Ben's behavior disappointing for many fans
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There were a lot of complaints about stomachaches, a few declarations of undying love, but mostly it was all about rage, betrayal, the myriad uses of No. 7 jerseys and Terrible Towels -- as a wash rag, kindling and the like.
Ben Roethlisberger, embattled Steelers quarterback, may have escaped rape charges this week in Georgia but not the disgust, disappointment and fury of fans -- most of whom either want him suspended without pay or traded, according to various Post-Gazette surveys.
A Post-Gazette.com poll posted Monday, and running through Sunday, asked what the Steelers organization should do with Mr. Roethlisberger, and a plurality -- 44 percent -- of 23,299 respondents voted to suspend Mr. Roethlisberger without pay.
But an online, admittedly unscientific, survey yielded more ominous news for Mr. Roethlisberger. A request for reader opinion posted Friday for two hours on Post-Gazette.com prompted nearly 300 e-mailed responses -- and more than a dozen phone calls -- from Panama, Connecticut, California and throughout an anguished Steelers Nation.
"This is an abomination," said Mark France, 45, of Dormont, who called for the Steelers to get rid of Mr. Roethlisberger. "Anything short of that will hurt their brand name and the NFL's image, not to mention send a signal to players that such conduct is OK."
Indeed, most of the e-mailed responses -- many of them lengthy, thoughtful and emotional -- veered towards trading him to other, less "classy" franchises in order to restore the image of the team and the fabled Rooney organization.
"I bleed black and gold," declared Stacey Lowery Bretz, a professor of chemistry at Miami University in Ohio. "How can he even look Ambassador [to Ireland Dan] Rooney in the eyes ever again? Shame on him."
"If the Steelers do anything other than trade or release [Mr. Roethlisberger] their reputation is seriously damaged in my view," wrote Donny Pecano, 32, of Los Angeles.
Thomas Berry, a Colorado resident, didn't grow up in Pittsburgh and wasn't raised as a Steelers fan, but "I fell in love with the team just five years ago, watching guys like Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward, and Troy Polamalu, who are not only great players, but they also appear to be great human beings," as are, he added, the Rooney family, which has built "an incredible organization based on character over the years."
As for the towels and jerseys beloved by Steelers fans everywhere?
"Our Terrible Towels are now only good for washing the vehicles," e-mailed someone called "Pigtrout," while Michael Presto of Atlanta described how his three boys went to the Thrashers/Penguins game Saturday night, and "all three of them came down the steps wearing Big Ben's jersey. I immediately sent them back up to their rooms to put on another Pittsburgh jersey of some type.
"My 8-year old turned to me and said 'But why, daddy? This is my favorite shirt.' Please ask Big Ben how he would have answered that question for me."
One Facebook group -- "Steelers Fans Sending the Rooneys Our #7 Jerseys" -- exhorted its 40-plus members to drop them in the mail.
"I never want to wear that jersey again," wrote the Facebook group founder, Emily Best, of Butler. "I would be embarrassed to be seen supporting him in public."
A number of women e-mailed the Post-Gazette to say their support was undimmed.
Anne Cooper, a fan since the 1970s, said she felt Mr. Roethlisberger was being "railroaded" by the media "and a lot of so-called fans."
Ms. Cooper, 40, of Charleston, W.Va., expressed skepticism about "what the alleged 'victim' claims happened," noting inconsistencies in various media reports. "The fact that I have said since the beginning that he is innocent until proven guilty and now that there is no proof of guilt, the media won't let it go. I wish they would put themselves in his shoes for one day."
Ultimately, though, most of the respondents expressed faith that the Rooney family would make the right decision.
"A two- or four-game suspension does seem fair, however, and hopefully it becomes the shot across Ben's bow he needs to straighten himself out and begin behaving like the decent man and team representative he's well-paid to be," wrote Dave Lindsay, 38, a former Erie resident now in Port Townsend, Wash. "We are not the Raiders. And the Rooneys are not Al Davis. We are Steelers."
As for Steelers fans? "Winning ISN'T the only thing," said Richard Bodek, a history professor in South Carolina's College of Charleston, while Antuane Brown, 36, of Atlanta, reached back into ancient history to note that Mr. Roethlisberger needs to remember where he came from.
"He needs someone to remind him, like the servant of Marcus Aurelius, 'You're just a man,' " Mr. Brown wrote.
On Banksville Road, the owner of Metro Heating and Cooling posted a sign saying "7 Get Married."
First Published April 17, 2010 12:00 am