Get rid of Ben

Better to lose games than stain the Steelers' black and gold

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A close reading of the statements of participants in the shameful events involving Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Milledgeville, Ga., last month, taken against a background of his role in Pittsburgh, make it clear to me that he must go.

I say that in full awareness of the importance of Mr. Roethlisberger to the performance of the Steelers, at least some of the time; the importance of the Steelers' performance to the morale of Pittsburgh; and of the pickle in which it will put the team -- and thus, the city, not to mention Steeler Nation -- if he is cut loose. Nonetheless, he has to go.

Mr. Roethlisberger's behavior toward a 20-year-old, apparently drunk college girl who apparently was confined with him in a bar bathroom with the help of his "crew," is disgusting. Coming on top of what he was accused of having done in Las Vegas, the Milledgeville events were clear evidence that he doesn't learn anything and might repeat such behavior, even though that isn't really relevant.

The Steelers' owners, including the Rooney family, may be thinking of an x-game suspension for Mr. Roethlisberger. If that's what they do, it will then be a question of waiting around until he does something comparable one more time. His experience with the Las Vegas accusations should have been more than sufficient to put him on the straight and narrow with respect to loutish behavior. It didn't.

It will be interesting if the Steelers put him on the market to see which teams might be willing to take him on, given his record of high-risk behavior that's just this side of earning an indictment on a career-ending felony charge. The Philadelphia Eagles hesitated to take Michael Vick after he had served time for a crime involving dogs, not women.

Did the Georgia authorities cut Mr. Roethlisberger a break?

Reading the account of what witnesses said he and his buddies, including two off-duty policemen, did, that is a good question. Enough of us have watched enough episodes of "Law and Order" to know that it isn't only what someone has done, it's whether evidence can convince a jury in a court of law that determines whether someone is indicted. Given that show's propensity to take stories out of the news to dramatize, it probably won't be that long before television audiences have the opportunity to view with fascination the case of a pro football star being investigated for possible rape.

The role of Mr. Roethlisberger's crew in this affair also brings feelings of shame to anyone who reads about it.

Fellow Steeler, tackle Willie Colon? The Steelers owners should take a long, hard look at his future with the team as well. If he was covering his quarterback's blind side, he didn't do a very good job of it.

Off-duty Pennsylvania state trooper Edward Joyner? I suppose he can't be fired for what he does in his free time. He could be assigned to citing speeders.

Off-duty Coraopolis police officer Anthony J. Barravecchio? Nothing much to do about him unless the Coraopolis authorities would like to get rid of him.

The bottom line is that Mr. Roethlisberger would not need bodyguards if he didn't spend his time in late-night college bars stalking young, drunken women.

There also is the racial angle. Santonio Holmes, who is African-American, gets traded from the Steelers for a fifth-round draft pick for drug offenses. In his case it could be argued, as with Mr. Roethlisberger, that there was a pattern of trouble that suggested there would be more.

And there is the case of Mr. Vick, also African-American. He got prison time for offenses against dogs, which were bad enough, but what happens to someone who commits offenses -- if not prosecutable crimes -- against women?

One of the arguments being put up in Mr. Roethlisberger's defense is that, unlike Mr. Vick, he hasn't been convicted of anything. What role did the two police officers in his crew have to do with that outcome? Did they interfere in the Georgia police investigation? Or did Mr. Roethlisberger get clear because of his active, expensive lawyers?

Another consideration is Mr. Roethlisberger's role on the Steelers.

Players are probably more interested in whether a quarterback can throw a good pass than in his personal moral behavior. At the same time, one does see a certain amount of players praying together, sometimes kneeling on the field, crossing themselves, looking at the heavens after a successful play and general reverent togetherness.

How does morally leprous behavior like Mr. Roethlisberger's affect his ability to lead the Steelers? Does he have any moral authority left?

I doubt that anyone would argue that a football leader's moral authority comes entirely from the quality of his play on the field. Could anyone now look up to Mr. Roethlisberger?

For me, in the end, the idea of Steeler Nation settles it. We may be a bit silly about our football team, but there is no question that for not only Pittsburghers, but also for many people across the country, the Steelers are family. What young person is going to want to wear a No. 7 Roethlisberger jersey after this incident? Would anyone want to seem to condone Mr. Roethlisberger's behavior by wearing his jersey?

It may be that the Steelers' owners -- specifically, the Rooneys, who have worked hard to maintain a clean team -- will take the financial hit and get rid of Mr. Roethlisberger.

However it occurs, he has to go, now. Every day he hangs around Pittsburgh is another day when the stain he constitutes becomes more indelible on our Steelers.

Of course we care whether they win or lose. But we care much more what they stand for, and Mr. Roethlisberger isn't it.


Dan Simpson , a former U.S. ambassador, is a Post-Gazette associate editor ( dsimpson@post-gazette.com , 412 263-1976).


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