On the news that Ben Roethlisberger has been accused—again—of sexual assault, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that he was "struggling to muster much condemnation" for the quarterback. Coates said he also did stupid stuff at Ben's age, he said, and only stopped because had "a partner and a kid." Which makes perfect sense. To keep partying like a frat boy when you've got much bigger responsibilities would have been irresponsible—which Ta-Nehisi isn't. But Ben clearly is.
Part of growing up is understanding that the risks of bad behavior sometimes outweigh the rewards. For a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, those risks are very, very high. There's more at stake for Ben than just his $100 million contract. His image—what people once called "character"—has taken a serious hit, and no amount of money can buy back a reputation. Worse, like his motorcycle accident in 2006, recklessness off the field is threatening his ability to be reckless on it. Cash can't buy another Super Bowl win, either. Especially if the commissioner suspends you for a few games to get your attention.
Besides, Ben isn't the only one Ben's actions affect—another of life lesson the now 28-year-old seems to have missed. The Steelers have invested millions of dollars in his future. So have the corporations whose products he happily endorses. More importantly, the nation's army of Steelers fans have invested their time, money, hopes, dreams, and love.
Pro athletes don't only get paid for playing games. Part of the reason they make millions is because they are mascots. "Role models" is the common phrase, but that implies the tired, old debate about whether kids should emulate athletes when they—and many adults —have been doing so for generations. When you play for perhaps the most-storied team in the NFL, winning is only part of the job. You are also paid to represent a franchise, a city, a league, and millions of people.
When you are the quarterback of that team, your job is to lead. Even assuming Ben is innocent of any wrongdoing, in this case and in the civil suit pending from 2008, his life outside the stadium is clearly interfering with his ability to lead in it. That may not call for condemnation, but it definitely deserves a raised eyebrow or two.
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