I’ve been a Pittsburgh Steelers fan since 1972, the year of The Immaculate Reception, when Franco Harris was a rookie running back out of Penn State and Terry Bradshaw was in his third year as a pro after being the first pick in the draft by the historically hapless franchise in 1970. I cheered when they won four Super Bowls in the 1970s, and suffered through the long drought — 26 years — between championships after their last title in 1980 against the (then) L.A. Rams.
During every game, win or lose, I call my Dad back home in Western Pennsylvania and celebrate or commiserate as the occasion requires. I have an eight-second delay on my satellite network, and he delights in faking me out by calling out results of plays before the ball has been snapped on my TV set. So I come to this discussion with a bias, a predisposition to believe the best of anyone who suits up to play for the Steel City (where, ironically, they no longer make steel and haven’t for years).
There have been some questionable characters who have worn the black and gold over the years, defensive tackle Ernie Holmes of the famed Steel Curtain defense being one who readily comes to mind. But I don’t remember any of them being so high profile, so accomplished, and yet so unfailingly thuggish and stupid as Ben Roethlisberger. He’s the young (just turned 28 last month) quarterback who won his first 15 starts in his rookie season, 2004, when he was the third quarterback picked in that draft, 11th overall. He’s already got two Super Bowl rings, 2006 and 2009, the latter of which put him in sportswriters’ discussions as to whether he already had Hall of Fame credentials at the tender age of 26, after only his fifth season.
So when the Nevada woman’s civil suit accusing Roethlisberger of rape surfaced last year, I could write if off as a woman discarded after a one-night stand who decided to make a few bucks off a millionaire superstar athlete.
But when the Georgia escapade hit the headlines last month, two was one too many coincidences to swallow. Coincidences do occur — but not of this type. And unlike the first incident, of which no police report was made, anyone can read (at thesmokinggun.com) the official police reports and handwritten eyewitness statements which recount the sordid details of Roethlisberger and friends (including two Pennsylvania police officers, one a state trooper) and their pub crawl in Milledgeville during the night and early morning of March 4 and 5.
There were three different bars involved, the first, Velvet Elvis, then The Brick, and finally the last, and fateful one, a club called Capital City. Capital City conveniently had a curtained off VIP room in which, one of the witnesses stated, Roethlisberger and friends were entertaining numerous young women (many under the legal drinking age of 21, and no males were allowed outside of Ben’s entourage) with shots lined up on the bar.
According to Miss Ann Marie Lubatti, one of the girls who had accompanied the victim that evening,”Ben was back there with about 15-20 girls. He was buying everyone shots and just talking and taking pictures with everyone. At this point he was noticeably intoxicated.”
The details as recounted by different witnesses, including the 20-year-old victim, paint a pathetic picture of Roethlisberger, whose idea of a “date” seemed to be getting young women drunk, then having his “bodyguard” (one of the Pennsylvania police officers, about 700 miles out of his jurisdiction) take the girl to an enclosed area shut off even from the VIP room, setting her down on a stool, and leaving her alone. A few minutes later, Big Ben walked in with his private parts exposed outside of his unzipped pants.
And here is where it is clear that a crime occurred: the girl said “no.” Not once, but repeatedly. “I told him ‘no, it’s not OK, we don’t need to do this and I proceeded to get up and try to leave” is what she wrote in her statement to the Milledgeville police later that morning.
”I went to the first door I saw, which happened to be a bathroom. He followed me into the bathroom and shut the door behind him. I still said ‘no, this is not OK, and he then had sex with me. He said it was OK. He then left without saying anything. I went out of the hallway door to the side where I saw my friends. We left Capital and went to the first police car we saw.”
As the girl was with by Roethlisberger, two of her female friends tried to get back to the area but were blocked by the “bodyguards.” Miss Lubatti wrote that as soon as she saw Roethlisberger go back to the area where the bodyguard had taken her inebriated friend, she immediately went to the bodyguard and told him, “This isn’t right. My friend is back there with Ben. She needs to come back right now.’ The bodyguard wouldn’t look at me. He just said, ‘I don’t know what you are talking about.’ That’s when Nicole [another friend of the victim] went up to Rocky, the manager at Capital City, and told him to unlock the door because ******’s back there. Nicole told me that Rocky said ‘Ben’s an NFL quarterback, he won’t do anything to ruin his reputation.’”
After the victim came out of the back area, visibly upset, and told her friends what happened, they hurriedly left and flagged down the first police car they saw and reported what had happened.
More than a month later, the local district attorney decided he didn’t want to be in the middle of a circus similar to the fiasco following the Kobe Bryant rape charges in Eagle, Colo., in 2003. So — for the moment at least — no criminal prosecution will ensue, although it is clear from the police reports than any ordinary person would most likely be in jail without bond facing a rape trial.
Last August I lit into Michael (“I (don’t) wanna be like Mike”) Vick because the nature of his conduct was so heinous that no mere apology could suffice, and it was clear to me that his character was more of a sociopath than a common criminal. With Roethlisberger it’s different. He’s just a thug who can’t understand that society’s rules actually do apply to him, too. He can probably control his conduct, but he has become warped and tainted by the world of celebrity he has inhabited since he suddenly became a millionaire and a sports hero at 22 after being a relatively unknown football player at a small (Miami of Ohio) school outside of a big-time conference.
At the moment, he more resembles Mike Tyson, who served a prison term in Indiana for rape under similar circumstances. And like Tyson and Vick, he deserves to serve time in prison.
Written by Jim Finkelstein.