentary, as opposed to reading it, they would note the exasperation in the writer's voice, which was ever so appropriate and effective.

Sheila Johnson added: It was not a commentary about rape, but about people giving athletes too much social currency. She adds: I work in domestic violence, and we always want violence against women to be relevant. But I do not think Deford is excusing Roethlisberger's actions. He does say that Roethlisberger is a perfectly dreadful person, prone to reprehensible behavior.

You can comment on and debate our stories at npr.org.

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