Joan Vennochi

A win does not make a winner

Why would a Super Bowl title mean Ben Roethlisberger is suddenly a good person?

By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / February 6, 2011

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TRUTH CAN be stranger than satire.

“Ben Roethlisberger One Win Away From Being A Good Person,’’ joshed the headline for a video posted on the satirical Onion Sports Network.

The jokesters could be right. If Roethlisberger leads the Pittsburgh Steelers to a Super Bowl win over the Green Bay Packers, a dazzling image of a winner replaces the boorish one of accused woman abuser .

With victory, comes redemption. It’s the American way.

Forgiveness is a common theme in sports, although it’s not automatic. Quarterback Michael Vick could write a heartwarming comeback story despite a felony conviction and imprisonment for torturing and killing dogs. But Pete Rose, an all-time Major League leader in base hits, remains in a perpetual doghouse because he gambled on games as a manager.

Roethlisberger has a lot to overcome. A poll taken for The Hollywood Reporter shows that “Big Ben’’ is the most disliked player in today’s game. The good news for him: Despite what Sports Illustrated described as “repulsive behavior, the ultimate expression of athletic entitlement run amok,’’ Roethlisberger is not the most disliked player in the league. According to this poll, he ranks fourth, behind Brett Favre, of the Minnesota Vikings; Vick, of the Philadelphia Eagles; and New England’s Tom Brady.

Last March, Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old female college student in the restroom of a Georgia bar. The quarterback said there was consensual sexual contact, but no intercourse. A Georgia district attorney did not file charges, a decision he said was partly influenced by a request from the alleged victim that the matter not be prosecuted.

However, as the lawyer for the alleged victim wrote to the DA, “This decision does not reflect any recanting of our client’s complaint, but simply a realistic, personal decision as to what is in her best interests and what it would be like to go through a trial with the expected media attention.’’

It was the second time in a year the two-time Super Bowl champion had been accused of sexual misconduct. In a third incident that goes back to 2008, an employee of a Lake Tahoe hotel alleged that Roethlisberger raped her when she was called to his room to fix a television that turned out to be working properly. He denied her account. No criminal charges were filed and she subsequently filed a civil suit.

Roethlisberger’s penalty for whatever happened in Georgia was decreed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: a six game suspension, later reduced to four, for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

Once Roethlisberger returned to the playing field, the road to forgiveness was clearly marked. Last October, a sports columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review noted that winning big would be Roethlisberger’s best bet. “If you think time has done a miraculous job of healing Ben Roethlisberger’s broken image, wait ’til you see what winning does,’’ wrote Joe Starkey. “One victory, maybe two and the man will have gone from pariah to messiah in six months.’’

That was before the Steelers won the AFC championship and a ticket to the Super Bowl. This past week, during the media circus that leads up to the big game, Roethlisberger was talking abut Jesus and how he wants to be a role model. Unfortunately, he also equated his post-Georgia situation to regrouping after a poor throw.

“It is like a football game,’’ he said. “You throw an interception and you bounce back from your mistake.’’

That may be true for him, but what about the woman who suffered from his “mistake’’? His behavior was ugly enough to merit the league suspension and this admonition from the DA who declined to press charges against him: “We are not condoning Mr. Roethlisberger’s actions that night. . . . If he were my son, I would say, ‘Ben, grow up.’ ’’

Roethlisberger insists that he did grow up. He is humbled, according to media reports. During his suspension, he practiced on a high school football field, took a whacking on talk radio without whining, and patiently signed autographs for people who still wanted them.

That plus a Super Bowl triumph makes him a good person to some — but not to everyone.

Go, Packers.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at

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