As a life long, die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, today is a tough day for me. I’m pretty hard on athletes who get busted for bad behavior and stupid decisions. Now that it’s my favorite player, the judgement doesn’t come so quickly. Out of desire not to be hypocritical, I’m forcing myself to call him out.
At worst, Ben is guilty of something unforgivable. No means no. We may never know if that’s the case or not, but if so then he’s lost me for good.
What isn’t in question is the fact that he is guilty of very bad judgment. Athletes are paid millions not just to perform on the field. They are also paid to help sell tickets and sponsorships, increase fan loyalty and improve the image of his/her team locally, regionally, nationally and globally. The Steelers brand is one of the most respected brands in all of pro sports. Ben represents that brand. As the starting QB, he carries a bigger responsibility than anyone else in the organization. No one-not the coach, not the Rooney’s-no one is a higher profile representative of a team than its star player.
Ben is also guilty of completely ignoring the golden rule of 21st century sports: we live in an age of transparency. The truth will come out eventually, and the public will eventually find out exactly what kind of person you really are. Tiger Woods is just the biggest example of this, but he is far from the only example. Big Ben cannot walk into any room (or bar) without every single person knowing he is there. When he arrives, he should know that practically everyone in that room is carrying around a cell phone equipped with a camera. If Ben is drunk, if he is hitting on a girl, if he gets in a fight, it will be front page news before sunrise. Athletes must realize this. Those that ignore it are doomed for the same fate that Ben is now facing.
What now? For the Steelers, I hope the rumors that they are shopping Ben aren’t true. He’s still one of the 5 best QB’s in the league, and the best QB the Steelers have had since Terry Bradshaw. I love the team’s commitment to character. These aren’t the Raiders. But I also think people make mistakes, and should be given an opportunity to redeem themselves. The team needs Ben and Ben needs the Steelers. If Ben is sincerely remorseful, if Coach Tomlin can look Ben in the eyes and trust that he’s learned from this, he deserves another shot. The fans deserve another shot as well. It could be another 20 years before we find another franchise QB. I’m having Kordell Stewart flashbacks, and I don’t like them.
As for Ben, I recommend he really look in the mirror and get to the bottom of his self destructive behaviors. I deal with pro athletes for a living, and I know most of them are adrenaline junkies. Those that get in trouble often do it in the off season when things slow down and there is no game night rush to feed off of. In Ben’s case, I think it runs deeper. I really thought he would wake up after the motorcycle accident. I ignored the first sexual assault charge, because I know athletes can be targets for women trying to get rich quick. I figured if there was anything to it, charges would have been filed and Ben would have his day in court. This is his third strike, so there is clearly something there he needs to address. I also suggest he not take his fans for granted. Over the first 6 weeks of the season, Ben should engage in the community like never before. He should get in touch with at-risk kids and remind himself how damn lucky he is. He should make himself available to the media, using it as a channel to demonstrate some growth and remorse. The rebuilding process will take time, but as I said: it is a transparent world. If Ben is sincere, we will know it. If not, perhaps that top 10 draft pick isn’t such a bad idea after all….