Ben Roethlisberger is once again in hot water. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

If O.J. taught us anything, it’s that the court of public opinion often equals — and sometimes trumps — the court of law.

But for celebrities that have reputations like Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who doesn’t seem to care much about public opinion, the only thing that really matters, it seems, is having a clean record in the eyes of the law.

Because if ‘Big Ben’ were truly concerned with what the public thought of him, he’d never have put himself in the situation he did last Thursday night in Milledgeville, Georgia.

A 20-year-old college sophomore has claimed she was “sexually assaulted or sexually manipulated” by a man she describes as 6-5, 241 pounds. She has identified Roethlisberger as her attacker. The alleged incident took place between 11 p.m. Thursday and 2:30 a.m. Friday at the Capital City nightclub near the campus of George College & State University.

This comes only eight months after Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. That civil case remains open.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a chance Roethlisberger is innocent in both cases. There’s a chance the 28-year-old has incredibly bad luck — he’s just been in the wrong place at the wrong time twice in the last 21 months.

Do most of us buy that? Not really, but the law says we’re supposed to wait for the evidence and the testimonies and the deliberations before drawing conclusions.

And even if this doesn’t turn into a “fool me twice” scenario, Roethlisberger can be criticized for getting himself into the predicament he’s in. Until the dust has settled, stay out of bars and clubs. And if you absolutely can’t refrain, don’t allow yourself to fall into scenarios that have a chance to result in “mix-ups” like these.

Is this guy just that dumb or does he just not care?

Here’s what’s particularly frustrating about this situation:

1) If he gets off, Roethlisberger clearly won’t have learned a lesson. Again, if he doesn’t care about the court of public opinion — or if he’s simply too dense to grasp it — nothing short of a prison sentence will make Roethlisberger changes his ways.

2) He continues to receive favourable treatment from the media compared to black athletes in similar situations.

Elaboration is obviously necessary on the second point, so here goes it.

If a black NFL quarterback like Jason Campbell, David Garrard, Donovan McNabb or JaMarcus Russell encountered the same issues over a four-year span (don’t forget the near-deadly motorcycle accident in which Roethlisberger wasn’t wearing a helmet), would they be treated the same way Roethlisberger has been?

ESPN infamously and arrogantly ignored the first civil suit launched against Roethlisberger, saying it doesn’t report on civil cases that don’t include criminal charges even though the “worldwide leader” had in the past reported on civil suits launched against Mike Tyson (black) and Marvin Harrison (black). (In this case, ESPN has no choice, given that the accuser went to the police with a criminal complaint.)

Generally, the media continue to chalk this whole thing up as “boys will be boys,” and that approach will continue to prevail until a criminal case gets rolling, if that ever happens.

It’s just another way in which we subconsciously vary our reaction to events based on the skin colour of those involved. This guy’s not a loudmouth receiver, he’s a good ole’ white boy from northwestern Ohio.

The NFL has to be sure not to fall into that trap. For this, his third embarrassing public incident, Roethlisberger should be suspended indefinitely the moment a criminal indictment arrives. That was how things worked for Michael Vick, who inflicted no harm on human beings, and so it should be the same with Roethlisberger, who may or may not have severely damaged the life of an innocent girl (or two).

Comments (13)

  1. For one, Roethlisberger hasn’t even been charged with anything and you are comparing him to O.J. Simpson? Secondly you say “If he gets off…” If he gets off of what? The crapper? How do you get off of something you haven’t been charged with? To make this racial is either racist or pampering. You have written some amazingly stupid stuff over the years but this takes the cake. It’s people like you that keep racism alive in the world.

  2. This isnt anything new obviously but still — very good points. need to point out the doublestandard in society.

  3. i don’t think a story like thi needs to be written untill the case is resolved inc ourt, even if it goes that far

  4. Great article Brad. You make some very good points.
    Mr. Davis on the other hand knows nothing about racism and its perpetuation. By ignoring it, the structure of racism in the U.S. will continue to strive because it is unchallenged. Mr. Davis seems to be too concerned with racism at the micro level and is ignoring the larger structure at hand.

  5. Luis, it starts at the micro level. You can’t force people to be non-racist as affirmative action and the Rooney Rule have proven. It starts at home but unfortunately today’s media has more influence over our youngsters than do their own parents. Articles like this foster racism and that is the problem. I can’t believe anybody would even bring race into this case. At this point there is no evidence showing any wrongdoing by Roethlisberger in either the motorcycle crash – he wasn’t drunk – the Vegas assault case – the authorities wouldn’t even press charges, and now this case in which no charges have been filed as of yet. If official charges are filed in this case I expect Roger Goodell to suspend Roethlisberger just like he did Vick, or anybody else in the same position, white, black or whatever.

  6. Does anyone remember Ray Lewis? What he did was 100 times beyond Michael Vick yet he is beloved today; and he is black.

  7. Brad your an idiot.

    Find something worthwhile to write about. Don’t compare Michael Vick to Big Ben. Vick is a felon, Ben is not. Why don’t you follow up after Ben becomes a convicted felon?

    “2) He continues to receive favorable treatment from the media compared to black athletes in similar situations.”

    What black athletes in similiar situations are you referring to? All you present is a bunch of “what if it was this black athlete, or that black athlete.

    It’s people like you that keep stirring the cauldron of hate. Give it a rest.

  8. So your only response is to correct my spelling?
    It’s nice to know that your degree from Gopher Humper University paid off. I’m sure you were tops in your journalism classes.

    I’ll tell you what, I’ll use a spelling/grammar checker on my comments when you start using a quality/common sense checker.

    I’ll check twitter for your response….

  9. Thank God someone other than me is pissed this article was even written.

    +1 to “You have written some amazingly stupid stuff over the years but this takes the cake. It’s people like you that keep racism alive in the world.”

    +1 to “I’ll tell you what, I’ll use a spelling/grammar checker on my comments when you start using a quality/common sense checker.”

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks Brad Gagnon is the absolute worst. BUT, and this is a true story, he’ll just come back with a smug, “Thanks for reading!”

    Idiot.

  10. Always a pleasure, douche.

  11. brad you’re a tool, first. second, this isn’t university of guelph , isn’t a liberal academic setting — it’s the real world with real sensitive issues, so you best wise up to that fact. Third, i agree with the above — this is the worst you’ve ever written, by far…

    PS– quit your day job

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