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Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Updated: April 21, 7:47 PM ET
Roethlisberger is no role model

By Tim Keown
ESPN.com

As we wait for the white smoke to emerge from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's office, there are a thousand ancillary issues to discuss in the case of Benjamin T. Roethlisberger v. Common Sense.

Ben Roethlisberger
If Ben Roethlisberger has anything to offer the public, it's how to play football.

Where do you want to take it? There's the question of a league-mandated suspension, which doesn't seem to be a question of if but how long. There's the question of fame and its ability to induce sociopathic behavior in people whose brains might be too small to handle the load. There's the question of the hazards of public life in the public age, which is raised only when public figures get caught in stupid and/or criminal acts.

All of these topics -- and more -- can be addressed through the public statement Roethlisberger issued late last week. (This is the type of case -- a confluence of sports, sex, wealth and idiocy -- that can keep Shepard Smith and Dylan Ratigan in business for weeks.) We've become so conditioned to being played for fools that Roethlisberger's words didn't rate much mention over the past few days. It was just more of the same: a guy whose public profile far exceeds his ability to understand it standing up there awkwardly reading words he probably didn't write.

It's easy to understand the apology to the Rooneys and his teammates (standard fare of post-screwup statements), and it's laughable but expected for him to say he's "happy to put this behind me and move forward." We expect it, even if we think it might be better for him to keep this issue front and center, every day for the rest of his life, to lessen the chances of it happening again.

Maybe it's unfair to parse Roethlisberger's statement and cherry-pick the most ridiculous parts. (So few words, so much ridiculousness.) Clearly, his actions have prompted more thinking than he could summon in seven lifetimes. If it wasn't for football, he'd he roaming the woods behind the trailer, hunting that big squirrel he saw a while back.

But given the situation, it's impossible to ignore the guy when he says, "I absolutely want to be the leader this team deserves, valued in the community and a role model to kids."

This is too rich. Given the information we now know -- sordid details of a famous quarterback hounding his way, security guards in tow, through the dive-bar crawl in a backwater college town -- the idea of Roethlisberger emerging from the bathroom to resume the hard but obligatory work of being a role model for America's youth is remarkable for its ability to combine sheer ignorance with an unbreakable sense of entitlement.

It takes a lot to shock us. It takes a lot to insult us. We're a resilient people, accepting beyond the point of numbness. After all, we live in the age of fathers speaking to sons from beyond the grave for the purpose of repackaging yesterday's Jesus into today's ... well, Jesus. And if all goes well, to sell a few 7-irons along the way.

But this might beat it: Big Ben as role model? It sounds like the beginning of a Chris Rock bit. Even Tiger didn't try this one. Sexual assault allegations follow Roethlisberger around at a rate far out of proportion to the rest of society -- they're his shadow, really -- and he considers himself a role model? At best, he's a very unlucky guy with a propensity for attracting women -- OK, girls -- with a habit for false accusation. At worst, he's a serial predator. Read the police report, decide for yourself.

(By the way, Santonio Holmes or Roethlisberger? A specious argument, I know, but if you jettison one, how do you keep the other?)

Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley didn't want to be a role model, and has since provided some examples of why.

The whole role-model thing might be the most ludicrous idea ever imagined. The concept of our coddled and impressionable youth drawing life lessons from a guy with a big curveball or an ability to move in the pocket is solely a construct of the industry and its mouthpieces. It was born on the back of myth: the slugger promising the ailing boy a homer, the fearsome defensive tackle tossing his jersey in exchange for a soda. In real life, a kid might model his seven-step drop after Roethlisberger, but beyond that they're both on their own.

Charles Barkley famously denied himself role-model status, perhaps a preemptive strike against anybody who wanted to make him one. Ben, however, is willing to take up the cross and bear the burden of leading our children down the righteous path. God love him.

But Ben, one thing before you get too far along: This is something we get to decide. We know you're accustomed to getting your way, but trust us on this one. Barring something unforeseen, you're not a qualified applicant. We'll get back to you if something changes, but we're in kind of a role-model hiring freeze until further notice.

We've been through a lot. We've long ago stopped expecting much more than a good effort on the field and a few meaningless public-relations gestures off it. It's not our fault the marketers and image-makers continue to mistake our apathy for ignorance.

But every so often, provided the perfect storm of circumstance, we can still summon disgust and outrage, right?

Or, at the very least, a good scoff and a roll of the eyes.

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," which is available on Amazon.com. Sound off to Tim here.

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