STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger apologized this week for his behavior in a Georgia bar. A 20-year-old woman claims she was sexually assaulted by him. No charges were filed in this case, but the NFL has suspended Roethlisberger for the first six games of next season.
Here's our commentator Frank Deford.
FRANK DEFORD: At a certain point, don't you just stop caring whether our athletes - who, for some reason or other, are always called role models - don't you just stop caring whether they behave? Don't you just want to say: Let the thugs play?
Okay, if they violate the statute law, fine, put them in the hoosegow. But, really, otherwise, why are we expending so much angst worrying about the character of our well-muscled celebrities?
I mean, it is hopelessly apparent that Ben Roethlisberger is a perfectly dreadful person, prone to reprehensible behavior whenever he is let loose from the sanctioned violence of the gridiron. As Knute Rockne said many years ago: The only qualifications for a lineman are to be big and dumb. To be a back, you only have to be dumb.
To what earthly benefit is it to suspend Roethlisberger? Does it teach little, impressionable children a lesson? Is it going to make other football players pause and think about being a role model late at night when they are on the cusp of committing mayhem? I mean, let's give Roethlisberger credit. At least he wasn't packing a firearm, like so many of his athletic brethren do when they're out taking the air these evenings.
What always confounds me is the premise that Commissioner Roger Goodell cited -as do the other so-called czars of sport - that their players have to be held to a higher standard. But why? 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? Why can't some tearful little impressionable tyke sob, say it ain't so, Goldman Sachs, say it ain't so, and thus change the pecking order in our cultural mythology?
And speaking of role models, it's nice to know that Tiger Woods has issued another sincere apology. So bummed out as he is that he was surly and graceless and cursed on the course at the Masters, all the little nasties he'd assured us he was going to take care of in prior sincere apologies.
Perhaps Ben Roethlisberger can join Tiger in his mystery rehabilitation.
So let me close this jeremiad by showing how we can get around this emotional dilemma: We simply acknowledge that not all role models have to be positive. After all, by definition, the term just means modeling a role, exemplifying a position. Dracula, for example - was there ever a better role model for nefarious activity? No.
So once we understand that and accept it, that all our athletes are role models, we can stop fretting and get back to the games.
INSKEEP: Commentator Frank Deford, who is known as a kind of a role model for sportswriters, joins us each week from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.