The most telling moment

The most telling moment of last Sunday’s playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets for the American Football Conference Championship came in the fourth quarter. The Jets were driving to close the score to 24-19. But it was the television shot of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines that interested me the most. It was all in the eyes, unmoving, not even a single blink, aimed at a faraway distance only he could see. I found the moment chilling; into my head popped the description a former prosecutor once gave me of a defendant who had committed repeated acts of assault—it too was all in the eyes, what he called “the dead eyes of a great white shark,” always on the prowl for the next victim. Or in the case of Roethlisberger, the habit of getting what he wanted when he wanted because he wanted, even if it meant troubling accusations of sexual assault by a 20-year-old college student in a nightclub last March in Milledgeville, Georgia. In a videotaped interview, she told police that she was led into a hallway by one of Roethlisberger’s bodyguards, whereupon Roethlisberger himself followed and pulled out his penis, ostensibly with more in mind than letting her see if it was circumcised. So how could any woman, no matter how young, no matter how drunk, no matter how ripe for being taken advantage of, resist such an elegant overture? He wanted it when he wanted it because he wanted it, and in the nightclub bathroom he allegedly had sex with the woman, powerless to resist, she told investigators, because of his temper and her size, 5-4 and 141 pounds, versus his, 6-5 and 241 pounds, and the fact she was clearly inebriated. The statement she gave seemed pretty damn convincing. After 500 pages of hemming and hawing by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Roethlisberger was never criminally charged. There were conflicting versions, as there almost always are when a big-time athlete has been accused of sexual assault and the accuser becomes the accused in a matter of seconds. But National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell subsequently suspended Roethlisberger for the first six games of the 2010 regular season, finding that he had facilitated the purchase of alcohol for underage college students who were in all likelihood were already intoxicated, placing both the students and himself at risk. The contrition of Big Ben has turned into the all too familiar condescension of Big Ben—I am a great athlete and the rest of you are annoying gnats. What was Roethlisberger thinking on the sideline last weekend? My hunch is not much. He has never struck me as a man of any particular introspection, his style of play far more Sasquatch than silk, a sullen behemoth tough to bring down and almost always able to make completions when it counts. When he got into his jam in Georgia, he was deft enough to talk the talk and do his best to squirm… Read More »