Big Ben, fallen hero: It's time to find new ones

Taking advantage of women is not a matter of 'boys being boys'

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One of us grew up with a mother who waved a Terrible Towel in front of the TV every Sunday. The other is now a mom of a 7-year-old whose prized possession, until recently, was his No. 7 Steelers jersey.

As proud members of Steeler Nation, we regret that Ben Roethlisberger's recent actions have done a disservice to his team, his fans and especially women.

Mr. Roethlisberger was accused of trapping a severely intoxicated 20-year-old woman in a restroom where, she told investigators, he sexually assaulted her. While the woman decided not to pursue charges and the district attorney in Georgia declined to prosecute, the evidence provided by witnesses in the investigative report is deeply disturbing.

In the aftermath of the incident, the district attorney told Mr. Roethlisberger to "grow up." Steelers President Art Rooney II said Mr. Roethlisberger will face an appropriate level of discipline and that the Steelers leadership will outline for him how to be "successful as a player and a person."

Yesterday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced that Mr. Roethlisberger will be suspended without pay for at least four games and up to six games. He cannot participate in any team activities until he undergoes a professional behavioral evaluation and then cannot play in regular-season games unless he successfully completes any mandated counseling or treatment. Mr. Goodell told Mr. Roethlisberger, "There is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans."

High-profile cases like this one raise questions about athletes and their ethical responsibility as moral role models. They also heighten awareness about the broader issues of dating violence and sexual assault.

Violence against women of any kind -- including the use of physical force or intimidation to make a woman submit to sex -- rarely results from immaturity or poor judgment. Whatever exactly happened that night last month in Georgia, the incident involving Mr. Roethlisberger either can be dismissed as a drunken night of partying, muddied by drinking and amplified egos, or it can be used to stimulate conversation about how we as a society can raise our sons to be responsible men who treat women with respect. We hope it inspires all of us to discuss this issue with our children, especially our boys.

The initial response from the police officer assigned to Mr. Roethlisberger's case is an example of how our culture too often treats serious allegations that women bring against men. According to the investigative report, the officer told one of Mr. Roethlisberger's friends, "We have a problem. This drunken bitch, drunk off her ass, is accusing Ben of rape. This pisses me off. Women can do this. It's [bull], but we've got to do this, we've got to do a report. This is BS. She's making [stuff] up."

Comments like these can only lead to suspicions as to why the police were somehow able to gather enough DNA evidence to identify it as coming from a male but not enough to determine which male.

The Steelers and the NFL are handling Mr. Roethlisberger's case with seriousness and care, and we were impressed to see the thoughtful emphasis on counseling and treatment. But we all need to take responsibility.

Mr. Roethlisberger was someone children thought of as a hero. Now, like commissioner Goodell, we all need to make it clear that his behavior toward women is unacceptable. We need to emphasize that while performance on the field or at work is important, what we do elsewhere is often more important to our community, co-workers and families. We need to shine a light on heroes who demonstrate to our sons that they can grow up to be famous and successful while also being respectful, kind and considerate.

Stephanie Rex is a project associate for Judith Kelly + Associates ( ). Heather Arnet is CEO of the Women and Girls Foundation ( ).


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