Even Steelers fans know there's no defense for Roethlisberger
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I write a weekly e-mail newsletter called Inside Erie that's as much about the responses from its readers as whatever I'm going on about.
The subject Thursday was what we've learned about the behavior of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and "jerk" and "creep" were the operative words on my end. I figured the reaction would be lively, but wondered what directions it might take.
I wasn't so much surprised as gratified when readers started pinging my inbox. The gist overwhelmingly has been that nothing Roethlisberger does between the lines of a football field can excuse his conduct in that club in Georgia.
That vibe has been reinforced for me by the continuing coverage out of Pittsburgh, reading the investigative files from Georgia, my conversations with Steelers fans, and my travels around town. At a gathering of friends over chicken wings on Friday night, one black-and-gold die-hard, an ex-Marine, related his judgment to my wife in a single word.
There's been some reflexive defense of Roethlisberger rooted in his star power and athletic gifts, but not much in the scheme of things. And there's a strong sense that the faithful expect and count on the Steelers' owners, the Rooney family, to do the right thing and at least suspend the guy, even though an elite quarterback is the most precious commodity in their business.
The raw ingredients of this scandal are predictably combustible -- the gravitational pull of celebrity, animal attraction, the impulsiveness and foolishness of youth and, by all accounts, copious amounts of alcohol. Keeping the lid on such a situation requires someone involved to know better, and a loaded, star-struck, 20-year-old college student isn't the best bet for the role.
It's clear in the public revulsion of erstwhile fans that how that dumb kid ended up in a dingy bar restroom with the star quarterback hit a good many people much like it did me. They see a daughter, a sister, a niece or, in my case, a goddaughter.
Any of us with a young woman in our lives hope that someone would come to her aid if she found herself flirting with a prowling, world-wise shark and her judgment, maturity or capacity for booze failed her. It sounds as if that drunken kid's friends tried when one of Roethlisberger's "bodyguards" steered her into a hallway in the back of the club.
One of them told police that she approached another bodyguard and told him her friend was in no condition to be culled from their group and left alone with Roethlisberger. She said the guy wouldn't look her in the eye.
Well, no wonder.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation identified that Roethlisberger handler/enabler as an off-duty Pennsylvania state trooper, Ed Joyner. The GBI said the bodyguard who led the young woman to her encounter with Roethlisberger was also an off-duty cop, Coraopolis municipal officer Anthony Barravecchio.
Yet another oath to protect and serve didn't work out much better for that kid when she and her friends sought out local police right after whatever happened in that restroom. The evidence suggests that Milledgeville police Sgt. Jerry Blash, who earlier in the evening had his picture taken with Roethlisberger, was more interested in covering the accused's backside than checking out allegations of a crime.
One of the cops in Roethlisberger's posse, Barravecchio, told investigators that Blash approached him and called the young woman a "drunken bitch" who was "making (expletive) up" against "Ben." A friend of the accuser said Blash agreed to file a report, but said it would be a waste of time in light of Roethlisberger's wealth and legal resources.
Blash resigned last week. Joyner, the Pennsylvania state trooper, is now the subject of an internal affairs investigation.
After the district attorney in Georgia announced there was insufficient evidence to charge Roethlisberger with a crime -- and told him to "grow up" -- Steelers President Art Rooney II made it clear his quarterback will face disciplinary action after the NFL completes its review of his behavior. And that he'd be on a very short leash from now on.
But the damage has been done. And it's the kind that lingers.
One fan related to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette how his 8-year-old son asked him why his dad wouldn't let him wear his Roethlisberger jersey, his favorite shirt, to a Pittsburgh Penguins game. "Please ask Big Ben how he would have answered that question for me," the man wrote.
That sometimes our heroes turn out to be heels is a hard lesson for a little boy. Those iconic black-and-gold jerseys are supposed to stand for something, and now No. 7's stands for that.